Month: June 2010

The Woebegone’s slaughtered dreams

This relates to a previous flash

They say that the dreams of Woebegones are reality elsewhen. And so when the fever came it made no sense here but its seed was in the tortured body of the creature of ages. As they sliced him for revelation there came about in this world a kind of putrid Narcissism. They came out from behind their consoles and cruised the streets with Grand Theft Auto still singing in their synapses. Id-pulse, impulse, their fingers were poised, ready for the switch to be flipped. And then they flipped.

Urban myths of headless hitchhikers slaughtering carloads of high school prom queens. Babies thrown from windows or eaten by foxes. Kids lying dying in stairwells in pools of beautiful blood. Newly weds, newly dead or left for. Dear old grannies mown down for the price of cider. Gun crime, knife crime, should be put away for life crime. Pregnant ladies rotting in the boots of cars. Father’s of two shot in the head.

They drove away laughing.

The Woebegone is all about integrity. It’s in the meat of him. It is the meat of him. There’s a goes around comes around kind of philosophy to the plodding of his blood. When the scientists looked they saw solidity but it was stoicism, it was cautious optimism, it was love of others.

Gilen was a bounty hunter. He used to play the drums. Now the drums played him. He went where he was sent. Anyway after he dobbed in the Woebegone there was nothing left in that life for him. And when he wished he could leave life, he did.

Where he ended up there were no longer any shores with sand dunes. There were artificial beaches with fake stones piled high with washed up waste, detritus that would endure for at least as long as the Human Age and perhaps longer. In the towns from time to time he would come across a municipal bed of marigolds and begonias, a flush of colour or a community garden eked from an urban wasteland, beds made of sleepers, neatly tended by rehabilitated youths. But when he next passed that way, the heads would be ripped from the flowers and the sleeper beds toppled, glorious graffiti blazing.

A bounty hunter in a world that was no longer bountiful. While they served Woebegone steaks to the arse headed power mutated buffoons of his elsewhen alternate, while there the intelligentsia ate stones and the salt of the earth ate well salted, heartwarming, cobbled together stews he made himself open for beauty in his new land.

He met a tiny girl. She patted his face and buzzed his nose. She told him that she had snuggle fed from her mother’s breast, their eyes fixed upon one another until she was two, although she wasn’t much more that that now. She pointed. She said ‘Dat’. He said ‘Tree’, she said ‘Dat’ he said Cloud. She said ‘Dis’ and he unrolled her fingers and said ‘Petal’. ‘No’ she said ‘Snow’ and she let it flutter to the ground.

He took her hand. They walked down the road where the concrete groaned as the fields below rolled over. Water bubbled out from a grate, what they called the shore at the side of the road. Tarmac bled in the heat. She wanted to stick her finger in and taste it. She pointed out a stone. The stone was lonely. He could not get back into the earth. Gilen picked up the stone and rubbed it under his thumb, soothed it. She pointed out a bottle top blink-winking in the sun. He began to think that she would be the one to show him everything.

They found the girl’s mother or the girl’s mother found her. But although the girl was found and joy abounded, Gilen looked at the woman and saw loss. They were standing now in a green area among houses, the grass was soft and cool under his bare feet. The woman held the girl balanced on her hip. Gilen held the woman’s hand. Then he kissed her. When he opened his eyes the child touched his cheek. They heard the sound of nothing, then the long round coo of pigeons. They sat down on the grass. The residents had planted flowers. The girl went to pick one and came back with just the head. Her mother laughed and held it. Far away a siren heralded. Nearby they heard the screech of tires. The child turned her head, intent, she shuddered and then ran back for more flowers. So Gilen saw the car, cruising like a sailboat in a cloudless sky, driven by the boys with the inward looking eyes.

Writing and Publishing: Who makes the rules anyway?

In the world of writing there are many rules; almost as many rules as there are for parenting. There are rules for grammar, structure, plot, point of view, narrative, character, use of adverbs, length, genre. There are rules for writing regimes, how often and when. There are rules for raising your profile, gaining an audience, social networking. There are submission rules, how to find an agent rules, how to find a publisher rules and how to be commercial rules.

Rules are good. Rules are helpful. Rules are there for a reason. They stabilize society. They streamline processes, they make books marketable, they help you make the most effective use of your time, they help you to become a better writer.

Rule-consciousness is one of Cattell’s sixteen traits of his personality trait theory. How rule bound you are is sometimes measured on personality tests determining your suitability for certain kinds of employment. You may be the kind of person that is susceptible to social or peer pressures. Or as an artist – are you a free thinker, an experimentalist, a subvertor of convention, a mould breaker?

