Writing: Averting a Serious Accident

I do writing exercises with my writing circle – sometimes an exercise we found on the internet, or sometimes something we made up ourselves.

I haven’t edited this one at all but thought it was quite fun!

Our prompts were plaques from  The Memorial to Humble Sacrifice in Postman’s Park – I’ve never visited but would like to now that I’ve heard about it.

My plaque is below.

Will couldn’t believe it. There she was in her finery, in the driving seat of a small cab led by two horses, one black and one dun. Incongruous. To see a lady like that, up front with the reins in hand, was shocking enough. The fact she was wearing three string of pearls and a black feather that rose from a jewel on her forehead and wilted and puffed with each jolt of the carriage made the sight almost unbelievable.

But that was just like Miss Jane Edmonton. She was never one to do what others expected. In fact, she liked to surprise them, he’d known that from the very first time he’d met her crossing Grosvenor Square, when within moments of being introduced she’d lifted the gingham cloth covering her basket to reveal not one but two tiny little pink piglets snuggled there. Roly and Poly she’d called them, as she’d told him with a wry curl of her lips.

Since that day on he’d been hooked. Looked for her everywhere he went. Sometimes he’d see a flash of red hair and his heart would start beating more quickly, until the girl turned around and it was just an ordinary one. But not today. Fiery copper locks, black feather waving in the breeze, pearls and jewels and riding crop in hand. It was her.

“Jane!” he called out. He saw her twitch, but he couldn’t tell from his slightly distant vantage point if she’d heard or was just adjusting the rig. The horses kept their pace. “Jane!” he called again.

This time she turned her head, back over her right shoulder toward him. But instead of smiling she frowned. She’d done this increasingly of late, when she saw him. The first couple of times she’d been pleased; asked him how-did-he-do and whether he thought it might rain later on. The next few times she’d looked puzzled, as if surprised two people could bump into each other so often in such a large city (it was true, it was uncommon or in fact near impossible if one wasn’t setting out to make it happen). This time the frown was the strongest yet. She looked ahead again immediately, flicked the reins, and across the breeze he could hear her clicking the horses on.

“Miss Edmonton, wait, I want to speak to you!” he called. He started running. Why was she moving away from him? They were friends – weren’t they? She had just been playing shy to be proper – hadn’t she?

He started to close in on the horses, who were still only at a gentle trot. He was shouting louder now, and she looked back at him with alarm. “Go away,” she said, and he couldn’t believe his ears. “Leave me alone.”

Suddenly he understood all her odd ways. She wasn’t eccentric and interesting, she was mad. Absolutely lunatic, her moods changing like the flip of a coin. That was the only explanation for it. And now she was picking up speed with the horses, putting herself at risk. That wouldn’t do at all. She might be mad, but she was still a lady. It was down to Will to save her.

“Stop – you’ll hurt yourself!” he called, and as he drew level with dun horse he tried to grab at its bridle. The horse reared up, letting forth a great neigh like the roar of the lion Will had seen at Regent’s Park.

“Stop it!” shrieked Jane. “Just leave me alone. I can sort it out. You’re scaring them.”

She was delirious, Will could see that. That was the only explanation for it. Her life was at risk and he was the only one who could save her, he was sure of it. The horses were struggling even more now, thrashing about in two different directions, the cab starting to career out of control. Jane let out a shriek. Emboldened, Will leapt for the horse. He’d save the day.

He grabbed the bridle, swung himself up onto the horse, and then started to lean over to grab the other one too. “It’s ok boy, calm down,” he said. But his climbing aboard seemed to have the opposite effect. The horses were friskier than ever, and picking up pace. Pedestrians shrieked, running to the side of the path. He looked over at Jane and saw fire in her eyes. She was seething, he could see that, hysterical, even. A woman in need of help. His heart when out to her. Even in this crazed state, she was beautiful. A curl had loosened itself from her bun and fallen round her face, where its copper silk caressed her china-white cheek.

“For goodness’ sake,” she said, beautiful in her breathlessness. “Just get off them and I’ll calm them down in no time.”

She didn’t know what she was saying – delusional. He’d seen it before, in other women. They were all the same.

The horses were drawing apart from each other now. He tried desperately to keep hold of the black one, but he was already bareback riding and it was hard to keep his balance. “Calm,” he said, but they didn’t seem to listen.

And then the black horse jolted to the left. His clammy hand slipped from the bridle as he fell to the ground. He heard a shriek from above as the pitiful Miss Edmonton witnessed her hero smited. The last thing he saw was the frenzied hoof coming at him from somewhere near the sky.

