Unnamed story

First pass, unedited start of a piece of fiction.  Unsure if this is going to become a short story or something more.  I’m posting it as a commitment to get more active about sharing my writing and learning from comments.  I’m not convinced that Matthew is thr right name – this may change!

Unnamed story – part one

It wasn’t as if Alice didn’t know where she was.  She knew exactly where she was standing.  The walls were in the same place and the door was where she expected it to be.  It was just that the walls were not the same colour anymore and strangely hazy, fuzzy, unclear.  The edges of the room were blurry.  If she had been wearing glasses she would have taken them off and given them a wipe.  But Alice didn’t wear glasses, she didn’t even have contact lenses.  She shook her head and blinked hard once, twice, three times.  No change.  She turned around on the spot until her back was to the door.  If it was possible, the back wall was even more blurry than the others.  She blinked again, closing her eyes slowly and opening again even more slowly, then quickly again.  The same.

What the hell?  She thought.  Her palms were growing sweaty and she licked her lips, a primeval response to mounting fear.  What caused such swift degradation of sight?  Was a tumour pressing on her brain?  An aneurysm?  Was she standing at death’s door and in a moment would experience crushing pain before blacking out?  She almost cried out, but a moment of hesitation held back the fears for long enough for her conscious mind to come up with explanations of a less life-threatening nature.  Her blood pressure was clearly having a wobble, it happened to women of any age especially in times of high stress, which was her life right now – nothing that a visit to her G.P wouldn’t fix with a blood test and a few pills.  Stress, an anxiety-induced response.  She breathed deeply and stepped forward towards the desk.

*

Matthew was leaning on the bar in what he hoped was a casual pose.  He wasn’t exactly a pro at the dating game and Saturday lunchtime drinks weren’t really what he had hoped for in a first date, but there it was.  And so was he.  Propping up the bar at the Iron & Oak with a pint in hand, waiting for Irena to return from the ladies room.  She wasn’t his natural type with her mane of oily almost black straight hair – red-heads were his thing – but she wasn’t bad-looking if you sort of squinted out of one eye, and she laughed at his jokes.  He knew he wasn’t exactly a catch himself with his job prospects looking bleak and a scar over his nose where he’d broken it playing rugby at school.  But he had standards to uphold.  He’d never yet lost a girl on a first date, and certainly wasn’t planning to fail to get past first base with this one even if it was only one o’clock in the afternoon.

He swiveled his head to the entrance to the ladies, she wasn’t going to escape without him spotting her, and frowned.  His eyes were playing tricks on him.  The wall was hazy.  No, that was ludicrous.  He must have drunk the first half-pint too quickly.  He’d better ask for a glass of water, he thought, looking down at the pint.  He looked back up at the doorway.  Still blurry – the edges all fuzzy.  Frustration rose – he didn’t have the money to pay for an eye test, not now, there were things he needed to spend cash on and that was not one of them.  He needed to work out a plan of how to spend the money on Irena’s second date with him.  There was no doubt there would be one.  There always was.  That’s when he would make his move.  Not on the first date.  Girls expected that of men.  He was different.  Let them relax then nail them, so to speak, on date number two.  He hadn’t had complaints.  They didn’t feel cheap for sleeping with a bloke on the first date and he got what he wanted quickly.  Then he had control.  Matthew liked control.

He stood up and gave his neck a quick stretch from side to side.  What was going on?  The walls seemed to be moving.  Maybe he wasn’t well.  Damn it!  He’d worked hard to set up this date, now he was going to have to cry off.  No, a record was a record and he’d bloody well stick it out and try and ignore it.  He turned until his back was against the bar, facing the entrance to the pub.  And there it was again.  What the actual f-?

Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement at the entrance to the ladies.  He settled himself into his casual leaning pose, ready for Irena, but some other girl came out with lank brown hair and ripped jeans looking like she’d been on some funny pills for a few too many months.  She stopped suddenly and looked around her jerkily, then swiftly brought her gaze to rest on him.  Resting was too gentle for the look that pierced through his eyes and burned into his skull, he flinched.  Matthew scrunched up his eyes and called out, “Can I help you, love?”

The girl cocked her head onto one side, looking him up and down like a predator assessing its prey, jerking her head upright again.  She scowled, “No.  Is this the Nest?”

“What?” Matthew frowned, “What’s the Nest?  Think you’ve got the wrong place love.”  Or had one too many.  He almost offered to help her check her route on the maps app, but he was more worried about what Irena would think.  Irena was bed-able.  This chick was not.  He turned back to his pint.

Out the corner of his eye he saw another flash of movement, and when he looked up she was gone.  And his vision was fine.  The blurry walls were solid once more.

