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Dad held one of my hands and Mum held the other. Every so often Dad would say, ‘One, two, three…’ and on three they would swing me high into the air. I thought they’d pull my arms off but I didn’t care, it was so funny to watch my feet flying up in front of my face. I was wearing my best shoes, they were brand new and if I looked closely I could see glimpses of Mum and Dad reflected in the red leather. One time I saw Dad grinning in one shoe and Mum frowning in the other. I laughed so much I scared a seagull away from a bag of chips, and Dad had to thump me on my back to make me breathe properly again.

Past the big building at the end of the pier, we found a row of men fishing. The railings around the edge had balls sticking up on top of the upright rails, and the fishermen were all spaced out, each one between two of the balls, like a row of shadows on the sky. I ran to see if any of them had caught anything. I love to see the fish wriggle on the ends of the lines, they look like they’re catching little bits of the sun.

I wasn’t tall enough to lean on the top railing, like my Mum and Dad, so I leaned on the bottom one. That was level with my tummy, so I could lean over and watch the fishing lines diving deep into the water. I couldn’t see much of them, I think maybe the sea was trying to hide them to help the fishermen catch the fish.

Suddenly, one of the rods dipped at the end, and its line started to swim away from the pier, trying to pull the fisherman into the sea. He was too strong though, he leaned backwards and heaved and heaved. The reel clicked as it span, his breath was loud through his nose, birds screeched and flew low over the water. All the other fishermen were shouting, ‘You’ve got a big one there,’ and, ‘Come on Jim, land her quick now.’ My feet wouldn’t keep still inside my red shoes, it was so exciting. Even Mum was pointing and laughing.

It took ages for the fisherman to win the battle. I thought the fish must be so big it might be able to catch the whole sun as it rose up on the end of the line. I leaned out as far as I could so I wouldn’t miss it. Then, just as it started to rise, twisting and turning, from the waves, I fell in.

The water was hard, and then it was all around me, and it was cold. It rushed into my nose and eyes and ears, and inside my dress and my shoes. I tried to scream and it filled my mouth as well, tasting like too much salt on my fish fingers. The sea was pulling at my dress, trying to take me down to the bottom where the lobsters live. I didn’t know how to stay afloat. My arms and legs were thrashing about, which helped a bit. My head came out into the air, and I breathed in and coughed and coughed before the water dragged me down again.

Then there was a big wave and a loud splash, and something caught hold of me and pulled me up. I didn’t understand to start with, but then I heard Dad’s voice saying, ‘Keep still now, Chloe, we’ll get you out of here.’ He wasn’t scared like I was, and after he’d said, ‘Keep still,’ a few times I understood. He pushed a big red and white ring over my head, which kept me on the surface.

‘You’ll be safe now,’ he said.

I looked at his big smiling face. His hair looked funny, stuck down to his head on one side and sticking up on the other, and he was wriggling his arms and legs to stay afloat. He was very white, and his smile wasn’t in his eyes.

I said. ‘Daddy, why are your lips going blue?’

‘Because it’s cold. Just hold on to that lifebelt, and look over there. The boat will come to pick us up, and you need to watch for it.’

I turned towards the shore. There were lots of people looking at us, so I waved, and they cheered. I couldn’t feel my hands and feet, and I was watching so hard for the boat my eyes hurt, so I closed them and just rocked in the waves. Then I heard an engine, and another one, and men shouting at me. They grabbed me and helped me climb onto one of the boats, and took me away from the pier. The other boat stayed to get Dad out of the water.

When I got off the boat, I had to go to an ambulance. A nice man in green clothes shone lights in my eyes and asked if I could breathe all right. He wrapped me in a blanket, even my feet, which were really cold because my shoes had come off and were at the bottom of the sea with the lobsters and the crabs.

The nice man took me outside to see Mum. He had his hand on my shoulder, helping me keep the blanket on. It was cold, even in the sunshine. Mum was standing still, with her back to me, watching someone lying on the ground being punched and kissed by some more men with green clothes.

One of the men came over and talked to my nice man, and his hand tightened on my shoulder so hard it hurt. I was scared all over again, so I pulled away and ran over to Mum.

