New Starters

Good morning everyone, thanksBrantham Works for making it to today’s meeting on time. I know some of you have been working late – especially you, Chapter 26! – and I want you to know that the commitment is really appreciated.

But before we do anything else I want to welcome two new members of the team – Chapters 8 and 9, who are sitting at the front here. Could you stand up and turn around so everyone can see? Thanks, that’s great.

Now I’m sure we all miss their predecessors, but we were all aware of some of their frailties and, frankly, I think they will be a lot happier in the Retirement Home for Unwanted Chapters, where they can now play golf all day. Yes, Chapter 6, and that other thing as well.

OK, everyone, settle down.

So now we have our new Chapters 8 and 9; they’ve just started today, so we should expect there to be one or two rough edges to begin with, but I know you will all be understanding about that – we were all new once ourselves!

There will need to be a couple of adjustments, naturally, particularly at the beginning of Chapter 10. Nothing major, I think, but there are some different outcomes at the end of Chapter 9 which we will need to accommodate. Are you all right with that, Ten? Excellent, thanks.

Right, that’s enough chat for now – we have a lot more editing to do if we’re to get this Third Draft complete. Back to work, everyone!

In Maputo

dog_0381wHere’s a little piece following a collective challenge from friends in my local writing group: I had to write 250 words to include “five feet tall”, “Interviewing children in Mozambique”, and “Shakespeare – especially Hamlet”

The plane touched down, bounced and eventually settled on the runway. “Welcome to Maputo, where the local time is …” Maria couldn’t focus on the rest, her head was still swimming from the free alcohol. When the seatbelts sign went out, there was a mad scramble as everyone stretched up for their bags and duty free: Maria, as usual, couldn’t reach that high and had to ask the man next to her in the aisle to help.

He smiled and passed her suitcase down to her. “Your first time in Mozambique?” he asked.

Was it that obvious? “Yes,” she said, “just here for a couple of weeks.”

As they navigated immigration, luggage retrieval, and customs together, she shared everything with this handsome stranger. “I’m here to run a Shakespeare project with local students,” she said. He smiled, but said nothing about himself.

He offered to share a taxi into town: it would have seemed rude to refuse. They travelled along the shiny new road from the airport, a black artery of modernity running through a desert of poverty and decay. She saw the hotel from a distance, reaching up into the sky and looking down upon the dilapidation around it.

Her companion spoke to the driver, in a language she did not know. He looked back at them both in his mirror, and nodded. Just before they reached the hotel, the car turned off into a side alley, and stopped: the driver got out.

The rest is silence.

Who’s been eating my dinner?

PondHere’s a little practice I first posted at http://thewritepractice.com/classics-revisited/

It had been another hard day in the woods. Mama and Papa had been shouting at each other a lot, and it makes me very sad when that happens. I’m sure they don’t mean it, but I’m afraid that one of them is going to hit the other a bit harder than they should, and then we would be in big trouble.

We went to the usual places where we might expect to find food, but there wasn’t very much there: the birds had beaten us to all the fresh berries, and Mama had to stop me from grabbing some unusual ones that she said would make me very ill if I ate them.

So, with light starting to fail, we went back to our house. It’s not much, but there is just enough room for the three of us, and we can make it very cosy during the winter. Without having found any fresh food, Mama had to make do with what she could find in the store. I knew this wasn’t good news: the food in the store was intended for when winter meant that there was no food at all, and by having some now we were using up our precious reserves. Papa grumbled, but he knew we had no choice – it was either that, or go hungry.

When Mama had prepared the dinner, she suggested we go for one last scout outside to see if there was anything tasty to be found, perhaps something sweet to have for pudding. So we trudged out, Papa going first to look for danger, then me, then Mama making sure I didn’t get left behind.

I didn’t think we’d been gone all that long, but when we got back we could see straightaway that something wasn’t right. The food, which Mama had carefully set out for us to eat when we returned, had been raided by an intruder. Some of it had just been messed about with, but mine was all gone. I cried when I saw that, but Mama comforted me and said that of course I could have some of hers and Papas. It wasn’t right, though.