Weird, he thought.  Glad that’s all over with.  He turned his attention again to the bathroom door, waiting for his chance with Irena.

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Fiction found

We moved house recently and there are still a few stray boxes remaining unpacked.  I found one this morning and discovered inside the first few chapters of a story I’d written while I was still at school.  The prose is sometimes quite clunky and the grammar isn’t all that, but I’m intrigued to find out where I was heading with the plot.

Here is the Prologue to that story, c. 1992.

Prologue

The family at round the wood fire, huddled together in the log cabin.  The young grandchildren sat closest to the warmth, toasting marshmallows on little sticks they had gathered earlier that day.  Their parents sat close by, on the rug and the small mustard-coloured armchairs.  The grandparents sat on the sofa behind, staring at the fire, as if by looking at it the warmth would rise and fill them.

All of them were contented and happy – the way you should be when you’re celebrating Christmas Eve.  Then, through the silence, church bells began to ring far away in the distance.  They all turned to the window and looked out across the valley.  As the last chime rung, the oldest of the grandchildren, who was just ten years old, began to sing very softly to herself:

Silent night, Holy night…

Gradually the family joined her, as their voices rose in joy and love, and the words drifted out into the cold, dark night…

All is calm, all is bright.

Round young virgin, mother and child.

Holy infant so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.

As they began the second verse, their Grandpa rose from the sofa, walked to the door, put on his heavy black boots and let himself out into the night.  His wife followed his path of the cabin, gently closing the door behind her.

He stood with his back to her, knee-deep in thick snow gazing out across the valley.  Slowly, she walked up to him and stood by his side. The view was magnificent. The whole valley lay before them, covered in deep snow which sparkled in the bright moonlight.  On the surrounding slopes were more log cabins, which remained uninhabited until the summer of each year.

They kept the silence for some time before Grandpa said, “Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Yes.”

“It reminds me of the first year we spent here.”

“Yes.”

The last notes of their grandchildren’s song faded away into nothing and silence arrived once more.

“They said it would be hard.” said Grandma.

“Mmmm.”

“Hard to look back at what happened.”

“Did they?”

“Yes.  And they were right.”

“Weren’t they always?”

“No.  But, well, I know that it’s beautiful out here and everyone’s so kind, but don’t you ever think that we could have done so much more with our lives if… if… if it hadn’t happened?”

He didn’t answer, just looked and stepped towards her and hugged her to him as she buried her tears in his embrace.

“It’s alright.  We did what was right at the time, and still is now, and I wouldn’t have not done it for the world.  We’ve done what we were destined to do when we were born, and we haven’t failed.”

She sniffed and raised her head.  They looked deep into each other’s eyes and saw their pasts flash by, then they smiled and, hand-in-hand, walked back into the warmth of the cabin to join their family.

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Writing it out

I haven’t written for a few days.  This is what I tell myself.  It isn’t an accurate summing up of my writing status.  I have been writing, and it hasn’t been the sort of writing that can be uploaded for the world to see.  Even there I’ve second-guessed myself.  I could upload it.  I have chosen not to.

I’ve been writing lists.  Many, many lists.  Lists of things to do, people to speak to, tasks to be completed and diary entries to make sure I don’t forget to do those things at the right time.  I’ll probably be late anyway.  I don’t mean to be late.  I have a tendency to believe that I can get more done than I can in a day.  I am still unsure whether I procrastinate or am fantastically over-optimistic.

I have written a lot of lists.  The curse of motherhood or busyness in the so-called modern age results in lists.  They make fascinating reading: pay x, wrap present, call the local hall for a birthday party booking, check cash, call y, research z, yadda yadda.  It’s what I do to attempt to keep things under control. Control is such a futile pursuit.  I cannot control what goes on around me even though I would like that to be so.  I cannot even control when I complete all the tasks on my lists – so many of them are dependent on other people.  What is in my control is how I respond.

I don’t always choose the best response.  I respond impulsively when I could, and maybe should, take a pause, breathe and choose another.  How tired I am makes all the difference in the world.  You can imagine how challenging this was during the first year of my daughter’s life.  An extreme lesson in sleep deprivation.  I don’t mean what you expect with a small baby, but what so many of us have to go through.  Sleep deprivation where your baby refuses to nap, and where you manage a total of 2-3 hours sleep a night for months.  Yes, months.  I kid you not.  Where if another mother tells you they had an awful night and only had five hours sleep you not only want to scream and tell them they had an amazing night, but you want to physically punch them.  Hard.    I barely remember those times.  I am not proud of how I behaved.  And I know that it was sleep that made all the difference to being able to make choices in how I respond.

