The Storyteller

This is a short story that I edited right down (much against my better judgement) for a flash fiction competition.  Needless to say, it did not win, although it was published in a now defunct web magazine called ‘The Brevity Thing’. Someday, the original version will be improved and completed.  For the time being, here is the short version.

I can write.  I can make something out of anything.  The old lady who showed me the way to the tax office.  Her limp now a wheelchair, eyes harbouring a sinister gaze, twitch taking over her features.  And is that a slight cackle as she points me to my doom?

I carry my notebook with me everywhere, scribble in it all day long.  A thought, a quote, a random person in the street…  How I swoop, whir, flutter in like a vulture.  To dissect, examine, pin down.

I do not love words, no!  I analyse them, pour over them, roll them about like slave girls, prod them with my pen as if undressing a coy lover.  Quite frequently, I hate them: with their wriggly, slippery ways, their lack of nuance, for daring to resist me and my art.

One day I’ll write her into a story too.  Ever since I first saw her, I have not ceased to attempt to describe her.  Blushed peach skin.  Flicking back that silky hair.  Nostrils flaring as she invokes, ‘ Cappuccino for you, sir!’  The spell she casts, with sound, with touch.

For weeks I’ve been trying to nail that butterfly into its case.  She brushes against my clumsy fingers and flies into the summer sky. Each time she escapes, the taste grows bitter.  Like truant words, her essence escapes me.  My soul becomes enraged.  I know she laughs at me.

Witches, old and young, someday I’ll show them all!

How do you find time to write?

As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, finding time to write anything other than To Do lists and professional reports can be a bit of a personal challenge for me.  So, for a fun Friday activity, I thought I would compile a few of my favourite writing tips from well-known and respected writers.  Those who have ‘cracked’ the dilemma of ‘but I don’t have the time…’.  Here’s to hoping it will give me wings for the weekend, although most of them sound quite stern.

Work according to the program, not according to the mood! (Henry Miller)

Nobody’s making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine! (Margaret Atwood)

Write.  Put one word after another.  Find the right word, put it down. (Neil Gaiman)

Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom. (Jeanette Winterson)

Don’t keep waiting for the right moment or you’ll wait forever, but accept that there are some stages in life when it’s next to impossible to pull off a book. (Kate White)

The way to write a book is to actually write a book.  A pen is useful, typing is also good…. The first twelve years are the worst.  (Anne Enright)

It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction. (Jonathan Franzen)

Here are three somewhat kinder ones:

Defend yourself.  Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative. (AL Kennedy)

Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly. (Andrew Motion)

Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research. (Roddy Doyle)

Oh, that’s all right then…  No, hang on a minute!

 

Insomnia

Every night at four

I startle awake,

like a doe sensing danger in the forest of my dreams.

Trees come up to charge me,

transform before my eyes

to endless reams of paper

unleashing lists in the dark:

invoices, accounting, due dates.

All their screeching pleas

reproachful looks

mouths gaping with urgency

like babes unfed.

How can I divide myself in enough parts to please them all?

 

I’ve read all the books

on expanding my brain and ensuring eternal happiness.

I breathe deeply and visualise,

think of colours, tastes and smells,

let my limbs grow lank and sleepy,

start leaving tasks in each room of  my memory mansion

but never get beyond the ground floor.

Then I panic

breathing shallow

heart flutters that extra wriggle

which tightens my abdomen.

I rush again and again through identical rooms

circling like an inept crow.

 

Too much to know

take in, remember,

too much to search, gather, understand.

Too much choice

yet nothing is new under the sun.

Nothing captures me, nothing remains.

Tomorrow the novelty will be submerged in fresh newness.

My voice surely too will drown in all that noise.

 

The fractal geometry of our lives

the ruthlessness of passing,

I feel maimed

dislocated from images and sounds.

 

Fragility poises for bare second on my finger

Then butterflies off

To a world of vulnerable memories.

 

My pain is not depth but the shallowness and width.

 

Anti-Valentine

Once were heroes

once knew flight

the heady air of freedom

the giddy brightness of the sun.

 

Once there was a glimmer

and then we lost.