‘Mum, what’s a heart attack?’

She didn’t answer.

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Interview my character

OK chaps, I need practice in putting on other people’s lives. It’s one of the prime mistakes for new writers, to make all their characters aspects of themselves, and it’s a mistake I’m certainly prone to. I often (not always, which is strange) find it difficult to imagine how a character feels, why they react the way they do, what their unique voice is… you get the picture.

At writers group on Monday we tried out the interviewing technique I learned about at Caerleon in the wonderful Sue Moorcroft’s ‘Become Your Character’ after-tea session. We each created a character (a burglar who has nightmares!), then took turns to interview each other. It was excellent fun, and we’ve come up with an ongoing project as a result – more on that in a later post.

I digress. The point is, I found it really hard to be Katie, the troubled teen from a broken home who robs houses for fun and is terrified of her dad’s new wife. Writing up a character sketch of Katie yesterday, I realised I was struggling really hard to take myself out of the equation. In some ways it was easier to write the sketch than to be interviewed in real time, as I’m not too good at thinking on my feet, but in other ways it allowed my own thoughts, feelings and reactions more time to get entangled with Katie’s.

Can you help?

I thought it might be fun to extend the exercise here, and encourage a bit of interaction… and beg for help! I’ve asked Chloe (the main character in my novel) to write a bit about herself, and I’d be eternally grateful if you could take on the job of interviewers, and ask her some really searching questions in the comments. No holds barred, anything goes. And then I’ll get Chloe to answer the questions in my next-but-one post (the next one will be #fridayflash, of course).

I’ve just read through what she’s written about herself, and I’m struggling to find any redeeming qualities, she seems like a bit of a wimp. I’m sure she must have some though. She’d better – I’ve got to spend a whole novel with her! I think she needs another hobby – anyone want to suggest something she could take up while her no-good husband is out with his mates?

Hi, I’m Chloe

Me on holiday last year, catching up on emails while John was paragliding

Me on holiday last year, catching up on emails while John was paragliding

My name is Chloe Hunter. I’m 33 years old, married with no children and no pets. I’ve been with John ever since we met at university. I couldn’t believe he wanted me, he was always surrounded by much prettier girls. He said they were all too sure of themselves, and he liked my insecurities. Anyway, after I got my psychology degree, I came down to London with John. He’d got a job in banking, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. My dad died when I was three, he left me enough money to put down a deposit on a flat. It made sense for me to take on the flat and the bills while John was getting his career going.

John by the sea

John by the sea

I trained as an occupational psychologist, and eventually I ended up in Human Resources at Hickman Carter (a property agency), which is about as inhuman as it sounds. It’s not about providing resources for people, it’s about treating people as resources. I don’t know how much longer I’ll stick it. John says I have to keep my job, we need both incomes to support our lifestyle. I guess he’s probably right, but I sometimes wonder if I want the parties and holidays and new cars that go with that lifestyle. Still, if it wasn’t for John’s friends, I probably wouldn’t talk to anyone outside work from one week to the next!

I miss the countryside, and go out of the city as often as I can. I don’t know why, I grew up in Northampton and have never lived in the country. I guess I had a happy enough childhood, apart from Dad dying. I don’t think Mum ever forgave me for that, but it wasn’t my fault, not really. We went to Southend on holiday. All I remember was the sand in my shoes and the sea going on for ever. I fell in the water, off the pier, and Dad jumped in to rescue me. He had a heart attack and drowned. I can’t see him in my mind any more but I still catch his smell sometimes, pipe tobacco and engine grease. He was always trying to fix our old Ford Capri. Mum sold it as soon as he died.

I don’t have any brothers or sisters. I was adopted. Mum never told me much about my real parents, except that they died in a car crash, in a stolen BMW, when I was only a few months old. I did think about trying to find out about them, but John says it’s not worth the hassle. They’re dead, so why bother?

I used to have lots of friends, but they’ve kind of drifted away over the last few years. I’m not very good at keeping in touch with people. A couple of them still send Christmas cards, and Denise phones every now and then. I don’t like talking to her much though, she keeps telling me I should leave John. He says she’s a jealous cow who doesn’t understand how much we love each other. She just remembers the time he got drunk and gave me a black eye, but she doesn’t listen when I tell her how sweet he was afterwards. I know he didn’t mean to hurt me.