There we are.  An unplanned, unstructured and unedited piece of writing that requires work to become something worthy.  Yet it’s my piece for the world today.  I have chosen to respond honestly and without edit because life is sometimes too short for over-editing.  Go well.

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Write it

Why is it so hard to get started? Is it because it doesn’t mean anything? Or do I just have nothing to say today?

I promised myself I would write each day even when nothing much comes to mind to write about. Writing about writing. Here I am, mindlessly putting words on paper. Saying nothing much at all, yet saying everything.

Radical I am not. I wonder what it would be like to be truly radical. To wake up and know that certain things had to be shaken up and change implemented. To feel that there was a purpose and a goal that was so urgent that it had to be grasped right now.

Writing keeps me grounded, embedded into the earth so I feel it squishing between my toes. Which actually I hate. I always feel the need to go and wash that dirt off as soon as possible. It’s just a thing. I like the idea of dirt between my toes. It’s a satisfying thought and the reality is that I don’t like it. Not at all.

Floundering. That’s a bit where it’s at. Needing direction and specific purpose. Generalist it would appear I am not and seeking a goal had become more important of late. A little at the wrong time if you ask me, and that is the way of it.

I have written. It isn’t intellectual, it won’t win awards or draw attention or acclaim. It is from the heart and a reflection from a moment in time. This moment. Drawing from me the hope of something radical. Time to step out into the unknown.

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Buffering

Gripped by a sense

Of inconvenience.

A pause. A stop. Flow ceased.

Frustration boils. No other route. A journey.

Incomplete.

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Sequels: part 1

The sequel. Rarely as good as the original. That’s kind of the point of being original though, isn’t it? Being something that hasn’t been done or said before. Or at least not in exactly the same way.

Few sequels measure up to the first, even if the ideas in the sequel, are in theory at least, as innovative and fresh as the first. The truth of it is that the first event (be it a film, book, album, etc.) is often new, exciting and something a bit different. A fresh take on an idea that’s been done before can be thrilling with a different backdrop or different characters.

Take Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs have been done before but using genetics to recreate dinosaurs ourselves and then add in the idea of a theme park, and boom! An idea becomes exciting and exotic, often thrilling. Humans vs dinosaurs. “Life finds a way”. Take Jurassic Park 2. Same scene, humans have left them awhile but same premise: man recreates, dinosaurs live, man tries to exploit dinosaurs, dinosaurs eat man. Good but we’ve seen that somewhere before. It makes for a less riveting ride. By Jurassic Park 3, we’re left not really believing that this dinosaur vs man thing has got much going for it anymore.

I’m a fan of the great Jurassic franchise. I delight in dinosaurs walking. I freak out, in the way thriller-dinosaur movies intended, at a good old fashioned velociraptor or T-Rex chase. And I am a huge fan of the long-awaited Jurassic rebirth in Jurassic World. Same location, new characters and a few old faithfuls, with a subtly similar plotline. Then came Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom…and here is where it gets messy, kids. This is what happens when a sequel gets in a muddle. Dinosaurs or passing judgment on genetic engineering? It’s a fascinating subplot of which the Jurassic’s initial creator, Michael Crichton, could have been proud. And yet, in this film, it is so poorly dealt with that you could blink and miss it, and frankly the film is better if you did just that. Stick to a plan. One or the other, or weave it in more cleverly. Crichton was a skilful weaver. New characters weren’t explored enough for us to care about them, and the old characters were just safe pairs of hands to watch dashing around. It was all too easy this time to escape the most horrifying of genetic mishaps. And it all felt too rushed. It was a shame. This fourth sequel to the original film was not a patch on the first, nor a fragment of what it could have become in the right hands.

The list is long. Films that should not have been made and saved us all a couple of hours include: Jaws 2 (and all that followed), Back to the Future 2, Look Who’s Talking 2, Final Destination 2 (to eternity) – I won’t go on, you’ve got the idea.

There are always exceptions. Star Wars goes from strength to strength. Star Trek bounces happily from story to story. Doctor Who rivals Kirk and Spock for the variety of actors who have donned their souls. It seems sci-fi is well-endowed with practically perfect sequels.

Interestingly books seem to perform better than films as sequels. Perhaps a writer sets out to write more than one book with the characters before they begin, or they just know their story is not yet complete in a way that script writers do not. There is something more about unfinished business for characters in fiction novels. Lord of the Rings was the sequel to the beautifully evocative The Hobbit. Harry Potter and Narnia popped up all over the place, and let’s not get into The Famous Five (Five go to Smugglers Top was not even book number two in this 21 book series), The Hunger Games or Swallows and Amazons. Maybe our expectations are different as readers to movie goers. Books allow for events and characters to unfold slowly, in depth, with time for diversions and numerous sub-plots. Movies have, usually, only around 2.5 hours to entice, exhilarate and entertain with a crucially clear closing without opportunity for deep analysis.

