Paintwater

My mother’s eyes looked as though they were full of black smoke. They looked like this a couple of times a year. Ordinarily they just looked muddy, like the paint water I would always leave too long before refilling when I was a child painting at the kitchen table, for whole days.

She would moan at me then for waiting until the water was a foggy brown smudge before heaving herself up from the sofa, grabbing the glass, and emptying it down the plug hole where it would create a swirling kaleidoscope pattern on the cream plastic sink. She’d then run the cold tap while she looked ahead out of the window, nearly always filling the glass until it overflowed with clean clear water.

Perhaps it bothered her so much because it’s what she did too. Perhaps she waited too long herself before she grew tired of the smudge in her eyes and that’s why she’d empty herself of food and open herself up fully to all the narcotics she could stomach until her eyes were a solid black soot, thick and heavy like the tangled mass of hair that used to hang lank down her back like splodges of black ink on white paper. Her pupils were spreading in her eyes and I wanted to reach out to her with a tissue, pinch the edge into a point and dab it into those eyes to blot away the darkness.

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Unashamedly bragging…

…about the fact that the inimitable blogger behind the ‘Surviving in Italy‘ scenes has allowed me to place words that came out of my head, onto her little patch of cyberspace.

Grazie mille, and I hope you all like it. Click here for my flash fiction memoir called Spoonful of Sugar. Below is a little sample.

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A Character Based on Possessions (a freewrite)

I always thought his chair looked strange without him sat in it. You had to sit in the room a long time to get a glimpse of it empty. When you did you couldn’t help but notice the difference in colour of material where the sun rarely had a chance to reach the places masked by his body. On the rare occasion that he left the confines of the chair it would be because he needed a new, sharper pencil for his crosswords. He kept a healthy supply of orange coloured 2H pencils in an old coffee jar. This lead stained old jar was always wedged into the corner of the windowsill, tucked behind the curtain and more often than not next to a red poinsettia, the pointy tips of the freshly sharpened pencils contrasting with the withered pale red tips of yet another unwanted gift from his daughter who offered endless plants instead of her time.

It always confused me how someone who couldn’t go to bed on a blunt pencil was not affected at all by the noticeable layer of light-coloured dust on the dark red radio next to their bed. I had heard the radio several times on a Sunday morning, so I knew he used it, but it was so old that even the sound coming from it sounded thick with dust. I think he was focused on the things that would keep his mind from wandering, and this was his crossword competitions, so the only things that warranted his time outside of this pursuit, was the sharpening of his pencils and the hole-punching of his competition entry forms so that he could store them and keep on track of his lack of success.  The only reason he kept the poinsettia on the windowsill for so long was for his neighbours to see that someone had been there to see him. The plant itself was just one more unnecessary object around him.

An Outdoor Scene (a freewrite)

Outside the office I can hear the traffic flowing along the dual carriageway, with a large roundabout facilitating everyone’s movement. The sound of the rain mixes with the engines to create a gritty swish of relentless noise outside the window.

The wind zigzags through the few token trees which struggle to stay green amidst the grey weeds circling their roots. At this time of day, as the offices release their workers onto the greying turf the dutiful roundabout starts to heave with fatigue, taking deeper and deeper breaths as it breathes in the approaching  cars, swirls them around and around, then spits them out the other side. The rows of cars at the edge of the shore keep growing, becoming huge tidal waves, swelling and roaring while they wait for the next wave.

People sit motionless in their cars staring ahead at the monster they must face. As they trickle forward towards their sacrifice they think of the other side and how if they just get through this, another day, they will make some changes. They just need to get through the sea storm ahead of them.

During the dead time before the storm there are people who are listening to the same radio station because their mouths are moving along in time to the same songs and I wonder what everyone sounds like inside their bubbles. They are tapping the steering wheel and waiting for their turn in the storm.

Meeting Rachel Joyce – Her Take on Writing for Radio

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Me getting her next book signed

This is a little shout out to people embarking on writing for Radio.

In the middle of October (2014 – yes I am that behind the time in posting this), in Chepstow Library in Wales, a crowd of us dragged a chair up to listen to the loveable Rachel Joyce talk about writing for radio.

It is difficult not to be drawn into Rachel’s world. With her long ruffled skirt and Victorian boots, just looking at her made you feel like you were in another world.

