The Neighbours from Hell

A very long time ago in a town far far away. (Well actually the same town but it didn’t sound as good) I was attending one of those how to get from a dunce to a fiction writer courses. The tutor was one of those types sent to inspire. He suggested that we write a story entitled “The Neighbours from Hell” where the neighbours really were from hell.

The pictures that this generates in my mind were so vivid that I was inspired to write various short stories all of them centred on the same subject.

See my earlier bog posts for more stories on the same theme. https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/13/on-the-theme-of-hell/, https://magic-phil.co.uk/2018/02/18/the-neighbours-from-hell/.

I haven’t written one now for several years but do wonder if I ever grew a big enough pair to set about a book whether it might not be on a similar subject.

This is the next version of the hell stories:

Story

How did I get here? Where am I? I seem to be sat in an interview. A mere five seconds ago, I was walking up my neighbour’s path.

Ranged around me are six people in exquisite suits, finely tailored. This must be a prestigious position! What am I doing here?

The first man is leaning forwards his suit a delicate pinstripe in grey. Sombre, restrained, tasteful which belies the light from his eyes. The light is like insane excitement, almost techno-blue like the neon glow from a car stereo display. A light all gleam but no soul.

It must be the shock of the sudden change of scene, I feel disorientated; I look around bemused. I find that we are sat, cross-legged on a deep green carpet. It is a surreal and dream-like existence; not like any sense of reality, I am used to. Perhaps I am not awake at all?

The journey up that garden path, did I dream that too? It seems that as soon as I touched that door knocker…

Around us, other people lounge engaged with their own affairs. The area appears to be of all things a student bar. But if this is a student bar, these are the best-attired students I have ever seen. I feel strangely out of place in my carpet slippers and gardening trousers.

Now why was I visiting my neighbour? It seems now like another lifetime. Oh the noise, yes, that weird (and very loud) caterwauling emitting from the house. It had made my ears ache the second I had heard it.

So now, I am in a student bar? The furniture seems to be fixed around the wall vaguely like a sofa. But more utilitarian – perhaps an upholstered bench – in a very tasteful green.

The room punctuated by iron scrollwork screens. Each set at random angles to create interesting spaces for people to congregate. The screens have a Verdigris finish and stained wood surrounds. Each screen is a support for well-tended houseplants. A rubbery creeper here, a flowering orchid there. Each supports a shelf – waist-height of well-worn brown-stained wood. Like the surface of an old school desk; a meeting point at which others stand in active discussion.

Another thing strikes me; if this is a bar then why am I the only one holding a drink? I look down at what appears to be a large gin and tonic in a dainty wheel-cut glass – of a crystal so fine it is sure to ring with a tone fine enough for opera.

I look around and feeling my conspicuousness. I gulp the drink in the hope that I will gain some “fibre” from its contents. The bitterness of the draft grips my throat like drinking the entire bark rather than just quinine. I feel as if all fluid is drawn from my mouth.

Of a sudden, the noise hits me. I realise what has made the experience even more surreal – I have been completely deaf. Not a sound have I heard since this “dream” commenced.

The man before me is talking – he is staring at me with his gleaming eyes. I realise that he is talking to me

“Mr Blythe?”

“Oh, I mean, yes”

“I need to test your understanding: for the position you understand?”

“The position, oh, yes, the position”

“Now, as I was saying, you need to understand the database on which you will be working extremely well. If you satisfy the requirements then the rewards are high”

“Rewards, oh, ah, I mean yes, rewards”

“Now a design question; in which we will use the example of some gice”

Gice? I’m sure that he said gice, what are they? Does he mean mice?

“Mr Blythe?”

“Oh yes, sorry”

For some reason I feel that I have to pass this test, I have not felt the urge to ask where I am or what I am doing here. I am faced with a test and it has assumed all importance for me. Although I cannot say, what the test is for or what the penalty would be for failure.

“There are some gice in a carriage,” my interviewer continues. Immediately and without further description.

I know the carriage. It stands in my mind like a piece of art. A horse-drawn carriage angular and gleaming with a strength. As if it was hewn from solid ebony rather than constructed. The seats of deep-buttoned leather in a saddle-soaped burgundy. Each button lovingly buffed. The entire seat stuffed until bursting with horsehair. The wheels high and unadorned each spoke painted a gleaming black to match the body of the carriage. The horse-shafts slightly curving a deep black themselves. The whole, poised, stationary like some fantastic animal about to pounce. This carriage is no ordinary carriage.

The interviewer continues, “The carriage is in a corridor”

In my mind an endless corridor of gleaming white appears. The carriage is stood; the doors mere inches from the walls. The walls shining white like the interior of a brand-new hospital. Lit by some internal light banishing all shadow. The carriage is moving along the corridor at a fantastic speed. Door handles remaining a uniform distance from the wall. Passing intersecting corridors in a blur.

“Now Mr Blythe”

I come back from the vision so suddenly I can almost feel muscles in my head snap with the strain.

The interviewer continued, “How many objects are there?”

It feels like the weight of the rest of my life rests on this one question. I think so carefully that I can almost feel the fluff of lack of use drop from my brain cells as the mental cogs whirr.

I surmise that as he mentioned “gice” as a group that I can count them as one. The sense that a lot depends on my answer lingers. If gice are one then gice plus carriage plus corridor, must equal three mustn’t it? How do I know?

“Three” I respond.

Instantly all six people burst into laughter. My interviewer recovers first. The light in his eyes now somehow reflects deep concern. The light appears to be probing me, looking for the weakness that gave that answer.

“No that’s not right; it’s one.”

Suddenly I get understanding; it is like mentally finding the answer to an exam question. Lights metaphorically go on in my head. I sense an enormous rush of happiness. Akin to that of solving a difficult puzzle that has bothered me for weeks. I feel that I have long needed to know the answer to this question. It is strange, why do I feel such fulfilment? What does it mean?

“Ah, I see”

And I do see, although I can’t explain how, it is like the answer was just placed in my mind – the answer has to be one. And; from this understanding, I am now able to ask the interviewer questions of my own:

“So, how do you decide whether to put gice in a corridor or a carriage?”

The interviewer now looks at me approvingly “It’s not like that; it’s whichever choice fits the best”

“Ah, so it is an entirely pragmatic approach”

I realise that I am now able to watch myself from a distance. It is as if I am floating above myself, whilst also being inside myself at the same time. I am involved in the interview still. However, I am also watching myself in the interview as it continues. I can see that the interviewer approves of me – I get a growing impression that I have this position in the bag. But why? How do I understand the question? How do I understand that these objects together make just one? What is the database? Why must I work on it?

As I watch myself, I see that my delight at the understanding is growing. Finally, I see the six rise as if to leave. Rearranging themselves so that the magnificent suits settle into a smooth uncreased line.

I reach out and catch the arm of the interviewer; I stop him as the other’s leave.

“The one object, that’s the database isn’t it?”

He beams at me quite suddenly; it is like the sun suddenly shines in my world.

“You worked it out” and then he turns toward me.

We sprawl now upon the floor. The atmosphere of the interview has become very relaxed. We prop ourselves against one of the iron screens. I notice for the first time that a strip across the top of each screen is an inlay of stained glass. Approximately six inches in height composed of a flower motif in yellow, orange and green.