We needed to be sure that the intruder wasn’t still around – they might attack us in our sleep, and it would be a dreadful thing to have that happen. Again, Mama tried to tell me that everything would be all right, but I insisted that Papa search the house properly before we did anything else.

The rest of the living area was clear, so we followed Papa into the sleeping quarters. His bed had been disturbed, but there was no-one there. We went to Mama’s bed and that too was not as she had left it. Then we went into the last room, which is where I sleep.

There was the intruder! A little girl, asleep in my bed! She must have heard us coming in, because she woke up and screamed, which I thought was a bit of a cheek considering that she’d broken into our house in the first place.

Of course, the rules of the forest apply in our house just the same as everywhere else, so Papa killed the little girl with one swipe of his paw, and we had a really great dinner instead of that awful porridge.

Memo: Storyline Located

Place photoMEMO

To: All Staff

From: The Author

Further to my recent note, I am delighted to advise you all that the missing storyline has now been located. How and why it got into the fridge, behind the butter, we may never know – but many thanks to the person who found it there and returned it to its rightful place.

Having undertaken a short review, I can confirm that the current version of the story outline is now complete, and we can press on with the next stage of our project: writing the relevant changes into the manuscript for Draft Two.

I am sure that all team members – characters, chapters, settings and themes – will now all pull together as we push towards our next milestone.

Best Regards

One of our Plots is Missing

263-Parking-SWDear Characters,

It has come to my attention that the storyline for our work-in-progress has gone missing. It was right there at the end of Chapter 20, but somewhere during Chapter 21 it disappeared and has not been seen since.

Now, I’m sure that whoever has taken it did so with the best of intentions. As a joke, perhaps, to cheer us all up after a particularly fraught weekend slaving over a hot keyboard. I know that we were all feeling a little dispirited when, despite all that effort, the Word Count simply refused to budge.

But a joke can only be taken so far: after a while it becomes a little tiresome, and I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that we would all be very pleased if whoever has taken it could return it.

If it helps, we can turn the lights out for a few minutes so that the character that has misappropriated our story can put it back, in confidence. Just place it on the desk at the front of the room, and we will say no more about it.

On the other hand, I hardly need say that if it is not returned, promptly, I shall have to conduct a thorough examination of the scene – I still have that fingerprint kit I was given last Christmas by Aunt Maude – and will leave no stone unturned until I have established the facts of the matter.

However, I’m sure that it won’t come to that, and the guilty party will replace the missing artifact in the next few minutes under the cover of darkness.

After all, I’m certain that none of you would want to accuse me of losing the plot.

Yours sincerely

The Author

No Sign of You

Photo of posterI really did see this note: the story is my attempt to explain it.

The one o’clock news had already started when Kathy finally got out of the house, and she ran all the way to the end of Caldicote Lane, about five minutes late. She looked all around, but couldn’t see Helen anywhere. Then a flash of colour caught her eye – bright pink, just at her eye level, on a telegraph pole on the other side of the road: she had to go and see.

It was a piece of art paper, solid colour on one side, white on the other, folded and pinned to the wood. On the face that was showing, beautifully inscribed, there were just a few words in black ink: “No Sign of You.”

There was no name, either of addressee or author, but Kathy knew it was for her, and shivered.

***

It was just after 8.45 when Kathy and Harry arrived at the school gates that morning and entered the playground. Technically, they were late, but today it didn’t seem to matter as the place was filled with parents and children, no-one entering at all.

Kathy went up to the nearest mum that she knew. “What’s going on, Jenny?” she asked. “Why aren’t they going in?”

“Apparently there’s a problem with the boiler or something, we’ve been asked to wait for five minutes while they decide whether they’ll be able to open the school,” her friend said.

Kathy looked around, and saw a face she thought she recognised: a woman, standing on the grass bank well back from everyone else, small boy by her side, both completely still and silent.