Writing: Your personality can be as colourful as your canvas

I do writing exercises with my writing circle – sometimes an exercise we found on the internet, or sometimes something we made up ourselves.

This week we were given random phrases that we had to combine with a scenario. My phrase was ‘Your personality can be as colourful as your canvas’ and my scenario was ‘Write about going broke.’ We had 15 minutes to write. 

I’ve made only minor, mainly technical, edits to the below since jotting it down, so it’s not a fully polished piece. But that’s not the purpose of the exercise!

Your personality can be as colourful as your canvas. That was my excuse. That was what I told the bailiff, standing in the dock that hot July day in 1964. Colourful as your canvas, sir, yessir, I said. 

He looked at me like I was some kind of pond-dweller. You know what his colour was? Beige. No – grey. He’d never seen a splash of colour in his life.

Darcie, now she was an electric, catch-your-eye cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die fuschia. That’s right, fyoosha. Not, not fuk-sia, though you might think that’s how you say it. I knew her colour the moment she walked into my drugstore and asked for a raspberry lemonade. I knew it not from her eyes – which I can’t remember the colour of, but blue or brown what’s the difference, doesn’t tell you a thing – but from the way she walked. The swaying of her hips, like the pendulum on a big ol’ clock, like father time himself. The whole world swayed with those hips, I swear to you now. But it wasn’t just that – I’m not just a guy who likes hips, though that I do. It was more than that. The fuschia was coming right out of her. It was when she opened her mouth and rather than just asking for a raspberry lemonade, plain and simple like that, like any girl woulda, you know what she said?

It’s hot as a madam’s armpit in Saigon out there. 

And then she asked for the raspberry lemonade. 

Well, after that and after I knew she was fuschia, there was nothing I could do about it any more. Nothing I could do to stop myself. I knew right then and there that this girl was something special, and someone I would go to hell on a harley for. Cause my colour’s vermillion, you see. That’s right, vermillion. That might sound like a fancy word, but it’s important. It’s a kind of red, but not just any red, yessee. Vermillion. Feel it unrolling on your tongue. 

You know, people say red and pink don’t mix, but they’re wrong. Red and pink are energy. Red and pink set the world on fire. 

And they sure did with us.

Within a week Darcie and I were going together. First I took her to Old Man Joe’s, but then I realised that just wasn’t good enough for a fuschia like Darcy. Oh, she didn’t complain, not a bit – she enjoyed herself, I could see that, and I don’t think she thought twice about it. But that was the problem. I wanted her to think about it. A lot. I wanted to give her gold, platinum, emerald, sapphire. And Old Man Joe’s, well he’s Old Man Joe. Maybe a navy, if you’re lucky. 

The second week I took her to the Casino down by Springfield way. She bit her lip and asked if I could afford it and I just told her not to worry. It’s all about the red and black, I said. That was what I bet on – red and black. Colours are my people, I told her. But hell I don’t know what happened but the colours didn’t seem to be my friends that day. Maybe they were just intimidated by her fuschia.

So I tried the Grand Hotel. That’s a real fancy place, gold many times over. Darcie was sure impressed by that. We ate shrimp and steak and drank Old Fashioneds. I knew Darcie was mine for sure at the Grand.

After that I don’t know what happened. Maybe my vermillion wasn’t bright enough or something. Anyway, I took her to the casino again, and I lost again, but big this time. I lost so big I had to sell my Corvette. I lost so big I had them coming after me at the drugstore.

Darcie disappeared after that. Couldn’t find her fuschia anywhere. Maybe she wasn’t so fuschia after all. But I could swear she blinded me with that electric pink the moment she walked through the drugstore door asking for a raspberry lemonade.

That’s what I told the bailiff, yessee.

It’s just my personality yessee. Colourful as a canvas. 


Writing: Five bucks left on the table, and a lime green deckchair

I do writing exercises with my writing circle – sometimes an exercise we found on the internet, or sometimes something we made up ourselves.

This week we had prompt cards, and we each received two prompts to weave into our story. We had fifteen minutes to write. Mine were ‘five bucks left on the table’ and ‘a lime green deckchair.’ 

I recently read the excellent The Dutch House by Anne Patchett and for some reason the mother from that sprung to my mind. She keeps going AWOL – disappearing for months at a time and then coming back again. Finally one day she abandons her children altogether.

This piece was loosely inspired by that premise.