Sunlight now beams into the room. The stained glass gleams like an artistic snapshot of springtime. The sunlight lights the spot where we sit and chat in a relaxed style.

This is it – I have the job. I can feel delight and elation. The interviewer rises once more and leaves through a door. The door shuts behind him as if guided by a powerful spring. I approach the door but it has an air about it. Like a staffroom door to a child. I have a definite sense that I cannot go through this door.

I look back into the room, in the far corner nearly hidden by one of the iron screens stands a group of men in dark suits. The confidence of my new success buoying me I feel the need to approach, perhaps to swagger a bit. As I approach they look up, resentment obvious in their eyes. I get the feeling that passing this “test” is not all positive. Something tells me that having obtained the “position” I have somehow deprived these people. Not only that but I get the definite sense that I know these people from somewhere. But David Blythe would definitely have no memory of them. Why is this? Have I been living a double-life somehow, if so, why can’t I remember?

I turn to a man, youthful in appearance with shiny long dark hair. He has a familiarity as of a colleague that I have long worked with. He is glowering and his face darkened as if in shadow.

In excitement, I blurt out “who is that man? The man who interviewed me, what is his name?”

For some reason the unreality of my situation has ceased to affect me; perhaps, the drink? I am not sure. I am acting as if part of this scene, not observing it. It is as if I really belong in this totally alien place, performing unreal tasks.

The man looks up just once and catches my eye, I see the sulky expression; he refuses to speak. He turns away from me. One of his colleagues seems familiar. Unfriendly he indicates a large box of white-painted speakers.

I get the feeling that these are being removed. It is as if the equipment to which they were once attached is now redundant. They have the appearance of speakers that were once attached to a computer. Stained and well used. They could have been in a classroom used as part of a presentation; I get the feeling this is not insignificant.

Each of the speakers seems to develop a label as I view them. It is as if the labels are writing themselves as I watch. Each label has a neatly-lettered name on it.

The nearest set of speakers has a number of names, the first and subsequent lines untidily ruled out. The final lettering is “T. Bordure”. Unlike the answer “one” that brought great happiness, this label brings me uncertainty. I realise that I am guessing that this label is the correct one. I want to be certain. Nonetheless, the name associated with that brief script springs into my mind.

“Tim Bordure?” I enquire

Tim? How did I know Tim? How can I know the name?

It must be written down somewhere? Maybe it is part of my history at work? Work? Yes, that slipped into my head, work. I must have been doing something before to give me the experience for this new position.

I still feel uncertain about that name, have I identified the correct label? I determine to rush back. Back? Back to where? I must check that name; I must look it up on our intranet. Intranet? What Intranet? Where will I look up that name? Why must I look it up?

I must stop this; this can’t be real. I must think straight, I must find out what is real again.

I still feel like I just passed a significant test. I feel for some reason that I have been preparing for this test for a long time. Finally, I have understood, I have passed. But passed what? I can’t remember any preparation.

I am a Forty Five year old civil servant. I can’t remember preparing for anything in a very long time.

I feel certain that the six who just left are important, that having passed the “test” I will soon be joining them. However, I still don’t understand the glass – if it was gin why was I holding it in an interview? Why me alone?

I feel a sense of excitement and anticipation but mostly a sense of fulfilment. A sense of the mission ahead and that this “understanding” I have mysteriously achieved is a part of that.

*             *             *

I feel the itching in my eyes and blink. Oh, thank goodness it really was a dream. I felt sure it had to be it was so surreal. I am going to wake up back in my own life, beside Deirdre in our old rumpled bed. No test; no strange people; no “database”.

*             *             *

I open my eyes; there has been a change. I am not sat in the “student bar”. Neither am I waking from a dream to a small bedroom in Tunbridge Wells.

I am sat on a very hard orange plastic seat. There is a hexagon of seats. I form one side with another man sat a short distance to one side. I am facing other men.

The six of us I notice are myself and the five from the interview. But no sign of “Tim”. We are all silent and unmoving, facing forwards motionless.

My arms are resting quietly along the arms of a… what? I could swear the seat was orange and plastic. But now my arms are resting on a chair of tubular steel and black leather. It strikes me like a chair I have observed through the window of a local hairdressers. Even the chair seems to be unreal.

Into my mind hovers a vision of “Tim” as I last saw him beaming with happiness for me, I feel a great warmth towards him. The vision seems to blot out my mental objections to the situation in which I find myself.

My previous life with Deirdre is but a distant whisper in a melange of more strident voices. Central is this sense that I have a mission. That it is of overriding importance and that I have been preparing for it for a long time. But what is this mission? What am I doing?

In my mind, “Tim” continues to smile; but his face now begins to appear a representation. His smile more like a caricature. A clown rather than a warm human being.

“David Blythe, at last you join us”.

I look down at myself as he speaks into my mind and I see that I am now attired like the others. Gardening trousers, old faded slippers have metamorphosed into a sombre grey flawless suit. A suit that moves so smoothly I swear it was silk. The shoes gleaming enough to blind onlookers. But no onlookers – just the team of six.

In my mind “Tim” speaks again. Looking less and less appealing, the charming smile appears an animal snarl.

“So David, welcome to the purpose of your life. It’s been a long preparation but you have finally achieved the level which I knew you would achieve seven hundred years ago.”

Seven hundred years? What does he mean seven hundred years? No one lives for seven hundred years; surely, he knows that?

“Yes, now we have all six of the database administrators together. Finally the management of earth can come back on stream”

As he announces this confusing message the man to left and right of me grasps my arm in a tight grip. I felt a sense of panic rise. A dark foreknowledge of what is to occur. I see in my mind frightening images, which I do my best to dismiss.

I look to my left hand and I see that the flesh of my fingers is extending as I watch, one part of my mind hysterical. One part, an older part, calm, expectant. The growth is amazingly rapid.

Then pain begins. A sense of stretching, then a burning tearing sensation. As I watch, my finger ends rip and inwardly I scream with agony but outwardly, I am calm, silent. I see that my fingers have found my neighbours – also extended like my own. As they find them the finger, ends fuse and thicken to form a five-pointed cage of flesh and bone.

Strangely, I begin to embrace the pain to draw it into myself like a possession. It is like a smoke-ridden breath to an addict. Deeply pleasurable but also dreadful and frightening.

Now the skin, blood and bone of the two limbs rushes together. The five fingered birdcage completed, but growth still continues; nerves fuse. Sensory pathways between our two minds now become one.

I begin to receive pain, an almost intolerable level of pain. This is not my mind, I am receiving the pain response of my nearest neighbour now fused with me.

His mind is an inner scream of agony and suffering. For some reason I am able to deal with the sensations more rapidly than he. Over time I can see beyond the wall of pain. I begin to receive his thought, his memories, his desires.

Beyond the pain is regret. Time wasted, things not accomplished a knowledge that he has reached the end and never lived up to his obligations.

I realise that as I receive this “broadcast” of despair I am broadcasting back one of my own. Mental images of the time that girl rejected me at school. The sense of failure when I was redundant. No happy thoughts seem to escape me.

I have no time to think. I begin to receive more images. I realise that my other neighbour is now linked to me as well. This man is quite different. I find that the link between us is an unbreakable curse.