There was a brief ambition

drowned in nice but empty words.

 

First we had coherence, the fullness, the whole

but we heeded it not

we mocked

thinking the circle is easily closed once again.

Then we were left with snippets

odd scraps to fight over

all but forgot.

 

There was once love.

Now its waxen wings melted

and its feet ground to dust.

Harness

‘You’re sure it’ll work?’

‘Trust me, it will!  I’ve seen it happen over and over again.’

‘So all you do is strap those babies on either end…’

‘And the female will then obediently yoke herself into the harness and start ploughing her furrow.  Clever, isn’t it?

‘But when she realises she’s only moving around in circles, what happens?  Doesn’t she ever try to escape?’

‘Not once.  That’s the beauty of it.  When we feel a little tremor of rebelliousness, we just grow the children a bit.  They get heavier, they start complaining, she worries about them more… and back she goes to her plodding!’

‘And what do you give her?’

Give her?  Oh, rewards, you mean? That’s the fantastic part – you don’t need any.  When the kids grow up, they just hop off, run off without any thanks. Sometimes they don’t even wave goodbye.  She still cries when they leave, no matter how much she sacrificed for them.’

The alien students nodded in wonderment at their professor.  ‘Wow – humans sure are fascinating…’

There Are Days

There are days when I am not good.

When I shake and bellow.

When every lost second snatches

a bit of my mortified flesh.

When I push and prod bewildered children

with sleep-filled lashes.

 

There are days when I give up

before even starting.

Before even flaring the storm

I am keening, retreating.

Lower my standards to the cellar of obscurity.

Demand nothing.

Just seethe and resent…

and seethe some more.

In quiet

in despondent

in piteous

self-condolement.

 

There are days when my voice rankles,

my wit bites,

I slice and splice,

dissect and reject.

I push hard

against those I love,

those chains once chosen.

 

There are days when I am not good.

 

Not good enough.

 

My Sparrow Friend

As the cold persists, so does the little sparrow who pays me daily visits in my study.  Or rather, just outside my study window. When I ignore him, he moves to the other window, a Velux just above my desk.  I swear he sometimes uses the angled window as a slide, for the sheer fun of it!  He never tries any of the other windows in the house.  Just my study.  Maybe he is my daily dose of inspiration.

Each day he comes.

First meek beyond belief,

easily flustered.

Then more insistent,

tilted sideway stares,

a tentative tap on the window.

Soon his toddler curiosity

makes him stop and stare

tenacious

polite yet quite determined.

Sometimes he brings friends,

my ears fill with little pecks

and slides down the Velux.

Cheeky little bird morse.

Expectant yet never disappointed.

How long before they realise

I will never open up?

Scribble

This poems says it all really, about how precious writing time is, and how easily lost.

This is not writing.

This is hasty scribble

To fill the time

to fill the gaps

to spill out what cannot be contained

but must end by four o’clock.

This is not writing.

This is leaning against the breakfast bar

snatches of conversations caught mid-air

edges of moods

and scraps of notebooks

fractured words.

Bruised by time

I cannot stop and wonder.

I scribble.

Move pen, drag pen, flow pen

till the dawn of their noise.

Warming Up Poem

William Stafford wrote one poem early in the morning every day of his life.  Here is my attempt for today:

After decades of frost

Hush! Who comes now?

Pale sliver of a tongue

lacking muscle.

In watery nothingness

it glides and eludes

too soon too soon smitten.

Maybe the flutter, maybe the moan

is the churn of the volcano awakened

and vengeful.

Spurting its tongues of golden molten,

its narrow tongues

now flexed, now angled,

perverting and twisting,

born of fear

yet emerging.

Hear that rumble?

It quickens.

It can no longer be contained.

Have Words, Will Write

This is my space where I can be cosy, curl up with a book or a pen and a notebook.

This is where I can talk about the things I love most in the world: words, language, books, stories, poems, inspiration.

This is where I can experiment, fly and crash, without further comment or panic or fear.

This is where I can be myself, not a mother, not a daughter, not a wife, not a businesswoman.  And not a scribbler, but most definitely a writer.

This is me, distilled, 100% pure.