As a parent, as a writer, I want to fit in. I want my children to be accepted among their peers. As a writer I want my books at some point to be read and enjoyed, to make sense to people. But also I don’t want to be caught in the river of the done thing. I don’t want to spend a fortune on my child’s birthday party because every one else is doing it. I want to write from my gut first and foremost, dare to say no to convention and create something that will inspire.

The rules are changing in publishing. E-books and self-publishing, blog posting fiction are now a way of reaching an audience, not just an alternative to conventional publishing. This may lead to greater democracy, rule bending, the breaking down of categories, where the reader now rules. This may be the time when we can be the writers we want to be, using the rules to guide but not dictate, to give coherence but not stifle, to ensure quality but provide freedom.

#FridayFlash Flash

Some characters from two weeks ago asked for another outing.

Emily and Eddie were baiting lightning on the quay, and it was forked. Across the bay the flashes lit up midnight townlands in isolated glimpses as if God with torches was looking for his keys in the eternal driveway. Here. There. This way a bit. Further back.

When the breeze still had air in it they knew they were okay. They wore t-shirts and jeans and Emily felt the solid beam of his arm around the outside of hers. He felt the seam of her jeans against his thigh, he leaned down and kissed the edge of her hair. Her calves lick curl lifted, shook and died. When the thunder smothered them they knew they were chancing it. They kissed completely. At the end of the quay the wires crackled. All Emily wanted to do was swim, dive-bomb off the pier and sink in, watch the lightning experimentally dance on top of the water.

Eddie was leaving at the end of the summer. He was filled up with love for her; he just didn’t know he had to do anything with it. She was loathe to count the days. Her Dali calendar was disgruntled by her apparent indifference. But there was a lot you could ascertain from the periphery. Time was flashing by.

If her father was the air traffic controller and her mum was the girl who delivered the sandwiches and coffee then she fell below the radar. Emily flipped the axis of 24/7 and slept in a honeyed bed, roamed the black night with confidence and fervour. But if it were the other way around and her mother was the mistress of flights and near misses then she was sussed and she strung out the summer with Eddie under the heavy lidded gaze of her mother’s restless vigilance.

But they did the beer on the beach after dark. One of the lads, giant limbs, small head, acted the flasher for the whitehead bus tour sea front promenaders. He used hen party props, chocolate penises melting in the humidity. They collected tuts and shaking heads and the odd raucous cackle. They slid into clubs once in a while when the rain drove them inside. When midnight passed, in the tribal stomping, she lit up her phone and it was already August. Eddie was slouched in a corner on a slope of coats. She found his hand and she made him dance. There was no rain here only sweat, brine and coffee.

Emily found out she was epileptic on the dance floor. The strobe lighting sent her into a spinning fit, flit, flit; flashbacks of dream sequences and recent dalliances.

When she awoke she was cold, shudder huddling while the world switched on again, in portions, vision, feeling, sound. She had become a small creature at the bottom of a mountain of human concern. The dance music was still playing; drumbeat dissonance, out of time with the trotting of her heart.

Three weeks later the gang wanted to know if they were going to cut her brain in half.  Someone else asked if that would make her schizophrenic. They were on the beach again and the nights came quicker now, her mother’s shift had lengthened and the fact of epilepsy added a high note to her voice when she said see you later to Emily. Across the bay the lighthouse spun, flashed, there, gone, there, gone.

Eddie was leaving tomorrow. Emily pressed into his biking leathers. He was going to take her for a drive somewhere but he hadn’t decided yet.  They were going to stay out all night. She didn’t care. Her mother could jump. You only had one life and this was it.

They went into the mountains. The bike roared and so did the wind. Eddie sang something but the sound was swallowed whole. They paused for a view of the city, like stars they said; but the stars were meek in comparison. They went further until the string behind them broke; they went on like a prayer without rosary beads.

It was just them. Turned this way, at the crest there was no city. There was gorse, stones. They sat on granite. His-her hands found warm places. In his silence was the remembrance of his voice. In her stillness was the echo of her fervour. She drifted into him and thought it could be the epilepsy. He drunk her in and thought of nothing.

They saw flashes, out of the black; ripples of light, undulations snaking the sky. The aurora borealis this far south, they weren’t meant to be there.

In the morning they went home, the cold in their bones and the light in their heads. Her father was up early on a ladder fixing the flashing. Her mother was drowning in coffee. She hadn’t slept. Her fury was thunder and Emily felt it overhead. But all she could see were scenes, flashes of her and Eddie, on a beach, on a mountain, dancing like one person in the club. Then him on his own, driving away till whenever.