Toby has been a murderer all his life. He feels great pleasure at the inflicting of pain on others. I can see the many people he has tortured and abused. The sense of despair in their eyes as they realise that they are about to die. Then the cold blankness of their eyes in death.

I cannot escape him; he is now one with me and I with him. I can see the blows in detail that he meted on those he battered to death. I feel his exaltation at the powerful feelings this raised in him..

I realise that now Toby and Neil are a part of me, I am a part of them. I am now the murderer, his feelings of pleasure are also mine, we are one. One, the answer to that question that got me this “position” one, I reflect bitterly.

I now can feel the mind of each of the six in the ring, each in pain, each filled with regrets. We are now linked as one organism into a flesh and bone ring. Some minds are sadistic, some deluded but no happy mind do I receive.

I realise that as one we have the collective ability of six united. This collective must have great power of thought and of mind. Each memory is mine as much as my own. I can think with their thoughts. Recall their memories and they, can do likewise with mine.

I am filled with the guilt not only for my own misdeeds but also for those of the other five. Between us, we have “sins” of such great gravity and breadth that no single man would have had time or imagination to experience. Now I feel them and remember them as if they all belong to me.

I begin to mull over this past in deep shock. I cease to perceive with my eyes or ears. Living only inside in the darkness of this new world. I am saved from this by a sharp tug on my pain stretched arms.

The white room is moving at some incredible speed. The walls begin to slide down as if a partition rather than a part of the structure. Around the room, there is only darkness.

I have the sensation of sitting in a square of light consisting only of ceiling and floor surrounding by impenetrable black.

As I wait, I see approaching from out of the dark another square very like ours. In fact it appears to be ours, approaching so fast.

Initially a faint dot – almost unperceivable but upon us in moments. Docking with our room at lightning speed. The jolt sends fresh waves of pain through the ring of which I am a member.

The ring is a mirror of ours – I can see myself facing me, and close to me my neighbour Toby but this cannot be. We cannot be sat in two places at once.

As I try to understand, to get control of my mind I see a small child, walking across the darkness. Her feet resting on dark, walking through the dark towards us.

She is a barely four feet high and clad in an almost see through full-length shift. But as she approaches, I see that her pretty form is marred. She has no eyes. The sockets burned out and glaring red.

I want to scream but I seem unable to do so. My mouth will not open. I mentally recoil as she grasps the place where the hands of Toby and I join. At the same time with her, other arm she grasps the ring that has now docked with us.

It is then that I have the realisation that I had not seen the ring approaching with my eyes at all. In fact, the ring was behind me. I have seen the approach through the eyes of the man opposite. It was hard to think like this now; I was not thinking “us” so much as “me”. My ring of six was now me and I was it.

Then a new pain. I realise that fresh flesh and bone is forming between the ring in which I am sitting and the other ring. The child seems to take no part. As I struggle with the new pain, I realise that I cannot sense her. She appears to have no mind; in fact, she appears not to exist.

As I wait, the girl detaches herself and walks away across the darkness until it absorbs her slight form.

The two joined rings allow me to feel the other me. I can feel me as a happy and positive man. I can feel the sensation of the first time Deidre and I went out. I can feel the satisfaction at getting my first job.

The two halves of me are at war. It is not just my war. Each of the men in my ring aggressively responding to this new invasion. Electricity sparks across the interface between us. Twelve minds attempt to destroy one another.

But the war has just begun.

Even as I battle my other, self I see approaching a third ring of six. As this one also docks at lightning speed. I sense all six minds in my ring unite in despair at the new arrival. Mental images from the other ring are of welcoming expectation.

From the darkness, this time emerges a boy child, dressed again in a sheer outfit like a shift or nightgown. Again, he has a face ruined by burning.

He grasps the place where the hands of Neil and I join and with his other arm grasps the ring that has now docked with us.

As we fuse I feel the pain blank out my mind for a while. I feel a sense of our imbalance, the sense of war between the two halves and in the third ring judgement. Like the sensation, I had in the interview of watching myself. The third ring is watching the war between good and bad and judging us.

The bad hates the judgement. The good welcomes it. The sense of the warring parts of self escalates until the junctions between us hum with angry electricity.

As the boy disappears into the darkness, I see “Tim”. I see him flying, unsupported through the darkness towards us. He is gliding supported by nothingness. Arriving with a graceful determination.

As he nears the room enlarges to be become one whole. New walls start to “grow” organically around us. The walls reflect back that penetrating whiteness.

I barely perceive it; wracked as I am with pain and battling my inner self split into three parts.

“Tim” hovers above the ring for mere seconds before fresh flesh springs from the union of three rings. It rushes upwards like vine from a tree. I feel a sensation like blood draining from me and lose all consciousness.

*             *             *

I am awake; I can feel myself angry, despairing, frightened. I am real. I can feel myself in all six parts. I can now feel “Tim” floating above me. Strangled in a flesh and bone cage, which has surrounded him; feeds on him; is embedded with his mind, torso, abdomen.

I can feel his suffering as I can the six. I can feel that he is receiving the war amongst the eighteen and struggling with it. As he struggles the struggle becomes mine. I feel almost a compassion for him but also anger and loathing.

The electricity between us is now an angry growl. The heat from it oppressive. It crackles with the fury of our warring as pain follows hope, and judgement follows pain. Round and round like a desperate man drowning.

Then above us an entity begins to form, drawing on the pain and frustration. A blue light develops above the warring minds – drawing lightning rods of power in a blue arc directly from “Tim”.

The consciousness of the entity is malign drawing strength from the three rings of six. It begins to tower in an ice blue form above us. Sneering in its awareness of its own strength it looks down on those who formed it. It bathes in the suffering of the puny who united for this moment.

Now at last the database is online.

 

 

 

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Father Christmas

This was part of an exercise designed such that you would write about children.

Unfortunately I have very limited experience with children and apparently it showed. My lack of understanding was about the level that children think at.

From my perspective a child has reasonably little awareness of a world outside of their head. My limited understanding stemmed from the way parents treat children.

Parents insist upon holding a child’s hand (because children have no idea an oncoming car can kill them).

Parents tend to keep children close to them (because children can’t survive alone).

Parents escort children everywhere (because children are unable to do anything by themselves).

So I had the impression that prior to a certain age a child’s perspective was skewed by what was inside the child’s head.

The feedback I received was that the story was unrealistic as the child would not be this naïve.

That shows how little I know.

This underlines the idea that you should try to write about things that you know – or do your research well.

After this I’ve pretty well decided that using children as characters is not going to be something that I’m great at. So probably has no future in the things that I write.

The following therefore is probably only of interest in terms of an example of what not to do.

Story

“Can I have a puppy Mummy? Can I?  I want a puppy because I don’t have a puppy”.

“Timmy be quiet can’t you see I’m talking?”

Mummy was talking very loud.  Mummy is loud if I am naughty.  I think the man must have been naughty.  I hid behind Mummy’s legs.

Mummy was very upset –the back of her hand went white.  My hand hurts when she holds it so tightly.

“Mummy, Mummy let go, I want to play”.

I looked down at my new shoes.  The little lights in the sides came on as I was walking.  I was stamping my shoes and trying to see the lights come on.

