This is a little blog to celebrate my taking part on a creative writing course. I say taking part rather than attendance because it was very much a hands on course. We didn’t just sit back and listen or passively take notes, we had to create!
Julia Homan is the lecturer at Chichester College for Creative Writing, although she does hanker for and lecture in the more serious side of the English department, in the field of linguistics and grammar appreciation. You can tweet her: @lingoes.
She was brilliant at getting us to write flash fiction and share our creations. Looking back, when I signed up for the course I guess I should have assumed that that is what we would do, but it was a surprise when she first asked us to write and then read out our flash fiction. I think many on the course would not have attended had they realised that this was a large part of the course, but of course now we are all experts. It wasn’t so much the creative writing, the sudden need for creative inspiration, it was sharing it with the class afterwards. That was the source of the initial anxiety. Julia made it really easy and enjoyable. I think a lot of people strengthened their confidence in those short ten weeks.
Julia would start the lesson with a preamble, setting the scene and then quite soon give us our first creative writing exercise of the evening. I found it surprisingly easy, for I had been writing my short stories for a year before the course, if not longer. There was only one exercise in the whole term that didn’t fire my imagination; perhaps I was just tired? Some people struggled, I don’t think they had firmed up their writing muscles!
I set out below some of my flash fiction pieces, unedited. There you go! I’ve made an excuse for the quality already! I was determined not to do that, because that is at the forefront of this blog, it seems much of one’s best writing comes easily and quickly. Because it’s honest and from the heart, it’s not overworked or overly thought out.
I think we were all quite pleased at what we could achieve in just ten minutes. But it was quite difficult to complete this blog and not re-edit my work!
Julia put up twelve photography portraits on the wall and we had to choose one and then describe their house. We were in groups of four, and after reading our own piece aloud to our group they had to guess who we were writing about. This piece below has in fact been edited; I know, not great starting with an exception. The other pieces below are unedited. We were given the homework of working on our class piece and this is the end result.
Quintessential South Bank Living. This is a one bed flat with balcony, facing the river Thames, all concrete and glass. Purchased off-plan originally with the idea of the investor flipping prior to the completion of the development.
The inside is a mass of white and stainless steel, like one big refrigerator. The vast majority of the space in this home is the open plan kitchen cum living room. The kitchen, hardly ever used, is immaculate, and is separated from the living room by a breakfast bar that doubles as a work surface for the non-existent cook. The living area is minimalist, a black leather sofa-bed faces the 60 inch plasma screen. It’s so modern you feel you have walked into an Ikea catalogue.
The TV is celebrated on the wall like an altar piece for the young singleton. Large canvases of vivid colours and abstracted forms line the hallway to the bedroom. Next to each work a little label states the medium, artist and date of creation; is this a house or an art gallery?
The hallway leads to the bedroom where most of the living happens in this home. An enormous bed dominates the bedroom. A purple silk duvet, unmade, loosely covers the smooth white sheets. The scene is finished with specialist soft lighting, a hidden sound system, large mirrors and African wall hangings. More of a stage than a bedroom. Magazines are piled on the bedside table, battling for space with the iPhone cum iPad docking station.
The walk-in wet room is all bottles on shelves, inset waterproof speakers, towels lying heaped on the floor. The mirror still hiding its reflection in the condensation.
The lesson was the use of the tool ‘and then suddenly….’. We had to move our stories forward from event to event. We draw a picture of our character before writing about them.
Suddenly Jeffery ran into the room.
“Someone’s stolen my bike. I need my bike. Call the police!” The cameraman looked at Jeff, speechless. “Wake up, man, there’s no time to lose, if you want to do any filming tomorrow we need that bike.”
The fat celebrity chef was still huffing and puffing from his race up the stairs. Belinda the make up artist dragged a chair up for him to sit on. “Don’t fret, Jeff, your bike won’t go far. Let’s face it, if it makes more than a couple of miles without breaking down or running out of petrol it’ll be the furthest it’s made all week!”
“Belinda, you’re missing the point, my bike’s not been stolen, she’s been kidnapped!”
“Kidnapped!” the whole room repeated.
“Jeff, don’t you think you’re over-reacting just a tad?” Brian the scriptwriter suggested. “Are you sure you’ve actually gone back to where you left it? This wouldn’t be the first wild goose chase you’ve led us on!”