She never left much of a trace after she’d visited, but what she did leave was untouched for days afterwards, as all of us attempted to preserve the fleeting memory of her presence. The last time, I got home from school to find five bucks on the table and her lime green deckchair still sitting out on the patio, under a parasol.

“How do we split it?” said Carly, who was eight to my ten and had a habit of looking up at me with eyes wide as saucers, something which made me feel tall and important but also squeamish with nerves all at the same time. 

I looked from her to five-year-old Benny, and saw what she meant. It wasn’t easy to split five bucks between three people, assuming that had been Mom’s intention. But Mom never thought these things through. Unless it was supposed to be a contribution for Dad, toward the food she’d eaten while she was here? But she’d never offered to compensate him before, and when Dad got home from work he merely grunted in the direction of the money, showing no interest whatsoever.

“We could take two each and give one to Benny since he’s the youngest?” I said. Carly nodded. Benny didn’t say anything. I’m not sure he understood.

I walked around the house, trying to find other evidence she’d been there. If it were a novel her scent would be lingering in the air, honeysuckle and fresh-roast coffee perhaps. But it wasn’t, and I knew what she really smelled of was anxiety and mildewy clothes. She hadn’t even left any hairs in the sink or the bathtub either, or at least it was impossible to tell the difference between her hair and my own long blond strands. 

So it came to this: these crumpled pieces of green paper, which I fluttered against my face – though my teacher had told me they were covered in germs – before replacing them on the table, and a lime-green deck chair, rickety and slightly rusted, set to ‘recline’ under the parasol on the patio. The only physical evidence of my mother. 

Since Dad cleared away neither the money nor the deckchair, they both became shrines. Carly, Benny and I would stand looking at the money, Benny barely able to see from his short height, wondering what she’d wanted us to do with it. And then I’d lift Benny, put him on my hip, and together we’d go outside to where the deckchair shone fluorescent in the sun, almost blinding. I’d climb into it, the meshy fabric sagging slightly from Benny’s weight in my lap, and we’d sit, and look at the sky, the same sky which she was looking at, somewhere, and gradually the clouds would drift by and we’d begin to drift off into sleep, held in the deckchair’s embrace.

Writing: The Witching Hour

The light came on every night at dusk, as the world turned to shadow and the witching hour began. Higher than anything for miles around, it towered above us like the star above the manger, except its primary purpose was warning people away, not attracting them near. 

I used to walk along the clifftop after dark. I knew the path so well I didn’t need the lighthouse’s glow, could have found my footing across the rocks even with no moon. But it was comforting, that light that swung on and off, on and off, the ebb and flow of a beating heart.

None of us had ever seen the lighthousewoman. Some of the older folk remembered her husband, many decades ago, appearing in the village from time to time like an apparition, in green galoshes and an orange anorak. He’d buy bread or a tin of tea before disappearing back across the downs to his candy-caned home, Eastern temple, fairy tale tower. Somehow, everyone knew that he had passed away and his wife had taken over the lamp, though I never understood how they’d come by this information. I’d ask my grandmother what the lighthousewoman looked like, ask did she speak quietly or loudly, and could she sing. I was sure I’d heard her voice dancing through the grasses, carried on the breeze like a dandelion seed. But my grandmother only shook her head. “I haven’t seen her since I was a little girl. I don’t remember.”

Some nights I turned my steps toward the lighthouse, picked my way over the hummocks, bent against the wind, cosseted in my hood and coat. But as soon as I got close enough to meet the eyes of anyone who might appear at the door, or at the window, I’d change my mind and turn back. Not today. Another time. I’d continue on my way, straining to hear what sounded like a sea shanty floating through the air from the top of the tower.

The light came on every night at dusk, as the world turned to shadow and the witching hour began. Until one night it didn’t come on at all. We were plunged into a darkness we had never known; the sky had clouded over and not even a glimmer of starlight broke though.

That was the night the lighthousewoman sang her last sea shanty. It was also the night that the ship with thirteen sails smashed to smithereens on the rocks below, changing our lives forever.  

https://creativewritingink.co.uk/writing-prompts – for weekly writing prompts & competitions


Review: Indelicacy, by Amina Cain

I discovered this book while researching for my new project. I won’t tell you why or what the project is about – I’m not ready to let it out of my head just yet, even to my partner, who’s asked me multiple times what I’m thinking of writing about. I often feel new novel ideas are green shoots which need to grow to a certain level of sturdiness before they can be exposed to the outside world, otherwise they risk withering or being blown away before they’re fully formed.