I wondered if the strange man had sweeties.  “Hello” I said from behind Mummy’s legs.

The man bent down and looked at me.  He was very dirty, he had strange-looking hair with leaves in it.

“Mummy he smells funny”

Mummy pulled my hand suddenly – it really hurt – I was crying.  Mummy was talking very loud now.

The man had Mummy’s handbag.  Perhaps he wanted to buy me presents?  Sometimes Mummy buys me presents when she has that bag.

Mummy said that Father Christmas would come with presents. Perhaps this man was Father Christmas? He had a wrinkly hairy face.

“Mummy has Father Christmas got me a present?”

“Timmy if you don’t shut up I’ll give you a thick ear, understand?”

Mummy took me to see Father Christmas before; he wasn’t like this Father Christmas.  When I went to see Father Christmas before he was shiny, red and happy, he didn’t smell like this man.

I saw another Father Christmas in a shop today.  Maybe there are lots of Father Christmas’s?  Perhaps I get more presents if there are lots of Father Christmas’s?

“I want a present, I want a present”.

Mummy turned around and smacked me.  I started crying.  I felt hot and tired

Mummy was very angry now; she was really shouting – her arm had gone stiff and my hand was really hurting.

People were standing still watching me.  They must have known that I was with Father Christmas.

It was very quiet now.  Mummy was not shouting.  A shiny car was there; it was white and had funny lights.

The lights on my shoes are red, these lights were blue, they were very high, I watched them go round and round.

A really big man was talking to Mummy.  He had very dark clothes on; he was scary.  He had a shiny belt on; I was watching the long stick on that belt.  Billy has a stick like that; he got it for his birthday.  I don’t think I could have played with this stick.  Billy has a puppy, it was all floppy and sleepy – I don’t think Father Christmas had my puppy.

The big man put Father Christmas in his shiny car.

“Mummy can I go with Father Christmas?”

“NO Timmy you can’t”.

Mummy didn’t have hold of my hand now. I jumped in next to Father Christmas.

“Father Christmas, can I have a puppy?”

 

 

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Narrative Vs Dialogue

Two stories both on the same subject to show the effects of Narrative vs. Dialogue.

From a course I did so long ago now that I can’t remember the context.

They’re here purely for your enjoyment and with no other explanation.

I hope that you like them.

Narrative

Elizabeth was a fool Jane knew it. They hadn’t been friends for twenty years without the realisation that Elizabeth was a weak-headed, softhearted, naïve fool.

Didn’t she, the mother have the greater insight into the workings of her daughters?

There were the startling, the mediocre and the downright alarming. Rebecca, the eldest – she had always been the exceptional one. Always knowing what she wanted to do. She planned her wedding for the best weekend of the year, a marvellous dress, a fantastic husband.

Then there was Ruth. Jane could feel the anger like a tiny pricking sensation already starting, just thinking about her.

Ruth, yes – she’d warned her – with every one of the dropout wasters she’d hung around with (and taken to bed) she’d warned her.

Now she was pregnant,, of course she hadn’t taken the time to tell her own mother, oh no.

A hasty wedding in October – at a registry office, a rush job at minimal expense – well this guy Richard was hardly the high-flyer, not like Rebecca’s husband.

Ruth had made a bad choice and it was obvious why. It was just to spite her mother. They’d never seen eye to eye and now she had chosen the one thing that she knew would really hurt.

Jane took pride in her family – liked to think that she’d instilled in them some old-fashioned values.

Rebecca had never hung around town late at night picking up boys – and what boys. The latest one had a tongue piercing – and a dotted line tattooed across his neck with a small pair of scissors labelled “cut here”.

What kind of guy was he this Richard? She doubted very much that Ruth even knew him very well. She knew he had a motorbike and was the sort of guy that Jane would despise. Jane would never welcome him into the family.

How better to hurt her mother than to marry him? Well it worked; all the years of spite and angst could not equal what she was doing this time.

If only Ruth wasn’t such a stubborn, wilful girl, she wouldn’t be dragging the family down in this way. Jane wished, not for the first time that she could disown her.

It was bad enough that she’d found them “at it” in her own bathroom but then to go and marry him? It was too much.

So what was Elizabeth going on about? The loose-minded woman. No doubt, she saw Ruth as another hard-luck case like an abandoned puppy or something.

No, Ruth had a lot of learning left and she, Jane was not going to shield her from any of it.

Dialogue

“Isn’t it the most perfect day Jane” Elizabeth gushed, her brow furrowed in concern.

“It’s October Elizabeth, who ever heard of a wedding in October? I may as well look around for thermal underwear” Jane was at her most caustic today. “Now, Rebecca, Rebecca; there’s a girl with sense, a June wedding, very sensible”

“As I recall Jane, you moaned all day that it was too hot and you were suffering from sunburn,” said Elizabeth archly.

“Hmmph well at least I didn’t have to go there looking like an Eskimo – it’s so unattractive.”

Elizabeth sighed inwardly and tried again “The weather is unseasonably warm Jane. Anyway I’m told the registry office is centrally heated”

“Office, yes office, why not a church?”

Elizabeth decided on a change of tack “Did you see the dress though Jane? She will look beautiful”

“I didn’t want to see it, it’s not as though it’s a wedding dress or anything. There won’t be a train or walking up the aisle will there?”

“I guess as long as she’s happy though?” Elizabeth’s voice squeaked with the effort of maintaining diplomacy.

“Happy, happy, what kind of selfish attitude is that? I give it six months, that’s all, six months”

“Richard seems a very nice lad” Elizabeth was tiring of the fight.

“If you don’t count the tongue piercing and the tattoos of course.”

“They all have those now I think”

“Well he isn’t tolerant enough for Ruth that’s for sure. I don’t think he’s had half enough time to realize what a vicious little wildcat she can be”

“What makes you think that, Jane? What evidence do you have?” Elizabeth, by now beaten decided to go with the flow.

“I’ll tell you why – she’s been going round like some old slapper. Mike last year, Derek six months ago and now Richard. Is it any surprise that she’s pregnant?”

Elizabeth gasped, “That’s a vicious thing to say, you’ve no evidence at all for that statement”

“Oh, come on, don’t be so naïve, she’s been hanging around him like a bitch in heat” Jane snapped.

“How can you say that about your own daughter?”

“You just have to look at her for God’s sake, how many brides do you know actually put on weight for their wedding?”

“I think you’ll find the dress size is exactly the same now as when she ordered it Jane.” Elizabeth was sounding exasperated. “You can’t just treat your daughter in this way Jane, you can’t. It will come back to haunt you if you do.”

Jane glared at her stubbornly “I have five daughters, Elizabeth, five and have any been so awful to me as this one? I don’t think so.”

“Ruth is a lovely girl, Jane, surely you see that” said Elizabeth, tears by now gleaming in her soft brown eyes.

Jane’s gaze was grey and piercing “I tell you, for all the pain this one has brought me, I wish I only had four daughters.”
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The Writing Manifesto

This was something unique to one of the courses. I had never before come across the idea of having a writing manifesto. This is a declaration – public usually of your policy and aims. Presumably any such declaration is going to be a forceful lever motivating you in your desired direction in this case writing).