“Brian, stop being a prize prat. This’ll be the BBC or one of those Sky film crews upsetting our shoot.” Suddenly a mobile phone broke into song, breaking Jeff’s rant.
Belinda answered, “Hello, Jeff’s phone.” The room drew to a hush as it waited to learn the caller’s name.
“Yes, yes that’s right, a Yamaha T190.” The whole room turned to Jeff. “Blocking the pub entrance, right.” It was Brian who was the first to snigger. “Can you tell the police that Jeff is on his way?”
I cheated on this one. Julia asked us to imagine being in the woods at night and that we could hear someone close by, but were too frightened to call out. I was gripped by another idea and couldn’t let go of it.
It had taken two days to trek to the log cabin. Paul and Susan were recovering, treating their blisters, washing their clothes and filling their stomachs with hot food. Susan sat on the bed planning the hike tomorrow, whilst Paul was in the kitchen making another brew. As he watched the kettle, Paul heard the strange giggling. Ah she did bring a radio. We can check the news.
Susan came to the door, her face pale, her mouth open. “Did you hear that?”
“I thought it was your radio!”
“I don’t have a radio.” They looked at each other and then to the window, black with night. The moon hidden in cloud.
“Go and see,” Susan whispered.
“You go and see!”
They stood in silence, the sound of a clock ticking echoed in the hallway. “Perhaps it was the wind?” Paul didn’t need to answer, they both knew she was reaching. Then the sound of a footstep outside at the back. Now at the side. And finally a tap at the door.
It was fun reading this one out to Julia and two others, when I finished they all caught the suspense and sung at the same time, “Da, Da, Dahhh!”
This was flash fiction on a different night. I’d gone to a ‘meet up’ creative writing evening, just to see what other people were doing, it turned out to be a one off. The theme was ‘A blast from the past’.
“Harold! Is that you?” Harold stood in the doorway silently. His large raincoat shielding him from the rain and the street light. “You’d best come in. I wasn’t expecting you after….” Simon didn’t complete his sentence. Harold walked ahead of Simon, walking past the living room directly to the kitchen. “Would you like a cuppa?”
“If you like,” Harold muttered.
Simon filled the kettle and proceeded to prepare the drinks. Harold remained silent.
“So what’s it been, two years?”
“And you’re well? Still living at….” he paused, “with your mum?”
“No!” Simon didn’t interrupt but waited for Harold to continue. “No, well I’m still at home, but Mum’s moved out.” He looked up for Simon to respond, but Simon busied himself with finishing the coffee. “She’s gone to…. Well, she’s moved in with a man.”
“A man?” Simon found it difficult to hide his surprise.
“Some guy she met off the internet. He’s got a big house, swanky car and all that!” Simon turned away and tidied up the sink.
Harold sat down at the small table and sniffed loudly as though he’d removed some heavy burden, the sound of the clock was suddenly audible. “And Mum’s happy, is she?”
Simon sniffed again, “Well I guess she must be.”
The coordinator pointed out that it was interesting to start a story with dialogue. I think the group were expecting me to be quite reserved, having just met them for the first time. But of course the writing course at Chichester had put me in good stead.
Back in Chichester. We had to create a situation of tension between two people.
As Bob passed the phone booth he heard it ring. That’s funny, he thought. He continued past, ignoring the ring. But the sound pulled him back. What if it were urgent? He reached out to the phone and gingerly picked it up as though it might be dangerous.
He held the phone to his ear and listened. “Hello? Hello, is there anyone there?”
The phone spoke, “Is that someone?” It was a woman’s voice. A desperate voice.
“Er yes, yes it’s me, who’s that?”
“Jackie! I live at number 23. 23 Greenwood Lane, who’s that?”
“Er, Bob, er I don’t know the area well. I’m just passing.” Bob looked out of the phone booth. “I believe I’m in St Paul’s Avenue.”
“Yes, Greenwood Lane is up on the left, a hundred yards up the hill.”
“OK,” Bob answered with little interest.
“Look, can you do something for me?” Bob remained silent. “It’s my daughter, she’s not answering the phone, could you go around and check on her?”