Just about the only person I talk to much these days is Doreen, our team secretary. She’s persuaded me to stand up for myself a bit at work. She hates our boss as much as I do, but she’s not as good as me at hiding it. I’m very good at keeping my head down. I have to say, though, I quite enjoy saying what I think in meetings. The looks on their faces were priceless the other week when I told them their redundancies proposal was bonkers! Perhaps I should do it more often!

Isn't it beautiful?

Isn't it beautiful?

What are my hobbies? Well, like I said, I love going out into the countryside. I can walk for hours, rain or shine. I think one of the best weekends of my life was when John was at a conference and I got in my car and drove up to North Yorkshire, just on a whim, and walked and walked and walked. Apart from that, I keep the flat clean (my mother trained me well), watch TV (I have a guilty addiction for EastEnders and Casualty), and sometimes I try to write poetry. It never turns out right though.

So, what else do you want to know about me?

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The vampire sheep’s fleece is as black as tightly-curled nightmares. Its ears point to the corners of the shrouded sky, pricked to scoop up the rumbling thunder. Staring at you through translucent glowing eyes, it asks, ‘Will you feed me?’

The Vampire Sheep

The Vampire Sheep

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I took our Gran into Bolton today to buy some sweets. They had to be pick-n-mix, she wouldn’t let me nip down the corner shop and nick her a bag of wine gums or mint imperials. ‘There’s no fun in those, no surprises,’ she grumbled.

So I waited while she found the battered handbag Grandad gave her, then waited some more while she lost it and found it again. Mum gave us the bus fare, and Gran said she’d buy me lunch, so it didn’t matter that I was skint again. Off we went, arm-in-arm down the road, slaloming between the cracked paving slabs.

Gran got herself a seat on the 540 bus by glaring at everyone in turn till a green-haired lass with a pierced lip capitulated and stood up for her. Then when we reached the bus station she viciously wielded her walking stick to make sure we were first down the steps.

‘What’s the rush, Gran?’

‘I want to get some of those licorice allsorts that aren’t licorice. If we don’t get a move on, they’ll all be gone. The schoolkids pinch them, you know.’

I sighed. You didn’t get much sense out of our Gran these days, it was easier to just go along with her. She dragged me off through the crowds of Saturday shoppers shuffling through the town centre, moving more quickly now, sniffing out foam shrimps and sherbet lemons. If I’d known where she was going I’d have stopped her, but I didn’t suss. What an idiot. Pick-n-mix, of course, means Woolworths. And bloody Woolies went tits-up, didn’t it?

She stood on Deansgate outside the gutted shop, blocking the pavement, crying like a baby whose favourite dummy escaped. What could I do? I cuddled her and stroked her hair, swearing under my breath and wishing I was somewhere, anywhere else. I even thought of leaving her there and going to the Reebok to watch the Wanderers lose, yet again. Not much to choose, so I stayed. She’d promised to buy me lunch, after all.

After a couple of minutes she brightened up. ‘I know, we’ll go and get hot pasties and sit by the church. It’s a lovely day.’ And off she toddled, under the looming black clouds, before I could tell her that the Old Pastie Shop hasn’t opened on a Saturday for the last five years.

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Cover art

I will get to the point of this post soon, I promise. I just need to sound off a bit first. I received an email from Waterstones with the ‘thrilling’ news that the cover art for the next Dan Brown has been released. Meh.

Then I switched to Google Reader and found a post on The Book Depository blog (which, I hasten to add, is normally worth reading) with the very same news. At this point ‘meh’ changed to ‘grr’.

Yes, cover art is important for selling books. I often pick up a book purely because the cover grabs me. But, come on guys, seventy days before release? It’s Dan Brown, for chrissake, people will buy it if you put a dissected slug on the cover.

Grumph.

I’m not the only one who’s cross about this…

Writing groups

Yes, I really really will get to the point! I’m on the way there, in fact. Trust me.