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/grammarly/write-manifesto_b_5575496.html.

It’s a good idea before writing a manifesto of your own to look at manifestos that others have written for example:

The Futurists Italy 1909

Manifesto of Futurism

  1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.
  2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.
  3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.
  4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
  5. We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit.
  6. The poet must spend himself with ardor, splendor, and generosity, to swell the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.
  7. Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man.
  8. We stand on the last promontory of the centuries!… Why should we look back, when what we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the Impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed.
  9. We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.
  10. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.
  11. We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.

The New Puritan Manifesto

  1. Primary storytellers, we are dedicated to the narrative form.
  2. We are prose writers and recognise that prose is the dominant form of expression. For this reason we shun poetry and poetic licence in all its forms.
  3. While acknowledging the value of genre fiction, whether classical or modern, we will always move towards new openings, rupturing existing genre expectations.
  4. We believe in textual simplicity and vow to avoid all devices of voice: rhetoric, authorial asides.
  5. In the name of clarity, we recognise the importance of temporal linearity and eschew flashbacks, dual temporal narratives and foreshadowing.
  6. We believe in grammatical purity and avoid any elaborate punctuation.
  7. We recognise that published works are also historical documents. As fragments of our time, all our texts are dated and set in the present day. All products, The Introduction to The New Puritan Generation 15 places, artists and objects named are real.
  8. As faithful representations of the present, our texts will avoid all improbable or unknowable speculation about the past or the future.
  9. We are moralists, so all texts feature a recognisable ethical reality.
  10. Nevertheless, our aim is integrity of expression, above and beyond any commitment to form.

A Writer’s Manifesto

I guess my most important aim is to entertain.

First commandment of popular fiction of any kind is (as the lovely Claudia Carroll once said): Thou shalt not bore. Quite right too.

Second aim – to say something.

I know this sounds a little vague but sometimes I read books that don’t actually say anything. They just potter along, telling a nice story, but not really going anywhere. I think books should have something solid rooted at the heart of them – a theme if you like. Sometimes that theme doesn’t make itself fully known until you finish the 1st or 2nd or even the 3rd draft, but it’s often bubbling away under the surface of your words, slowly rising to the surface. For example in the first Amy Green book I wanted to tell readers it’s OK to be yourself. In fact it’s pretty darn cool to be yourself. It’s a theme that runs through all the Amy Green books.

My third aim is to write with passion and with confidence.

I’ve been writing for many years now and I’ve started to understand what both these things really mean and how important they are. Write without passion and you’re doomed. The confidence bit – that can be learned over time. But if you write with both passion and confidence – then you might just have a pretty good book on your hands.

Tips for Producing a Manifesto

  • What are your aims when you write?
  • What symbols reoccur in writing?
  • Prose vs poetry?
  • What do you want to glorify?
  • What do you want to eschew?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What do you declare?

The manifesto is a mechanism for recognising why author’s write.

A manifesto is a declaration of intent – a public declaration of policy and aims. It will help your focus as you need to know why it is that you are writing.

A manifesto states what is important to you in your writing. The best place for your manifesto is on the wall somewhere you can see it to remind you why you are writing. In the first place the manifesto is for you.

At the time the manifesto I came up with was this:

Phil’s Manifesto

I write to enjoy the process

I write to enjoy the output for myself

I write so that other people will read my writing and will get enjoyment from reading it

I want to make a living from writing

I am keen to write novels

I will write of things in psychology that interest me

I will write of people in conflict with themselves or with others

I will write of people who escape “real life”

I will write attacks on the mundane, the boring, the routine

I will write prose rather than poetry

I will glorify freedom and escape

I will write of people with complex thought patterns

I will write of people who are small and boring

I will write about anyone who is protesting

I will eschew tediousness and boredom

I will eschew too much sanity or saneness

I will eschew routine

I will eschew “real life”

I wish to be published – a real book with paper not an e-book or a blog

I believe in rebellion as a method for change

I believe in not sticking to the status quo

However all these years later I think I would make a few changes to this manifesto now. Perhaps if there is sufficient interest I will write a new one.

 

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Hero Story

From one of my courses I was asked for a story about a hero. I chose Stanley who was a hero to me. I hope that you love him as I did.

“Sodding James Bond I mean where would he be if that guy Q hadn’t invented the exploding pen or the rotating watch I ask you that?” Stanley muttered distractedly attacking the edge of a piece of metal with a brutal looking file.

“It’s the engineers that save the day not some jumped up toss-pot in a bad-fitting suit”.

“Oh yes I’m certain he has all the beautiful girls, sex life of a bonobo chimpanzee that one. But without a rocket launcher in that car of his he would have been toast long since.”

Stanley was nursing a particularly fearsome hangover. He had retreated to a favoured part of one of the many sheds in what had once been termed a garden.

The previous evening had been another unsuccessful one.  His normal prejudices returned in force as he mentally revisited the experience.

“It isn’t as if I have any need of company” “I’m never in need of anyone when I have a broken Morris Minor and a new clutch kit”. “I just sometimes feel that it would be nice to have a drink”. “Is it my fault that all the places which sell respectable beer also seemed to be the popular ones?” “It isn’t that I actually want to meet anyone”.

“The problem is that I am invisible” – “All engineers have to be invisible”.

In Stanley’s mind the world had no respect for engineers or engineering things. The evidence for this perspective was scanty. Currently this evidence consisted of the preference for meddling secret agents over dependable engineers who provided their toys. Nonetheless Stanley was firmly of the view that this was the problem.

At times, despite the need to rewire the reversing light on the Series III Land Rover, something would push Stanley to go to the Skink and Partridge, the Rat and Falcon or the Snail and Marten to stand, and drink, and watch.

“When you’re an engineer you should just keep your gob shut,” Stanley said to himself, “Especially if you’re drinking Old Thumper”. In Stanley’s mind he was never more translucent than after a nice half of Old Thumper or Mainwaring’s special.

He had to proffer large sums of money across the bar even for the landlord to notice that he wanted to order something. It was even worse if he tried to talk to someone whilst the beer evolved itself onto the bar in front of him.

“For some reason when I mentioned the internal diameter of the O-Ring seal on an MGA Brake Master Cylinder it’s as if I never existed”. “I’ve seen People look straight through me, talk with people who were stood behind me or try to walk through me as they dash for the door. (I’m never certain what the damn hurry is either)”

“If I could just stay silent”

The idea of staying quiet had come to Stanley following many such visits. It was a reasonably effective idea at least initially. However then the second half of Old Thumper would take effect

“I was quite happy to stay silent” he said to himself despairingly.

Stanley would prop himself against his favourite oil-stained corner of the bar. He would maintain a careful silence – at least at first. However The Rat and Falcon did sell such excellent bitter. Many a nearby person would consume rather a lot of it.

By the time that Stanley had consumed the second half of Old Thumper someone would lean on the bar next to him and would begin to talk to the wall. At least Stanley was pretty certain it was the wall so convinced was he that he was invisible.

Stanley had learned that in these moments of “addressing the wall” the imbibers of the Rat and Falcon would have nothing to say which was of interest either to him or the Verdigris infested horse brasses behind him.