There was something about her that made Kathy want to talk, so she wandered over. The woman was wearing a headscarf and dark glasses, even though it was a dull day, and flinched as Kathy moved alongside.

“Helen, is that you? We’ve not spoken for ages, how are you?” Kathy asked, trying to see through the black lenses to the face behind. “It is Helen, isn’t it?”

The woman nodded, but said nothing. Her boy – Jake? – pushed himself closer to his mother’s side, holding on to her hand with both of his.

“Are you all right?” Kathy asked. “Is something the matter?”

Helen nodded, and then shook her head, not sure which of the questions she was answering. Finally she spoke, her soft voice almost lost among the hubbub from the nearby crowd. “I’m OK, thanks. I just need to get home. Do you know what time it is?”

Kathy looked at her watch. “It’s five to, hopefully we’ll be able to go soon, with or without children. Are you working now?”

“No, it’s just that Joe expects me home, he doesn’t like it if I’m late.”

“Well, I’m sure he’ll understand, and it’s only a few minutes, isn’t it? What’s the problem?” Kathy asked. “Anyway, won’t he be at work himself?”

“He works from home now. So I can look after him. But I can’t be late, I mustn’t be late.” Helen was shaking as she said this, and her son responded by hugging even tighter.

“But what will happen if you’re ten minutes late back from school, for heaven’s sake?”

Helen looked down and said nothing. Kathy leaned forward, so she was just inches from her old friend’s face, and could see the little bit of skin peeping around the side of the glasses. Purple and black flesh, silently accusing.

“Oh, Helen, what has happened to you?  Look, why don’t you stay and talk to me, come back to mine for some tea, you can bring Jake if the school is closed – “

“No!”

There was a silence.

“Look, it’s kind of you to offer,” Helen said, “but you don’t understand. I must get back as soon as they let us go from here, I must.”

“Can we talk later?” Kathy asked. “On the phone? Let me give you my mobile number, you give me yours – “

“I don’t have a mobile, I’m not allowed, and you can’t call me at home,” Helen said, pulling Jake even closer to her side so that he almost disappeared in the folds of her long skirt.

“What do you mean, you’re not allowed? What century does he think this is?” Kathy’s suffragette ancestors were starting to spin in their graves. “Surely there’s some time when he’s out, we can at least talk?”

“Well, he goes to the pub at lunchtime, just for an hour. If the school opens then I suppose we could – “

“All right. Why don’t we meet at the end of Caldicote Lane? What’s a good time – one?” Kathy asked.

Helen just had time to nod before there was a kerfuffle as the school doors were opened: the children were being let in. Jake and Harry set off together. As soon as they were safely inside, Helen turned to go. “OK, one o’clock, but promise you won’t be late? I really can’t be there for long.”

“One o’clock, I promise,” Kathy said. “Shall I walk back with you now?”

“No, he’ll be watching, he won’t like it if he sees me talking to anyone. Just go, I’ll see you later, OK?” And with that, Helen was gone, half walking, half running down the street towards her home.

***

Kathy looked at her watch again: ten past one. The pink note fluttered in the wind, its author whisked away by an unseen hand.

Unless they’d moved, she knew where Helen and Joe’s house was, Harry had been there enough times when they were smaller. She walked off in that direction, still not sure what she was doing or why. As she turned the last corner, she could see a pickup truck parked at a crazy angle across their driveway and front lawn, the passenger door left wide open.

Kathy drew level with the house: should she intervene? Would it make matters worse? Helen had begged her not to interfere, who was she to pass judgement on another person’s life? The momentum of her steps kept her moving forward, on past the house, all the time looking straight forward, as if afraid of what she might see if she allowed her gaze to wander.

Behind, she thought she heard a scream.

She turned around.

Memories are Made of This

221-Memorial-SWJane arrived early at the restaurant, and selected a table where she would have a good view of the entrance: she wanted to make sure that she saw Lizzie first, and didn’t want there to be any mistakes or confusion.