#FridayFlash Lethargy

‘I’m bored of my despair’ said Sandra

‘I’m afraid of getting fat’ said Karen, licking the cream, watching the coffee swirl in the mug, holding the steam under her nose to help with the blackheads.

‘Shopping?’  said Sandra.

‘Bopping?’ said Karen.

It wasn’t even raining.

‘Didn’t she die?’ said Sandra, looking at the actress on the telly. It was a film from the eighties. All wheel spin and big sunglasses.

‘Or get divorced?’ said Karen. She picked the fluff off the sofa, then off her skirt, she ran her hand down the side of the sofa cushion. It was gritty there.

It wasn’t even winter.

Karen sighed. She almost looked out of the window but the woman on the telly was wearing those power shoulder thingys…

‘Shoulder pads’ said Sandra.

Sandra almost drummed her fingers but she bit her fingernails instead.

‘One night stand….’ said Karen, checking for cellulite.

‘Night stand’ said Sandra.

‘Furnitureland has a sale on’ said Karen.

‘50% off’ said Sandra

‘I’ll get my coat’ said Karen, point and clicking the remote.

‘There’s a match on’ said the salesman, gesturing around the empty salesroom. He had a skinny tie – a tie that wasn’t meant to be skinny but had been washed too hot. He had spots.

‘Steaming’ said Karen

‘You should come for coffee’ said Sandra.

‘What?’ said the salesman. ‘What? Now?’ he said.

He could wink with one eye. Karen had seen him do it, not to her. She was in one day with her mother buying a pull out bed. She couldn’t wink properly. No matter how she tried, both of her eyes closed. He could also raise one of his eyebrows.

He was raising one of his eyebrows.

‘Now’ said Karen.

‘Now’ said Sandra.

He sat in the back seat of the car, like their child. Karen wondered if he could also roll his tongue.

The man who handed them their coffee was glum. ‘There’s a match on.’ He said looking round at the empty tables, pine with check tablecloths. He’d got a good deal from Furnitureland. On each table someone had placed single rosebuds, pink, in plastic vases.

‘Anything else?’ he said, with the wiping down cloth in his hand.

‘Yea..’ said Karen, looking at the slices of sponge leaning behind the glass display, the cream turning yellow.

‘No’ said Sandra ‘Nothing at all.’

‘Your hands are very clean’ she said to the furniture salesman. His name was Morrison. ‘After Jim’ he said. Morrison Pentworthy. His father specialized in Doors.

‘He’s into Doors and you went into Furniture’ said Karen, adjusting her underwear under the table.

Sandra held her hand aloft, fingers parted, as if she was holding a cigarette, which she would have been if they’d been allowed to smoke there. Karen would have liked to smoke to lose weight but her lungs couldn’t take it. She’d also come to realise that people weren’t as sympathetic to whales having asthma attacks than those in danger of choking on oil slicks.

‘I didn’t go into furniture’ said Morrison, ‘I found myself there.’

It was the most interesting thing he’d said so far.

But that was only the beginning. They’d thought they were hi-jacking him. He brought them to a place that still sold vinyl, a place so dark that the owner gave them torches to read the labels. He brought them to a book shop with a winding staircase and soup that looked like it came out of the river but tasted fabulous. He took them to a spot on the cliff walk where they could watch the sun dunk into the green tea sea like a Marietta biscuit. Everywhere was quiet, untouched. Even the dust was hanging out. There was a match on.

After dark he took them for some fish and chips. The outsides were sharp and hot, the insides were fluffy and giving.

They went into a pub. Sandra said she was buying.

There were two men leaning against the bar.

‘One night stand?’ said Sandra.

‘Hat stand’ said Karen, pointing.

It was an old fashioned pub. The match wasn’t on. They sat in the snug. The snug had a door. ‘My Dad fitted that door’ said Morrison. It wasn’t the most interesting thing he had said.

But then he told them he wrote poetry.

‘What would you write about me?’ asked Sandra, smoking. The owner was an anarchist.

Morrison took her other hand. He had a five o’ clock shadow and his eyes were iroko.

‘I would have to think very deeply about that’ he said in a radio voice.

Then he laughed and gave Karen a squeeze. ‘Peanuts?’ he said, getting up. It was so quiet they heard the turf fall in the fire.

Morrison took them to his place.

‘One night stand’ said Karen, tipsy.

‘Last stand’ said Sandra, swaying against her

‘Nice door’ they commented as he turned the key.