The conversations always went along similar lines. It could be the problems with the mortgage payments, the girl who was so fine that no later woman had been her like. Sometimes it was the late-diagnosed illness from which the imbiber would not recover.

The conversation was always about the people themselves. It was as if Stanley wasn’t there.

At this point Stanley had learned it was wise to nod and not to say anything.

The talking seemed to make his invisibility much worse. However he seemed unable to control his impulse to talk.

Last night for instance a very nice lady had drifted over.

Queenie was a little heavily made up. This was unfortunate given the mascara staining – a result of the liquid pouring from her eyes.

“No one respects me” she had said. Stanley hoped that the horse brasses were making notes in case she asked questions afterwards. “I mean I’m a nice person”. Stanley wasn’t clear what relevance this could be to the green flock wallpaper but like him it was keeping its own counsel on the issue.

Encouraged by the wallpaper’s silence she continued. “Cliff seemed such a nice one; he didn’t hit me very often, only on his days off”. “But then” (and she raised her voice at this point) “he made off with all my money. I came home Sunday – no rent, no food…”

Stanley wasn’t clear under which definition not hitting someone often was a positive feature. But he was prepared to take Queenie’s view on the subject.

Over the next hour, Stanley exchanged petrol and grease smudges with the bar stool. Queenie at intervals wailed and sobbed. Stanley developed an understanding of the problem. Apparently no one respected Queenie. (“Everyone” appeared to be male, and from Queenie’s description males who Stanley would not be keen to meet).

So many men had offended, assaulted or departed Queenie. She was now convinced that her value rated that of a penny stamp.

Stanley’s mind had begun to wander and he was thinking again of that missing 3/16″ multi-point socket. It was at this point that he forgot that he was invisible: “Do you know that today I found a long shank pop rivet set.  They are just the most useful things. I can now solve the problem of the sill covers on the MK1 Capri, that’s been bugging me for ages”.

Queenie had looked at the horse brasses with a strange expression. It was as if a set of curtains had drawn across her eyes. She had departed in the direction of the ladies. Stanley looked at his beer and realised a refill was needed. After a few more halves of Old Thumper and waiting for an hour he had realised that Queenie was not about to return.

Stanley had wobbled home the 5 miles with that familiar emptiness intact. He had no idea what one was supposed to do with that feeling once the Rat and Falcon was closed. He finally passed out on the rear seat of the Morris Ital. (The one propped up on axle stands in the lean-too car-port).

This morning the problem kept returning to him. He considered it whilst attempting to extract an offensive Head Stud from an Austin Mini. It seemed to him that the problem was an engineering one.

If he examined it from an engineering perspective he would be bound to come up with something – time for a cup of tea and the back of an envelope.

“So problem – vague feeling of emptiness as yet unidentified” mumbled Stanley – the stub of a grimy pencil protruding from behind one ear.

“Solutions so far attempted:

1) Old Thumper – advantages: tendency to remove feeling of emptiness. Disadvantages – feel sodding ill for days afterwards, hmm,

2)  Listening to people in the Rat and Falcon – advantages: the empty feeling abates for a short while. Disadvantages it returns multiplied manifold times a short while afterwards,

3) Staying home and changing the piston rings on the Austin 3 litre – advantages: enjoy myself. Disadvantages: empty feeling keeps nagging at me the whole time”

Stanley reasoned that he had not identified the correct solution. He thumped the top of the valve television set and sat down waiting the 15 minutes for the picture to appear.

He read once that the digital revolution would mean the end of the old television. But a bit of soldering a few circuit diagrams and he had a digital enabled valve TV from the 1960s.

“Now if I can solve the problem of the digitally-enabled TV set I should be able to resolve the emptiness problem”.

“OK emptiness what is that now? Something missing usually but it’s unlikely to be food” Stanley looked down at the snug fitting overalls a little ruefully.

“Old Thumper seems to assuage symptoms but not for long – so it isn’t drink then”

“Meeting people – initially looked promising. But in fact makes things worse; right about the time they start talking.” Stanley chewed the pencil end bitterly.

“What do we have left?” Hmm, now we have “drugs, sex, medical treatment, prosthetics…”

Stanley’s eyes lit up, now here was a solution he could metaphorically get his teeth into – “prosthetics, yes. I solved the motorised legs problem for that young lad just last week”.

Stanley had used his engineering skill to manufacture legs for a paraplegic. It had looked as if he had functional legs. These enabled him to move at speed whilst remaining upright. It had been a satisfying challenge.

“I wonder if I should just try the sex thing first, that could be promising…” Stanley’s thoughts returned to the previous evening…“heaven forbid…” he said to himself.

“Now if the problem seems connected with being invisible and I get more invisible when I talk – how can I overcome that problem…?”

That evening Stanley was evicted from the Snail and Marten. The use of a brightly painted flying helmet (with the attached flashing lights) and a chest-mounted sign (which repeated his every word in a strobing yellow colour) had seemed to him an excellent idea.

“Sodding Landlord” he said.

Sadly the evening had not been a success. If anything people seemed to find him ever-more invisible. Looking everywhere but actually where he stood.

“Attempt 4)” he said to the envelope – with his tongue sticking out “high visibility suit – complete failure”.

“OK, so attempts to make myself more obvious, talking, high visibility suit – no success”. “Making myself quiet and hidden – attracts people – some success but temporary effects only”. “Hmm” “OK so in fact I need to find a mechanism to be completely hidden and very very quiet”

That evening Stanley slipped into the Snail and Marten early. Making certain the landlord’s back was turned he unscrewed the back of the juke box and squeezed inside pulling the panel in behind him.

After a long and dusty evening during which he had scorched his nose (the Juke Box selections sending sparks through the end of it). He was forced to admit this was not the solution.

“So attempts at hiding – well the hiding was very successful” “however still invisible to people and the feeling remains” “so that is attempt 5”

At this point Stanley made an extra strong pot of tea. The obvious things had been eliminated. Yet he remained invisible and he retained an unidentified empty feeling which he could not seem to address.

“Hmm, so it looks like the specification of the problem is wrong” said Stanley to himself. “The invisibility goes with being an engineer, I like being an engineer so I have to stay invisible. I don’t actually need people at all in fact – I am quite happy with machines”

For some reason the empty feeling chose that moment to make itself very forcibly known. “Oh God I feel so miserable” Stanley said to himself “Why in heavens name can’t I just give up and die right this minute?”

Stanley unconsciously hugged himself – feeling wretched. “Ok so I am an engineer therefore I am invisible. I don’t need people but I feel horrible”. “Hmm, so it would appear that I need to address the feeling horrible part”.

Stanley took his spectacles from the upper overall pocket and pulled them on.  One lens was now near opaque but he was very proud of the repair job he had done on the frame. He’d reversed the Rover over them whilst road testing that wheel bearing replacement.

He turned to the old bookshelf. (This was now his favourite piece of furniture after he had reinforced it with 3mm Angle iron cut from an old bed). He leafed through some medical reference books.

“Hmm, so for each of these drugs it seems that the side effects are equally as bad if not worse than the things that they are treating”. Stanley shook his head in some confusion “I think I will stick with the engineering solution”.