As she had expected, Lizzie was late: about ten minutes after one, she rolled up at the greeter’s desk, shopping bags in hand. Older, and possibly a little more substantially built than when they’d last met, but she’d have recognised that hair anywhere. “Frizzy Lizzie”, she’d been, and still was.

“Over here,” Jane called, waving and half-standing in the way that you do when you’re trapped behind a cast iron table that refuses to move. Lizzie waved back and came over to join her.

Initial greetings over, they got down to the serious business of catching up on over twenty years apart. Yes, Lizzie was married, two teenagers at home. No, Jane wasn’t any more, it hadn’t worked out, fortunately there were no kids.

“All those years gone by,” Lizzie said with a sigh. “Whatever happened to them?”

“Do you remember,” Jane said, sitting forward, “those dreadful English lessons with, what was her name, Miss Cartwright?”

“Miss Carter, I think, but yes, those ridiculous essays she made us write, and the way she made us laugh with her silly stories,” Lizzie said.

Jane frowned: “I don’t remember laughing very much, her jokes were just stupid. But you’re right, it was Carter, didn’t we call her ‘Miss Farter’?”

“You know, I think we did, aren’t teenagers dreadful? And what about that gorgeous Physics teacher, Mr Johnson? Didn’t we all have such a crush on him? I remember, one day, gazing into the distance while he was trying to demonstrate something, daydreaming about lying on a golden beach with him in a thoroughly indecent way, when he woke me up by asking me to explain what he’d been on about! I got into such a mess, I’m sure it put me off science for life.”

“I remember him,” Jane said, “he was a real creep. Kept looking at us like he was trying to undress us in his head, didn’t he get into trouble for messing about with one of the other girls, Millie or someone?”

“I’m not sure about that, I think Millie had a big thing for him and made something out of nothing,” Lizzie said.

At this point they were diverted by the arrival of their food and the rituals that occur between waiter and waitee, and they both took a moment to lose themselves in their plates.

It was Jane that surfaced first. “While I was waiting for you, I was trying to remember exactly when it was that we last met. Can you think when that was?”

Lizzie chewed on a piece of chicken for a moment, took a drink, and looked at her friend. “Do you really not remember?”

“I’m not sure. Was it a party or something?”

“We were at the pub,” Lizzie said. “A whole bunch of us, back from Uni for the Easter holiday. The King’s Head, it was then, I think it’s a Starbucks now.”

Jane screwed up her face, trying to bring back the image. “So who would have been there, then? Jo, Millie, Steve, Mike and Annie, Phil?”

“Not Millie, no, she’d moved away by then. But yes to the others, plus Ed, of course.”

“Oh, God, yes, I remember now. Ed was really nice, I fancied him something rotten, but he never took the hint,” Jane said. “Hang on a minute, wasn’t that the night that you got into some sort of trouble?”

“You could say that,” Lizzie said. “There were some squaddies in the other bar who got a bit above themselves when I went to the ladies. Ed had to come and rescue me, it all got a bit out of hand.”

Jane was still struggling to recall the details. “Now wait a minute, it’s coming back to me. That was the evening when I made a big play for Ed, and he just went off and left me, never came back. Didn’t even have the grace to say no, he just chickened out and disappeared. I was pretty miffed, I think. Bloody men, all the same – one sniff of a relationship and they’re off.”

Lizzie smiled. “You really didn’t get it, did you? He hadn’t run out on you, he was busy rescuing me. By the time we’d got it all sorted out, you’d pushed off and he thought he’d misread the signs from you. What made you go like that?”

“I don’t really remember, to be honest,” Jane said. “But I think it might have been that I was pissed off because he abandoned me while he did his knight-in-shining-armour thing for you. That’s been pretty much my experience of men – before and since.”

“He did try to get in touch with you, though. Didn’t you want to talk to him?” Lizzie asked.

“Maybe, but if some bloke had come pestering me after running off like that, I would probably have told him to get lost. You can’t trust them, you really can’t. Anyway, how come you know all this?” Jane asked.