I’ve been wanting to join a writing group for aaaaaages now, part of what I enjoy so much about the writing classes is the opportunity to do lots of fun stuff with other people:

  • Talk about writing.
  • Talk about stuff I’ve written.
  • Talk about stuff they’ve written.
  • Talk about stuff other people have written.
  • Actually do some writing.

And that sort of thing. There’s nothing like spending time with people who share your passion… whatever that happens to be.

I think I might have all of a sudden joined two groups, which is quite a turnip for the books (anyone remember The Great Big Enormous Turnip?). The poetry workshops (which are amazing) look set to metamorphose into ongoing meetings in a pub, and a bunch of us from uni have been set up as a writing group by one of the tutors. We had our first meeting last night, and it was fantastic – a really relaxed atmosphere filled with constructive criticism, appreciation and respect.

At both of these, I had some of my work critiqued yesterday, and I have to say I loved it, really really loved it. Hearing honest opinions, both good and bad, is fabulous. I might be a bit of a masochist, but I actually deal better with criticism than praise. And when someone suggests a potential new avenue to send a piece down, it’s so exciting…

Bouncy bouncy bouncy!

Nursery Rhymes

One of the writing exercises we did last night was to take nursery rhymes and write short pieces inspired by them… it was so much fun! I said I’d put up a blog post with my efforts, and the others promised they’d add theirs in the comments. Please feel free to join in, with or without indicating the title of the original nursery rhyme.

#1

The sergeant jumped down from his horse and stomped into the room. ‘Sorry sire, there was nothing we could do. He fell off the wall in the exercise yard.’

‘Bother,’ said the king. ‘I was looking forward to having him scrambled for breakfast tomorrow.’

#2

‘Dad!’

‘What?’

‘That pervert’s knocking on the window again.’

‘I’m fed up with this. Eight o’clock, every night. I’m calling the police.’

#3

‘Whose bloody idea was this?’ squeaked Billy, puffing and panting.

‘Oh, shut up moaning.’ Johnny looked down at his brother, twitching his tail in annoyance. ‘There’s cheese at the top, you know.’

BONG…

‘Aaargh!’ Billy headed for the safety of his hole in the skirting board at top speed.

Once there, he looked back to see Johnny at the top of the clock, smugly licking crumbs of cheese from his whiskers.

Over to you…

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This isn’t a real post – still not going to have time for that till tomorrow or Sunday. But I’ve rewritten Ghosts, and thought I’d post it just to prove I’m still here. It’s hopefully even more disturbing (those of a nervous disposition probably shouldn’t read it), and I’ve experimented with changing the point of view throughout.

Any comments welcome.

Ghosts

Do I live here?

Concrete stairs circle above and below. Bright colours on rough brick walls try to tell me where to go. I don’t understand the language of the spray can. Dismal passages march away in impossible directions. Everything smells of piss.

Perhaps…

I look down at my feet, tell them to take me home.

They seem to know where they’re going.

I need to keep my bearings in this angular world. I cling to the dark wooden hilt, hold the sensuous curve of metal before my face. It reminds me I have a destiny.

The door is a tongue fitting snugly into the mouth of a narrow damp tunnel. There isn’t enough light for me to be able to tell what colour it is. The walls and ceiling are moving inwards, dripping.

I knock twice. She will let me in.

* * *

I’m playing with the children in the living room when he knocks. No-one ever visits us here. A visceral fear I haven’t felt for over a year wraps around my shoulders like an old friend.

I put the chain on before opening the door.

He pushes so hard the chain breaks, then advances slowly. He’s waving a glittering crescent. A knife.

I scream at the boys to hide, and run through the kitchen. I hope he will follow me, as he did many times before. There is a French window leading onto a balcony. I stand to the side, behind a dark green plastic chair, and wait.

That pot plant needs watering.

* * *

I don’t get it. What was that massive bang? Why’s Mum telling us to hide? She sounds scared. I poke my head into the hall.

The front door is wide open and there’s a man with a scary scowly smile walking towards the kitchen. I run back into the room and hide behind the sofa. Billy is already crouching there, making patterns in the dust.

I hope the man doesn’t find us.