Morrison lived with his Mum and Dad. His Dad was affable. His Mum had a fireside smile. ‘Are you sister’s?’ she asked.

‘Sort of’ said Sandra.

Morrison’s Dad coughed. He offered up the comfy armchair. But the three of them sat side by side on the sofa, Morrison in between. Morrison’s Mum came back out of the kitchen smiling as if she had a secret. She had cake on a plate. She went back in for the tea. ‘A bit late for coffee isn’t it?’ she said conversationally as she sat back down.

They watched the telly. It was eighties again. Moustaches. White suits.

It was sponge cake. Karen licked cream from her fingers. The tea was swirling quickly.

After a while no-one said anything but Sandra was optimistic for laughter later. Maybe even Scrabble.

Finding your keys: Creativity

I’ve written before about the process of incubation, about the subsconscious stewing and brewing. Writers recognise the feeling of tapping into the subconscious, the repository of half-formed ideas, distributed and layered memory.  As we move through life we lay down the experience of millions of hours, thousands of millions of minutes of conscious experience, peripheral experience and also dreams. I’ve had a couple of incidents recently of remembering exerpts from long ago, dreams that seem to have no relevance to current events, they just popped out as if an synapse had fired in a particular region of the brain and fed out the memory.  It made me realise the quantity of impressions that must be held by the brain, even when we don’t know they are there.  I think that is why the process of artistic expresssion can, when you get into the flow, sometimes have a magical or spiritual feeling. We are tapping into something that is elusive, unseen.

When we create a piece of art or writing we engage in a dialogue between concepts and ideas consciously thought of, real world events, triggers in everyday life and between the largely unconscious thoughts, emotions and memories that swim under the surface. I think, and you can argue with me on this, that the conscious ideas create the structure of the piece and the unconscious the long lasting resonance and beauty that makes the piece connect with others.

So we can gain inspiration from news items, anecdotes, unusual (and usual) people we meet, film, travel, science. It sets us thinking, makes us delight in novel juxtapostions that form exciting ideas.

But what triggers us emotionally, what untaps the inner resonance that makes our work more meaningful? Other writers have said that it was a particular book that moved them or changed the way they saw writing. In a wonderful article on her blog Nova Ren Suma says ‘ Sometimes I’m reading a book and a paragraph just slays me‘. She shows us a paragraph that had than effect on her and continues ‘After reading that paragraph, my spine tingled. Memories surfaced. Something came to me. Something I wanted to write.’ Sometimes it is a place, a lost love, a particular sound that is connected with the past, a powerful internal memory-event that is deeply etched and has many strong associations.

Music has to be one of the mainlines to memory and emotion.  On its most fundemental level it is a physcial thing that has a wave frequency that can interact with and affect the cells of the body. (Don’t get me started on the fundemental particles of life, we could be here a while…) The brain is a complex thing, memory is elusive, even to scientists; the interaction between the external and internal world, the magical study of neuroscience and particle physics. But we know the keys exist to unlock the fundementals of humanity that swim in our subconscious.

We know the feeling when it happens, the just rightness of expression, the story that writes itself, the book that comes out of nowhere, the perfectly formed line that we wake up to at four in the morning. One of my enduring memories of college was a story my Cognition professor told us about his Buddhist experience of climbing a mountain with his son who lost his Mars bar. Instead of fixedly looking for the bar, they kept a generally open mind on the descent, kept a casual eye out, so to speak, and finally it appeared. If we want to find our keys we may tear the place apart and never find them. We may keep going back to the same place and never do any good. So with inspiration, we can make ourselves ready for it, put ourselves in the landscape of music and rememberance and reach for the sweetness when it comes.

Beautiful Blogging

I was very priviledged recently to receive a Beautiful Blogger Award from Claire King who is a writer, mother, blogger, tweeter and I have found, a helpful member of the writing community, willing to share her time. Recently shortlisted for the prestigious Bristol Prize, I wish her continued success in her writing journey.

In accordance with the stipulations of the award, here are seven things about me that are more or less true. In Roddy Doyles fab children’s book The Giggler Treatment, cream crackers relate boring facts and chocolate cream crackers relate slightly exciting facts, here’s a mixture of my plain and chocolate cream crackers….

1: I wrote my first piece age 8, a poem called Colours, that you can find here.

2: My first award was in 1987, it was a school short story competition sponsored by the local newspaper The Kerryman. It was a story of small town gossip, which I then got to read out loud to the residents of the small town.This year I was nominated for three short story awards, although I didn’t win the ultimate prize, it was quite delightful.