“He was pretty cut up about it, missing out on you like that, especially when you wouldn’t return his calls. He blamed me for a while, then he blamed himself, then he finally got round to blaming the squaddies.”

“And then?”

“You can ask him yourself, he’ll be here in a minute,” Lizzie said.

Jane looked blank. “You mean…”

“That’s right,” Lizzie said with a grin, displaying the rings on her left hand.

PTDD

This is a piece of micro-fiction I wrote recently, just a bit of fun really. It has no connection with my Work in Progress!

Lisa put the finishing touches to her makeup, and fetched the beautiful new red dress. She slipped it over her head, wriggled carefully into place, and stood in front of the mirror to make the final adjustments, straightening lacy straps and smoothing silky wrinkles.

There was an impatient toot from the taxi outside. She took a cream pashmina to keep her shoulders warm, and the bag and shoes that she had bought that morning. “Gorgeous,” she thought, making one last check in the hallway mirror, and hoped that Peter would agree. She went outside and closed the door behind her.

Approaching the theatre, the taxi slowed to a crawl: there was an obstruction, no-one was moving. After several minutes of little progress, she saw the lights of their destination fifty yards ahead, and a knot of cars and taxis gnarled up in the street outside.

The cabbie turned to face Lisa: “Sorry, love, this might be as close as I can get. Are you ok to walk from here?”

She paid the fare, and stepped between parked cars onto the pavement, outside a building that was being renovated. Scaffolding reached far up into the night, and the wind whistled through the alleyway formed by builder’s boards.

High above her head, there were signs the workmen had left in a hurry. A pile of unused bricks, a bucket of water, a loose scaffolding pole.

There was a sudden gust of wind: the pole slipped onto the bricks, the bricks hit the bucket, and the bucket crashed to the level below. Here its descent was halted, but the water continued, a great gobbet of filthy slime that fell towards the ground. And Lisa.

She screamed, a howl of anguish that was heard all the way down the street at the theatre. Peter, who had just arrived, thought there was something familiar in that dreadful wail, and rushed to investigate.

And then he saw her: Lisa, the ruined red dress, and the tears that were beginning to carve a path through the mud that covered her face.

“My dear,” he said. “I see the problem.”

“You’re suffering from Post Traumatic Dress Disorder.”

Letting Go

I’m very sorry, Chapter Two, but you are going to have to go. Yes, I know we’ve been together for several months now, but it really isn’t working out for me. It was all very exciting back then: I’d just finished Chapter One – of my very first novel – and it felt like I was on a bit of a roll. The words just fell onto the page, it felt fresh, new, exciting. I was doing things I’d never done before – and all thanks to you. I’ll always be grateful, you know that.

But things have moved on since then. I finished the rest of the first draft a couple of months ago now, and I’ve been struggling to whip the whole thing into some sort of shape that someone else might possibly want to read. Chapter One has been completely rewritten twice: and Chapters Three to Eight have been tweaked, twisted and revised so that I can hardly recognise them.

But you, Chapter Two, have remained unaffected as I’ve chopped and created characters, added and removed whole story lines. It makes me think that you’re not really connected to the rest of the story. Dare I say it, possibly even redundant?  If you’d come later on, I might have got away with it: perhaps, halfway through, you could have been an amusing diversion or interlude between two more intense scenes. But right at the beginning, when The Reader will just be struggling to get to grips with what the story is about? Sorry, I just don’t see it any more.

And then there’s the question of the style. Way back then, when I first wrote you, I didn’t really know what sort of story I was writing. Now, as everything else around you has been rewritten and revised, you look as out of place as a 1950s shop front, alone in a parade of twenty-first century glass and chrome. Or like an actor who’s wandered onto the wrong set – a Roman Centurion walking down Sunset Boulevard, or a spaceman in an Elizabethan court.

So, Chapter Two, this is it. Next time I open up the manuscript, you’re for the chop. Maybe we’ll meet up for coffee one day – in a short story, perhaps. I’m sorry it had to end this way: but we’ll always have The Elephant.