Bob shifted from his right to his left foot. “Um, well….”
“She could be sleeping?”
“No it’s not that, she left a message on my phone. She said she’d had enough.”
I’ve forgotten the task Julia set, but it fired quite a melancholy response.
George walked into the empty house. He checked the bedroom, no, she wasn’t there. Not even a note! He thought of the last time they’d been together, she had cooked. A delicious lamb roast. They’d shared a bottle of wine and spent the rest of the evening playing Scrabble and looking through old photos. He checked his phone, no message. This was it. She really had done it this time.
George sat on the sofa in silence, as the sun set he found himself in darkness. Nothingness had enveloped him. The vibration of his phone stirred him from his melancholy. It was a text.
‘I’m at the station, do you still want me?’
George sprung up from the sofa, turned on the lights and checked his reflection in the mirror. Quickly he texted her back, his fingers moving too quickly to type, he corrected each mistake second by second. One last second for a kiss and ‘send’.
‘Yes! I’ll pick you up. x’
After collecting his car keys he leapt down the front steps, he couldn’t get there fast enough. She’s back! What joy!
Julia’s challenge was to describe a car accident. An old lady had driven into a supermarket. We were each given a different character and had to describe the accident from our perspective. My character was an unknown to the others and the class had to guess who it was from my writing.
It was complete carnage and chaos. I didn’t know what to do at first. Advise head office, temporarily suspend the checkouts or secure the area from looting and further damage.
I knew there was a danger of the car exploding, and maybe the cash in the passport booth and children’s ride should be checked to ensure the money was still locked away.
There were lots of silly customers getting all panicky and hysterical, very unprofessional! I was worried that I’d be asked to extend my shift; there was no way we could have the shop secure by closing time. Eventually I got hold of the manager, who was messing about with the police and ambulance men. I persuaded him that I should call my carpenter friend to do a makeshift wall. He’s quite a useful guy and would know how to stop ‘Joe public’ from getting in.
The old lady was in a right old state when they took her away. I think she was worried about the shopping in the back of her car. But I did manage to call out to her that I’d look after it.
The class guessed my character. One lady asked if I was a security guard in real life. I’ll take that as a compliment to my writing.
Julia gave us three items to include in our story. Mine were: trapeze artist, candlestick, and abandoned warehouse.
“It’s a great place to practise,” Bob shouted down to Tim. He was perfectly balanced in the centre of the rope, twenty-five feet from the ground with no net.
“Where did you learn to do that?” Tim asked.
“The circus, of course!”
“You joined the circus?”
“No. Just watched. That’s the best bit of the show, the trapeze artist.” Their voices echoed in the abandoned warehouse. Tim was quite still mesmerised by Bob’s peril.
“When did you start doing it?” Bob remained silent, concentrating on moving along the rope, his Lycra tights glistening in Tim’s torchlight. “Well, how much have you done?” Tim persevered.
“I just started tonight. I tell you what, let’s try a trick. I’ll try balancing something on my head. Throw me up that candlestick?”
“Yeah, it’s in my bag.”
Tim shone the torch into Bob’s bag. “It’s not a traditional trick, is it, Bob?”
“Improvisation, mate, something original, something creative!”
I really enjoyed this one, I was running out of time and the play on ‘improvisation’ came to me just in time. My group on this one were all women, and I was teased for having sold out to my readership by having Bob in Lycra!
Writing a Metaphor
While I’m here I’ll just add this in. For our homework we were given two words. One an emotion, one a noun. Our homework was to construct a metaphor. My words were ‘anger’ and ‘car’.
Anger is like a car driving you out of control down a one way road to destruction. Hurtling you faster to despair and chaos. Sometimes you find yourself revisiting old sites, refuelling the anger. Now at a standstill, you stamp on the accelerator, making the engine growl, the car shaking with the wild thumping pistons, scaring the passengers and onlookers. You launch the car around the bend with no thought for your safety. The rage inside taking control of the steering wheel taking you to oblivion. You pound the car horn, it blares at the pedestrian, take that, take that, I’ll make you pay. The only answer is to get out, throw the keys away and choose another way to get to where you want to go.
My metaphor got read out in the class, goodness knows what people thought of me! He seems pretty acquainted with anger!