Indelicacy is beautiful. It’s astounding. It’s going straight onto my list of favourites – not just of books that I’ve enjoyed, but books that have made a lasting impression.

“… I began to feel that I could see my writing – not the words or the paintings – somehow in between. That I had made a new thing.”

This book is so rich, and yet so sparse. My copy is now full of underlines and folded pages (sorry to those who don’t approve).  CultureFly says ,”Not a word here is wasted. You might imagine that kind of ruthless efficiency to have created a harsh, ascetic book, but Indelicacy doesn’t feel that way at all. It feels sumptuous. Decadent.” For me, it was amazing how much Cain managed to capture in so little prose. This is a thin book, and each chapter is little more than a page. At 52,000 words, it would barely pass NaNoWriMo. 

“In a sitting room outside the bathroom, another woman sat in front of a mirror and brushed her hair roughly, so roughly a real drop of blood was beginning to appear on her scalp.”

“I turned to the suitcase I had already been packing and folded one of my blouses before placing it inside. I was getting everything I wanted.”

There’s something wonderfully detached and simple about the writing, yet intensely engrossing. In this interview in full-stop, Cain says, “Sentences are important to me; they have the potential to be so alive, so activating in their own right, not just at the service of plot.” I could see that time and time again reading Indelicacy.

“How happy I was. I had created an experience for someone; I hadn’t been sure I could actually do that.”

“But I was always enthralled; I knew this about myself. It was almost annoying.”

What appealed to me most about Indelicacy, as someone who writes (dare I call myself ‘writer?’) was the way Cain captured the main character’s search for meaning, for self expression – particularly through writing. Vitória is a striking narrator, frank and funny, but also misunderstood and on a pedestal. She has few real connections, except with a handful of women she is close to. I didn’t necessarily identify with that part, but I did identify with the atmosphere of solitude, her unpredictability, and her need to capture what she sees around her in all its painstaking detail. 

I suspect this is a book I will read again and again – thankfully, its length won’t make that too difficult! 

Other reviews & interviews with the author

FT: A woman reflects on the sum of her life, via its smallest details

The Guardian: A cleaner in a gallery pursues her passion for art in a deceptively slim novel about the act of looking and being looked at

The Paris Review: Interview

Writing: It was a pleasure to burn

This is a piece I wrote for the 2019 Literary Taxidermy Competition. I haven’t really looked at it since… so am resisting the urge to make further edits before posting! For those who don’t know, each year they give the opening and closing line of a famous work of literature. For the competition you have to fill in the middle… with whatever you want! 2019 was Farenheit 451, which I haven’t read yet, which I think helps in terms of thinking of something completely detached from the original work. I didn’t win, sadly – but I certainly enjoyed writing it.

It was a pleasure to burn. After all they’d put me through I wanted them to face up to what they were doing. I wanted them to smell my flesh as it fizzled and hear the crackling of my hair as it sent flames high above my head. This is who you are, I screeched at them, though I knew the message was as lost as the sparks hissing around me. “See, she feels no pain,” they said. “There is the proof,” they said. But they did not understand that I could both feel the pain – savage, caustic, a million and one pinpricks in every layer of every part of my skin, reaching deeper and deeper into my body – and also rise above it. I was calm, because I knew that this fire was only temporary, and then I would reach the eternal city of God and be cooled in the rivers of Eden. It was they who would have to endure this pain forever in the hellfire of eternity. 

I helped this community, I soothed their sores, birthed their babies – and got rid of them, too, when they wanted. That woman, there, the one now looking at me through hard eyes – why, she thanked me just three weeks ago, taking my hands in hers as she wept with joy. And that man, so afraid that death would come knocking; today, here he stood, fully alive, watching his saviour die an excruciating death.

It was too much for them. How could I know more than their doctors? How could I be better than those who had paid and travelled to study, returned with their names written in calligraphic ink and stamped in wax? 

They called it magic. I called it books. When you don’t have grubby mouths to feed – neither husband nor children – you can afford to search for the newest pamphlets, the most recent discoveries. You have time to read late into the night, wax stalagmites growing ever taller. 

But there’s always someone who won’t stand for it. That’s what we’ve discovered – for it’s not just me. “They meet at night to perform their rituals,” they said. Well, yes, if you call reading, discussing, debating, a ritual. The doctors in this town learn by rote; learn once, and then, more often than not, forget. We – me, a few women from the next village – met to share the new discoveries, discuss techniques, findings. Yes, we did it by the fire. Yes, we dressed liberally, for we did not think we were overlooked, and were amongst only women. But I can promise you there was no ritual. The only live sacrifice we have made is ourselves, here, now, at the altar of knowledge, where we burn.