I don’t know if any of you have read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. If you have you will be surprised to hear that she is not someone who described herself as a novelist beforehand. It turns out that she is predominantly a playwright, and has been one of the main writers for Radio 4’s afternoon play, and lots of plays for Woman’s Hour. She has also been involved in a lot of adaptation work, adapting the Bronte sisters’ works for radio, and her own novels.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry tells the story of Harold’s epic walk from one end of the country to another. When he walks out of his front door one day in his usual clothes and shoes, it is clear that he is completely unprepared for his journey. Rachel explains that this was a mirror of her own writing journey. She had no idea how to write the book and likens the writing process to Harold just putting one foot in front of the other and just keeping going every day.

Some of the points she made were relevant to anyone on a Creative Writing course, in particular the A215 Creative Writing Module with The Open University, or indeed any writing course, or journey, so I thought I would write them up and share them with you.

Please note, however, that these are just her thoughts, and not to override any advice from your tutor or coursebook! Just things to think about, I suppose.

When asked about her radio writing she said that you have to remember that the radio can be switched off very quickly and then you have lost your audience.

They are unlikely to turn it back on, or find you on ‘listen again’ once they have made that decision, unlike with a book where the reader may well pick it up again when they have more time or are back in the mood.

Consequently, she feels that radio plays need to have a strong storyline to keep the listener engaged.

Other interesting points Rachel made:

–          In Britain we are one of the only nations left who still have radio drama, so we have to look after it, write it, listen to it, share it, review it etc.

–          Character names are hugely important as they carry a lot of weight

–          Rachel always knows what the end of her play will be, and feels as though the beginning and endings are answers to each other. However, she said that one of her most respected writers (named no names) said that anyone who knew their ending when they started out was dull.

–          Writing every single day is vital to improvement

–          Rachel likes to include a lot of truth in her work. She sees the truth as stepping stones. She will write about/fictionalise something truthful, then see another stepping stone stone of truth ahead of her and have to work out a way to get there.

–          Predominantly a writer for radio, Rachel is not used to writing descriptions at length. She has mainly worked in dialogue, and she found that having prose to write descriptions was like having a load of colours to work with.

–          She said that she often used sound to punctuate action and that certain sounds can be very effective in radio work such as rain and other weather.

–          She said that different writing disciplines flex different writing muscles and that there is merit in trying your hand at all varieties so that you can draw from different ones when needed.

–          In order to adapt prose for radio, especially short plays in episodes, you have to get very used to cutting and being brutal. You have to look for that hook for each episode and allow time to remind the listener of what happened in the previous episode. In her adaptations of one of the Bronte stories she had to cut whole scenes and remove whole characters entirely in order to give the main focus to the main characters.

–          Her next book about Queenie Hennessy is being dramatised on the radio in 5 or 6 episodes so for anyone who has read it you can see how she adapted it for radio.

–          The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was also on the radio and is going to be a film in a year or two so it could be interesting to see how the book, radio play, film differ.

 

 

 

Paris in August- 5 days of Graves, Skulls, and Red Sancerre

I didn’t know you were this packed, Paris. I mean, I know everyone loves you and everyone’s supposed to love you even if they don’t really. But seriously, the traffic? I wanted to throw myself into the Seine at one point. Instead I just collapsed on the grass in the Jardin du Luxembourg and propped myself up long enough for a photo before unlocking that elbow and having a tantrum on my back like Harry Enfield’s Kevin.

Clinging on to life in the Jardin du Luxembourg

I wanted everyone to just stop walking INTO MY FACE for five minutes so that I could see Paris for a second. But then again I’m a bit of a country bumpkin when it comes to cities and I tend to just have a strop in the middle of pavements until people move past me. Look at these folks with their back to Notre Dame. Do they know they’re facing the wrong way?

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Jardin du Luxembourg

The Jardin du Luxembourg in August is an absolute godsend. Little toddling boys and girls in clothes that toddling children should wear (i.e. not jeans or clothes with words on) lean over the stone wall and place little wooden yachts into the water and gaze at them as the wind takes them on their near horizontal adventures across the lake. It is a place where you will manage to to regain some peace and be able to face the rest of Paris again.

Shakespeare & Co.

I think I was sulking at being so hemmed in at Shakespeare & Co. (If you don’t know what Shakespeare & Co. is then you’re at the wrong site and you need to go here instead).

As I was saying, I was sulking.

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