* * *

Flashes of betrayal strobe through my mind. Her blood, her bruises, her doctors. Dark uniforms. A room full of people, she stands in a box, I sit in another box, alone. She tells lies. Years in a small room, alone. My blood, my bruises. No doctors.

Where’s the bitch? My knife is slavering, begging me to sink its fang into her chest, slice the over-ripe flesh away from her rotting bones.

* * *

He bursts out of the kitchen, knife lifted high. Cold stones fill his eye sockets, his mouth is tangled in a knot of hatred. I scream and cower. I don’t dare defy him again.

Maybe if I say I’m sorry…

Snarling, he advances. No human lives inside his skin. I tried to pour my humanity into him once, nearly became an animal myself. I use that part of me now. I dive for his legs, lift, feel my muscles tear, topple him over the balcony railings.

* * *

I fall, tumbling over and over. Violent bloody spirals stream from the tip of my blade, painting my rage on the clouds.

* * *

My sons run into the kitchen, laughing.

We hid, like you said,’ says Stevie.

‘Has the man gone?’ says Billy.

‘Yes, darlings, you’re safe now.’ I kneel down to clasp them to me, I want to hold them so tightly they become part of me again, safe within my womb.

As they approach, I look at them, properly look at them.

Billy’s blond hair is matted with gore. His cheek is ripped open and he has been stabbed many times. Stevie’s throat is gaping and he has a dark red apron of blood.

I can see through them.

Wordle generated image

Wordle generated image

(generated at Wordle – a great place to spend a few hours)

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Some writing

Excuses

You wouldn’t believe how busy I am at the moment. I don’t believe how busy I am. I haven’t even got a job… I sent myself a tenner, and there still aren’t 28 hours in the day. I am such a charlatan.

I’m going away for the weekend, and have got a ton of stuff to do before I go to bed tonight, so I don’t have time for a proper blog post before Sunday. So, I thought I’d share some of my writing. Hope you don’t mind.

Any comments/crits welcome. They’re both works in progress, Ghosts more so than Sailor.

Sailor

I wake to the call of seagulls circling,
creep to the bow, cling to sodden ropes,
surrender fear and allow dark visions
to pierce senses that reason denies.

Polished wood glows softly in moon’s light,
sails swell, breaking waves on the wide sea
of night. The ship fades around me, wind
untangles my thoughts and weaves me away.

A whale shoots an arrow’s path, skims
the rough ocean’s surface, target unseen.
Fixed to glistening silver skin, the black stain
of a raven perches like royalty, urging haste.

Salt-laden water seeps into my boots,
subtle currents tease me with a promise
of an island home, where my wife’s dreams
roam free, riding whales through reflections of stars.

Postcard used as a prompt for Sailor

Postcard used as a prompt for Sailor

Ghosts

Do I live here?
Concrete stairs circle above and below. Bright colours on rough brick walls tell me where to go. I don’t understand the language of the spray can. Dismal passages march off in unlikely directions. Everything smells of piss.
Maybe…
I look down at my feet, tell them to take me home.
That works. They seem to know where they’re going.
I’m at the door. It is a tongue fitting snugly into the mouth of a narrow damp tunnel. There isn’t enough light for me to be able to tell what colour it is. The walls and ceiling are moving inwards, saliva dripping.

I’m in the hall, about to answer the door. I’m terrified. I don’t know why.
A man pushes the door so hard the chain breaks. He has a knife.
I scream at my children to hide in the living room, and run through the kitchen. There is a French window leading onto a balcony. I sit on a dark green plastic chair and wait.

That pot plant needs watering.

The man runs towards me, knife lifted high, blood dripping. I dive for his legs and tip him over the balcony.
He falls, tumbling over and over. Violent bloody spirals stream from the tip of the blade.

The boys run into the kitchen, laughing.
We hid, like you said,’ says Simon.
‘Has the man gone?’ says Blake.
‘Yes, darlings, you’re safe now.’ I kneel down to clasp them to me, I want to hold them so tightly they become part of me again, safe within my womb.

Then I look at them, properly look at them.
Blake’s blond hair is matted with blood. His cheek is ripped open and he has been stabbed several times. Simon’s throat has been cut and he has a dark red apron-stain down his front.

I can see through them.

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