“Now what was that list, oh yes hmm, drugs, sex, medical treatment, prosthetics…

Now the drugs seem a bad idea, the prosthetics didn’t work, so we have the sex”. Stanley realised he had no idea how to persuade someone to engage in such activity. After all – he was invisible.

“It appears I have to hope that sex is not the answer as it doesn’t appear to be a basic engineering problem

…or is it”?

A very congealed looking cup of tea and one very large envelope later – “yes it appears that isn’t too difficult actually”. Stanley set to with wire cutters and soldering iron.

Several days later: Looking at his creation Stanley couldn’t help but have a twinge of satisfaction “say what you like Stanley you are a very good engineer” Stanley enthused to himself. 6ft tall, long long legs, a chest that in any human would have meant substantial surgery and a heart melting voice. She moved with flawless poise like a cat with attitude.

After a really great cup of tea Stanley reasoned that it was time to put his android to the test. However he was forced to admit that, sexy as the android was, he didn’t really want sex with her.

Florrie (as he had named her) wasn’t actually filling him with any overpowering sexual urges. “Still Stanley old man, never find out if this is the answer unless you give it a go”. Five minutes later a very red-faced Stanley lay asleep in Florrie’s arms snoring enough to shake the remaining doors on the old sideboard.

Some time later:

“Attempt 6, machine for delivering sex on demand machine very effective – empty feeling remains, abject failure”

Stanley sat down and ran his calloused fingers through thin greasy hair. “I thought you were a bright one Stanley old man – can’t see how you’ve let this beat you”.

For 3 days Stanley sat completely motionless looking at the wall:

He knew that the crankshaft oil seal on the Wolseley 16/60 was weeping and he didn’t care.

He saw that mould was growing on the teapot again and he didn’t care.

He sat as silent and as still as the wallpaper which he was certain could be seen right though him.

Eventually the demands of thirst and bladder drove him to pull himself from the overalls-sized depression in the sofa.

His lungs were absolutely full – so shallow had his breathing been. He coughed forcefully for several minutes his lungs crackling like fine paper.

“It looks like the medical treatment then old man” Stanley said with some trepidation “that’s all there is to it. Better get yourself a few library books”

Stanley had once been a member of the library. He had a vague memory that the process had not gone well. It was difficult to apply for a library card when the librarian couldn’t see you.

Initially things had looked promising. Until he’d mentioned that the timing cover stud on a Vauxhall Chevette had a left hand thread. (And what a fascinating job it was to cut one by hand). His invisibility had asserted itself completely. It was all he could do to wrest the card from her pale resisting hand.

“On the plus side” Stanley reasoned “if I’m invisible then it won’t be much of a problem taking books from the library”. He chuckled sadly “after all no one will be able to see me”.

As Stanley entered the library the librarian fixed him with a look of such disdain that he was convinced that she could see him. Stanley shuffled across towards her. But she turned to her computer as if he didn’t exist – he realised that he had been mistaken.

“Reference section Stanley – that’s what we are looking for” he mumbled and turned towards the stairs.

After many weeks of visiting the library Stanley realised that he was going to need a computer. Many of the books now referred to computers attached to an Internet. That was going to be a resource that he could not do without. This would be his biggest project ever.

After hours with circuit boards and soldiering irons, Stanley built himself a computer. In fact Stanley had built a phenomenal computer. It would have embarrassed Intel had they realised that it had been built. Stanley had no appreciation that encryption even existed such was the computing power of this device.

Over time he accessed the records of military and medical establishments invisibly and unremarked. He assembled research and records without awareness that he was doing anything wrong. Finally he had what he was looking for.

“Florrie MKII then Stanley I think”

Stanley started again with soldering iron. Florrie watched the creation of a sister, wire by wire, limb by limb.

Florrie MK 2 could have been a pianist, with her long slender fingers. But her eyes held the intelligence of something quite terrifying. “I say again Stanley; if you could only have been happy with what you are you might have made a difference in this world.”

“Still there was no settling this emptiness; it is time to face the solution then.”

Stanley knew that he could not face another night in the Rat and Falcon. So he contented himself with a mope through the local off license. Eventually finding something foul and plastic coated. It might have been considered drinkable by human beings but God alone knows where. However it was effective in silencing the chasm within for just a short while.

Stanley slept, a slow drool from his lip now mixing with the stains on his cheeks – carbon left over from the decoking of the MG.

As he slept the Florrie MK II programme commenced. She gently administered the anaesthetic and watched as his breathing slowed to a regular whisper.

Monitoring him closely Florrie opened the skull of the anesthetised Stanley. Carefully she cauterised connections within the brain.

Wherever research had propounded that social centres were to be found a small section was cauterised away removing the function, excising the need. Establishing (so Stanley had reasoned) a haven of contentment for a fully-formed, self-contained engineer.

After the final stitch she raised Stanley into a semi prone position. She carefully watched his life signs as Stanley, smiling-blissfully, slept.

In the morning Stanley awoke and smiled to himself. Waving his oil-stained arm in front of him – he wondered what it was.

He cooed slowly to himself.

He looked at the thing watching over him and wondered what it was.

His eyes parted with a hazy wonder as he looked around him.

He stared in an unfocused way at the Jensen Healey mouldering away just outside the window and he wondered what it was.

He raised his leg and looked at it for several seconds and wondered if it was part of him or part of this big thing he seemed to be lying on.

Outside the welding set lay untouched, the lathe was silent, and the trolley jack lay as he had left it – in the hallway beside his next-best overalls.

Stanley looked around at this magic place and wondered how he had come to be here.

He smiled a wide-innocent smile and he drifted off to sleep quietly …

Seven Basic Plots

From another writing course the idea that there are just seven basic writing plots.

(Originally Christopher Booker – 2004 Bookfinder seven plots)

I am not clear how valuable it is knowing that there are seven basic plots. I imagine that you are trying to write something unique and new.

If you see “Award Winning Writer” in your future I cannot imagine you getting there by following a pre-prescribed route.

However it might be useful to see what has gone before – here are the seven basic plots.

Overcoming the Monster (e.g. The Hobbit, Cloverfield, Dracula, Harry Potter)

    1. Anticipation and call
    2. Dream stage – thinks overcoming will be easy
    3. Frustration – face to face with monster
    4. Nightmare stage – final ordeal
    5. The thrilling escape from death and death on monster

Rags to Riches (e.g. Jane Eyre, Great Expectations)

    1. Initial wretchedness at home and call
    2. get out into world – initial success
    3. The central crisis
    4. Independence and the final ordeal
    5. Final union, completion and fulfilment

The Quest (e.g. Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit)

    1. The call
    2. The journey (archetypal figures)
    3. Arrival and frustration
    4. Final ordeal and last battle
    5. The goal, treasure, prince/ess

Voyage and return (e.g. Sinbad, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, James and the Giant Peach)

    1. The fall into another world (ie. Alice in Wonderland)
    2. Initial fascination – dream stage
    3. Frustration stage – dark shadow figure
    4. Nightmare stage – its dominating looks like dark force will win
    5. Thrilling escape and return to normal world

Comedy (e.g. Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, Witches Abroad)

    1. Shadow of uncertainty and confusion
    2. Confusion get worse – disguise men/women
    3. Confusion gets resolved and lives happily ever after

Tragedy (e.g. The Martian Chronicles)

    1. Anticipation stage
    2. Dream stage
    3. Frustration
    4. Nightmare
    5. Destruction

Rebirth (e.g. Jonathan Livingston Seagull)

    1. Hero is cursed by dark power
    2. Dream stage – talk of a curse
    3. Curse takes hold and imprisons the hero
    4. Nightmare stage – no way out, no hope until hero turns up and relies someone else to save the day
    5. Miraculous redemption

 

Free Writing

A technique which appears to come up rather often. Variously termed free writing, timed exercises, stream of consciousness writing and so on.