Philomena was the first to go. The smith in her village had taken a liking to her, proposed marriage. They barely knew each other; how could they, when men and women are not allowed to converse alone? She said no, less gently than perhaps she might. He became convinced she had a lover, asked the sheriff to ransack her home. They found the books. “Sorcery!” they cried. No-one bothered to check what the books actually contained. Hanged at dawn, head lolling like a drunken landlord.

Lydia was next. Drowned. That was when I began to fear for myself, began to take a low profile. Not that I felt much like going out in company anyway. You don’t, not when one of your friends has been hanged and another sunk to the sodden riverbed. You feel more like staying home alone, staring into the embers of your fire as you slowly pour yourself another sip of brandy. Someone saw me go out to the privy once: drunk, staggering a little, muttering to myself, maybe. “Deranged,” I heard them intone. “Possessed,” the other chanted. I didn’t care; I saw only the image of Lydia’s bleached, bloated face. 

I decided my medicine would be for me alone; these ingrates didn’t deserve it. That was my mistake. Once rejected, they grew angry; once they no longer needed me, they turned.

As a young girl I loved to make my potions, collecting herbs beneath the stars and grinding seeds into a paste. I knew the properties of every flower and could prepare a dressing for any wound. I used to run through that field over there, the one I could just about still see through the smoke and the flames, and sing songs long forgotten by the rest of the village – songs my mother had learned from her mother.

Once, I tripped and grazed my knee. The cuts were not deep but they stung enough to prick tears. And my skirt was dirtied with the tiniest flecks of blood. I ran back through the waving sheaves of corn to my mother, who took my little hand in hers and guided me to the churchyard. Her mother was buried beneath a small mossy stone, with one barely readable word: “Mary.” 

“Come, put your hand on the moss, my little one, and make the sign of the cross. And now kneel and touch the ground. And sprinkle this lavender. And place a pebble here. Now grandmother will smile down on you from heaven, and make you feel better.” And I did, a little.

“Does father lie somewhere like this, beneath a stone like that?” I asked – bravely, for I knew that asking questions about my father put my mother in a strange mood.

“I don’t think so,” she said, taking my hand roughly as she guided me away. “I think – I hope – he’s a thousand leagues under the sea, like he deserves.”

I wondered whose face was more waterlogged – his or Lydia’s. And could the soul survive underwater, to escape up to the heavens above? Or did it grow confused by the shimmering light, and wander through a watery underworld for year upon year, until eventually it flowed into the Styx, thereby condemning itself to hell for evermore?

When I reach heaven, it shall be a great city, full of people who mind their own business and don’t mind yours. There will be a great street full of booksellers, except all the books will be free for the taking. There will be lavender lining the streets and meeting places for women and all the people whose lives I’ve saved will help me in return. 

It was a pleasure to burn, but it was also the most ravaging, intense pain I have ever felt. I can only hope that by suffering it with dignity, as Jesus did, I shall earn my place in the City of God.

They spat that at my mockery of a trial. “She-devil!” cried the man whose wife I nursed through childbirth. “Succubus!” hissed the woman who lost her baby through her own husband’s violence, but blamed me. 

I may once have kissed a woman, it is true. It was night. Stars twinkled through the trees and a half moon surveilled genteelly over us. We were wearing our flowing, loose robes, comfortable as could be, sitting in a circle in the woods, laughing as we tossed more kindling onto the fire, which spat with the shells of the seeds we were eating. Our hair was liberated from our coifs and flowed long and voluptuous down our chests. There was a gleam in her eyes which grew as she took more sips from the communal whisky cup. There was a moment when we laughed together, heads back at the same time, eyes back together at the same time. She was so – alive. Without knowing what I was doing I leaned into her and kissed her, quickly but fully on the lips. Something blazed inside me. I realised what I was doing and pulled away. She smiled. I looked in horror at the others, but they only laughed. And we carried on talking. 

But no-one saw me that night, I’m sure of it. That was months ago. Months before she was drowned. So why burn me now? 

When we reach the City of God together, we will light fires and dance in our loose robes, shaking our hair in the wind. We will find our mothers, and bring them to join in the dance too, welcoming them with wine and sweetmeats. We will sing our own songs of old, and hymns too, and not care which they are so long as our hearts are pure. We will forgive those who have wronged us, for they know not what they do.

When we reach the city.

[by Rose Diell]