What makes sequels a success? I’ll explore it more in part 2.

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Writing about writing

What is it to write? Writing is the act of putting words down on a page. To “mark on a surface” whether by pen and ink on paper, or the, less magical use, of a word processing tool. At heart writing is as surprisingly simple as it sounds. And yet, what one person considers to be “writing” may not be what the next thinks is worthy of the title.

I write my shopping list. My shopping list is a piece of writing. However inappropriate it feels, it is just as much a piece of writing as War and Peace. I have a strong suspicion that my shopping list will not be sat in the hallowed halls of great literature in years to come. Maybe it should be. After all, what is wrong with my shopping list? It is, as they say, “of it’s time”. It expresses the needs of a family in this current age (I wonder what we will be called by future generations; goodness only knows what generation they’ll be called, triple x perhaps?) and it fully defines a fixed moment in time. It tells a story, of sorts, and reveals something of a life otherwise unknown. It gives a clear indication of the social status of the author (green olives, anyone?) and the fact that a list exists at all means that the author must be fairly organised.

What else can be uncovered from a mere shopping list? Take, for example, the uncertainty of a question mark after the word “bananas”. Does it mean “do I want to buy bananas”, “do I need to buy bananas”, “should I buy bananas” or “remember to consider buying a bananaman costume”. From the most simple of queries comes a plethora of possibilities.

My list may contain the words “card for x” (let’s call ‘x’ Joan to avoid her getting a complex). This might mean I have a friend called Joan. Joan might be celebrating a birthday, a new baby, a divorce, a new house, an engagement, passing an exam, etc. She might be unwell and I simply want to send her get well wishes. She may have lost a loved one and my card will be bought to send consolations and love to dear Joan in her hour of great need. From my list alone you cannot be sure. It lends an air of mystery. Who is this Joan? What is her relationship to the owner of “The List”?

To close, my argument is that my shopping list is writing in its truest sense, and also worthy of its title even when the parameters are those of the heart. If it looks like writing, feels like writing and smells like writing, it probably is writing.

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Belonging

“[T]rue belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” – Brene Brown

It’s time to truly love, trust, respect and be kind to ourselves.

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Journeying on

Yesterday I started the last of the core coaching training courses.  Two more days and this part of the journey will be over.  I feel sad about the prospect of saying goodbye to my amazing fast-track coaching buddies.  I hope we can go on to build greater bonds beyond the training centre walls.  What a wonderful group of people they are.  Being vulnerable, being open and so authentically themselves in a huge and inspirational way.  Thank you one and all.

I also feel a sense of anticipation about where the journey will lead me next.  Or, more accurately, where I am going to lead myself.  This course seems to have opened a box of interesting things to explore, and that exploration has meant starting a process of letting go and taking back control in equal measure.  Time to let go of all the constraints holding me back, and my own preconceptions and judgements, all of which, mysteriously, have been preventing me from being the greatest version of myself.  And time now to take back control of the messy stuff, the busyness and the distractions that have been too easy to use as excuses for not making time to “be”.  The messy stuff I’ve swept under the carpet believing I had this stuff under control.  I did.  And I didn’t.  And now I can start to let it all go and control what matters.

It is time to find space again.  To find it, to embody it and to be it.  In the space is freedom, contentment and joy.  Space is beautiful.  From space comes love, warmth and wisdom. And who doesn’t want a bit more of that?

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What makes a great human being 

What makes a great human being?  Is it what we do, how people judge or perceive us, how we behave, what we wear?  Here are just some of the amazing and special things that make us human beings:

Being.  We are not human doings.  Sometimes it is ok just to exist.

Mess.  We are not “sorted”.  We are messy, we are complex, we are surprising.  We can be up and we can be down.  It is OK.  It is OK not to know.

Capability.  We are capable and  resourceful.  Each of us, in our own way, is so very capable.  And capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.  There is so much more to find and explore.  Sometimes we just need people to cheer us on and give us pushes in the right direction.  We can do the rest.

Creative.  We are so creative.  We make music. We write stories. We solve problems.  We make machines work.  We create code.  We create works of art.

We dream.  We hope.  We love.

We are amazing.  We are inspiring.  We can change anything and everything.  Our limits are our own.  Go ahead, step out, be amazing.

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