Some people practice this as a distinct form of writing, which I had not considered as an option for example:

https://ashortconversation.com/about/

Both writing and counselling use this technique. (It is likely it is used elsewhere as it is so useful).

When used as part of counselling automatic writing is about whatever comes to mind. The idea being that this may access thoughts which are otherwise hidden.

It may also be used as part of a mindfulness practice.  Writing tends to slow the thoughts and enable a person to observe their own thinking. This practice may make it easier to manage that thinking going forwards.

Expressive writing involves an allotment of time (say 20 minutes). In this time a person writes down their thoughts about a challenging aspect of their life. The writing should fully explore how they have been affected by it. The idea being that it helps the person to deal with the situation.

Evidence suggests it is effective for example in conditions like anxiety.

It is also used for assisting clients to deal with difficult situations from their past.

From the perspective of the author this is a time set aside for writing practice without preconceptions or plan. It is designed to assist in bringing out ideas. It can be used to try to help a writer become unstuck.

The very act of getting words on paper can bring out solutions to problems that you have been wrestling with.

There may be as many ways of attempting this as there articles about it.

I have this approach from one of the writing courses that I attended. It is as effective as any other method:

Decide in advance how long you would like to give the exercise and set a timer (smartphones do this very well).

Ten minutes, twenty minutes up to an hour are usual amounts of time. This is dependent upon how long you believe you can sustain the activity. (It might be easier to start with shorter amounts of time and build up as you get familiar with the process).

Once you have allocated the time, you have to write for the whole time. The main rule is that you do not stop, get up or in any other way interrupt the practice once you have started.

Observe certain rules to get the most out of the exercise.

  1. There is no pausing once you begin. No reading what is already written. No stalling or gazing out of the window.
  2. There is no editing during the process. No crossing out, punctuating, substituting words or similar.
  3. Even if something is obviously wrong do not remove it. This includes things you did not expect/intend to write, poor spelling, punctuation or grammar. The writing can be as scrappy as you like including failing to respect ruled lines or margins.
  4. Pretend you have no control over what you are writing – this may help you be more creative.
  5. There should be no time for thinking – disengage brain and write.
  6. If the writing turns out to be scary too self-exposing (or in any other way taking risks you’re unhappy with) go with it anyway. The idea is to use this energy.

The aim is to get to your truest writing self. This is where you no longer censor yourself but write what you are truly feeling and thinking.

Here are some of the exercises I completed on my course. I never worked out the characters any further than this so I doubt they will appear anywhere else:

Exercise

And I have found that the majority of people that I meet have skills which I have no experience of. I have no idea how they learned or why I didn’t.

I do not see that things that a person wears. I do not remember the look in their eyes, detect the tone in their voice. I do not remember that yesterday their hair was grey and today it is boot black.

The truth is that I do not detect the importance of these things. I am not clear that the investment of effort and of time yields the results that others, gleaming eyes, inform me of.

I believe that it causes a great darkness of gossip and inward looking. I am not clear that the knitting psychological effects do not offset this. I cannot be clear unless I develop the skill.

But this part of the brain is missing. I think now only of events of changes and of developments. Identifying things, items and moments has always been far easier more diverting. I have to relate that I find it impossible now to invest any energy in the skills that I do not have.

I am a parody of a person. Now an actor in which the outer shell is a charming soul who listens, perceives, comments and applauds. Internally I am mechanical. A whirring set of gears designated to achieve only the outcomes which I have selected important. A manipulator content for others to smile whilst I manoeuvre into a position that takes me where I wish to go.

And yet oiled and tuned as the machine has become I remain thwarted unsuccessful limited. I reflect upon those skills and wonder if the outer signs are not subtly detected. The dark inner facets of my soul displayed to those I seek to charm.

Exercise 2

Awareness, working and silence. Dark with the dull red gleam of the alarm clock humming oldly beside the bed. Then again a twitch and the bed shudders like the dying spasms of a large fat animal.

Damn 2:15am again. Pain across the eyes. The struggle upright and look at the ground. Vacant greyness as the cogs start to whirr. Carpet focusing and defocusing until finally he accepts – awake again.

Shuffling silent descending and mumbling through the early rituals 2 ½ hours early

No steadiness, no rest, no silence. At last angry at accumulated sleeplessness. He sits TV sound off and allows a vacancy to permeate his brain. Waiting for the drum drum announcement of heating water which informs him at last that day can officially begin. The routine scramble for leaving can finally take over.

The greyness now seems inside as well as out. Each action harder, each thought more tenuous. Minor accidents now creating great depths of anger disproportionate to their effect.

The heavy needles of warm water serve only to remind of sleep opportunity lost and long day to come.

Regret no less than annoyance – why no sleep again.

The journey is too difficult too trying. Each vehicle a personal slight on him. Too slow; too fast; too hesitant. An excuse for overheated annoyance to swelling bombasity.

Watch that. Quell it. Have control. Slip quietly back. Slow. Watch yourself. Quietly does it

The heavy mist lays down around the park. Silent trudging marks the finals stages of the journey. Miserable damp sticky. A wait for the self-important guard to release the security door. At last he reaches the place of all his concerns. Wheezing the final steps till he makes an arrival.

Exercise 3

Your careers teacher tells appalling lies. “There is nothing that you cannot do”; “Aim High”; “The World is your oyster”.

Pretty soon you determine that you can’t depend on your careers teacher unless you already know what to do.

You turn up and stare blankly at one another. Until, in desperation, you come up with a random idea. Which he/she sets to with relish as if it were part of some life plan for you.

Of course you may follow this through in the absence of any better idea. But beware if you hadn’t an idea beforehand. Following someone else’s idea is even worse.

Your parents will become amateur careers advisors the moment that they recognise the fix that you are in.

Be wary.

This is lies too.

Formed from good intentions no doubt. But of absolutely no use to you. “You need a trade” “it doesn’t matter what you do just do it well” “we’re proud of you whatever”.

This is not helpful.

Lastly do not pay attention to any of your friends. “Working in this job is easy”. “Why don’t you try what I do I hardly ever put in a full day’s work”. “I started in April and already they’ve given me a pay rise”.

Utter tosh.

You will find the truth yourself. Many aspects of that truth will cause you to resent those lies. It will cause you to doubt advice from that point onwards.

You are correct to question that advice. Indeed any advice. For what other person has any idea of how you think, believe, react.

http://skepdic.com/autowrite.html

https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/expressive_writing

https://www.mindful.org/a-writing-practice-for-those-who-like-to-keep-doing/

http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/writing-as-therapy-a-silence-that-speaks-louder-than-words

https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-power-of-writing-3-types-of-therapeutic-writing/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201308/writing-therapy