3: I got a personal hand-written rejection letter from Penguin US, for a children’s book I wrote age 18. It said that my story about a boy who meets an elf was ‘charming but unoriginal.’

4: I have just finished my third novel: Housewife with a Half-Life. It’s a philosophical space romp about a housewife who is disintegrating and dissipating energy. She travels through the alternate universes with Fairly Dave – a biker jacket, kilt and Doc Marten toting creature with luminescent emotions – to reintegrate all the versions of herself. She has to avoid the Geezers with the Freezers and save the Universe from the Spinner’s deadly cataclysmic convertor.

4: I live in a dormer bungalow

5: I have four children whose average age is 5.75

6: I once visited a place in Arizona called Stovepipe Wells whose elevation is 5 feet. I had a photo taken there because my surname is Wells and am as close to 5 feet as makes no difference.

7: Tea is the meaning of my life

I would like to pass on this award to these fab women of the writing world:

Rebecca E Brown:My little Notepad

Anne Tyler Lord: Don’t Fence Me In

RebeccaEmin: Ramblings of a Rusty Writer

Jane Travers: Jane Obsessed with Jane

Claire Hennessy: Claire Hennessy

Kelly Railton: Kelly Railton

Barbara Scully: From my Kitchen Table

Olive O’ Brien: Write Olive

Sarah Franklin: Never Goes without Saying

#FridayFlash Petrification

‘I want to send you for tests’ said the doctor. She turned round to look at him. She was buttoning up her blouse. He smiled and handed her an envelope.

At home she steamed it open. It was matter of fact. It did not say This woman may be dying, please check. Neither did it mention the word, routine. This kind of thing happened all the time but it was not everyday.

Burgeoning buds, blousy blooms, everything was a reminder. The sun bled in, extra-intense. It was June but it had the maniacal heat of August, that last fling panic of sexed up, steamy fervour, low slung, sultry late night sunsets. She flung off her tops to put on lighter ones and that too was a reminder. She tried not to catch sight of herself in the mirror.

The sizzle had caught her daughter early too. She was fifteen. She was heading out with Eddie. Eddie who was seventeen and had a motor bike. Her daughter wore cut off jeans and a crop top, everything cut off too soon. She was called Emily. She shook her long hair down her back like a shampoo advert and when she and Eddie held hands it was with the fingers interlocked, jammed together – the way they entwined their legs when side by side on the sofa watching TV programmes about young things who bit each other or flesh tearing zombies. They were taking the motorbike to get to the sea. They moved so fast out of the front door that their words were behind them, hanging in the hallway when they’d gone.

She had been worried about the motorbike. Boy racers. Emily regarded her with the patience cultivated for the young and imbecilic. ‘Nothing bad will happen’ she said, swinging the spare helmet with her skinny wrists. ‘We’re all dying, all the time’ she thought the boy mumbled. It could have been that; he was seventeen, he had a goatee.

Later she followed them to the sea. Some sea, maybe not their one. What they said and where they went were necessarily two different things. She went to the place called Greystones, where there was no sand, only grit and shingle. She held weighty, sea softened stones in her hands then let them clatter onto the beach. She sat down and watched the sea creeping in, washing out, laid back with stars; she threw rocks at it, fled. She trod the harbour walk like a penitential pilgrim, she vanquished the hill in one breath, discarded it on the descent. She never looked back. She could feel the stares of pleasure trippers, strolling souls, hot on her hair. She made for the car. Young lovers embraced on a bench between the car park and the sea. She turned the key. She was still alive, the key was warm.

Lumps like pebbles in her breasts when the darkness finally fell; her husband asleep to the sound of her internal screaming. This time she watched her face in the mirror; the face of the possibly condemned. She seemed serene. You couldn’t tell a thing from it. When Emily came home, her clothes intact, her breath hot and determined, her face too gave nothing away. Before bed, she had leaned against her mother on the sofa, her hair spilling over her mother’s arm, her head nudging against the pain. She had brought her mother a stone, something like an agate, with a smooth edge; a worry stone for the edge of the thumb.

Eddie had driven away slowly, the dusk thickening his disappearance. He was a good boy. He kissed Emily on the cheek but kept his face there for the longest. Time was difficult to measure when running out. She’d stood back, in the holding bay of the hallway where she was not held or holding but she could hear the TV where her husband was watching and there was laughter. When Eddie stepped onto the driveway to go and he and her daughter unclasped their hands she stepped out and asked him to post the referral letter on his way past the post box. If it was he who brought it – sailing away into the darkness, all energy and zest – there might still be hope.