All 7 entries tagged Writing
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January 13, 2010
First complete draft of my Writing for Performance short play. It still needs a name, and all feedback is much appreciated.
The back of the Reeves family’s spacious, detached town house. A glass conservatory with large double doors thrown open onto a large, well-kept garden. The soft sounds of music and laughter drift down from a sophisticated adult party being held somewhere inside the house. The conservatory is stacked haphazardly with cardboard boxes, piled on shelves, furniture and spread across the floor.
Jack enters the conservatory from the back door. He is uncomfortably well-dressed, in his early twenties, just camp enough to make you wonder.
Jack: (nervously) Ellie? (He grows in confidence as he realises the party-makers cannot hear him) Ellie? Ellie?
He notices that the conservatory doors are open and glances around outside, clutching his hands under his armpits to ward off the cold. As he turns to leave, a series of smoke rings emerge from behind a box. Jack considers them for a moment, closes the inner door, reopens it and stamps across the room.
Jack: (gruffly, imitating a much older man) Eleanor, this is your father.
Ellie: Hello Daddy! Would you like a fag?
Jack: (still mimicking Mr Reeves) Why thank you.
He snatches the cigarette from behind the box and darts away merrily. Ellie emerges, outraged. She wears an expensive-looking, elegant cocktail dress accompanied by cheap jewellery. She is holding a large glass of wine and a small decorative handbag.
Ellie: Jack! That was my last one!
Jack continues smoking with ostentatious contentment.
She takes a cigarette from the bag for herself and runs to Jack.
Ellie: Nicotine kisses?
They hold their cigarettes in their mouths and Ellie lights hers by touching it to the end of Jack’s.
Jack: What about the smell?
Ellie listens a moment to the sounds of the party. There is a shriek of uproarious middle-aged laughter.
Ellie: Doubt it matters. What are you drinking?
Jack: (displaying his glass for her inspection) A celebratory brut.
Ellie: (sarcastically) What are you celebrating?
Jack is at a loss.
Jack: It’s your party.
Ellie: (snappishly) It’s Mummy’s party.
Jack is subdued for a moment, then chokes with laughter.
Ellie: I wouldn’t be her darling eldest if I didn’t call her Mummy.
Jack: You’re a cruel thing sometimes.
Ellie: She has only herself to blame.
Jack sighs and walks about looking at the boxes.
Jack: Should we be out here?
Ellie: No. This is the dark place. The cave of secrets. (Pause.) There’s no need to be so awkward with me. I’m not going to burst into tears or anything.
Jack: When’s your dad moving out?
Ellie: They didn’t say.
Jack: His stuff looks pretty much ready to go.
She walks around, turning a few of the boxes to reveal their labels: “Summer Clothes”, “Kitchen Utensils” and “Desires”. Jack finishes his cigarette and looks around for somewhere to stub it out.
Jack: Are you ready to go back inside?
Ellie: Definitely not.
Jack: That’s ok.
Ellie finishes her cigarette. She searches through the boxes, selecting one labelled “Rubbish”. She drops her cigarette-end inside it. After a moment’s hesitation, Jack does the same.
Ellie: Have they been nice to you in there?
Jack: Everyone seems lovely.
Jack: Did you get a chance to speak to your parents? (Ellie wanders away.) Ellie?
Ellie: Oh, I did. Mummy introduced me to one of Daddy’s dearest old friends. An old Cambridge boy. He asked me which college I was attending.
Ellie: I informed him that I have already embarked on my voyage through the world of employment. Mummy put her arm around my shoulders. “Ellie’s learning a little bit about working life,” she said, “while she decides what she wants to do with herself in the future.”
Jack: At which point you launched an epic declamation on the merits of art versus academia?
Ellie: No! I was polite. But it was at that point that I decided to leave.
She opens a box marked “Comfort” and pulls out a large beanbag. She drags the beanbag to an empty floorspace and sits on it.
Jack: Is that it?
Jack: You didn’t drag me here all the way from London to sit in your parent’s conservatory and /watch you mope all night.
Ellie: No, I dragged you here to help me cope with the godawful pretension that saturates this whole pointless charade.
Jack: If you’re that upset by it why are you even here?
Ellie: Because the Reeves Family Christmas party is a time-honoured tradition. And I’m not upset.
Jack: (sarcastically) Obviously not.
Ellie pulls the “Comfort” box towards her and rummages inside.
Ellie: I’ll find something to make you feel better.
Jack: Should you really be doing that?
Ellie brings a mug of hot chocolate out of the box. It is freshly made, and topped with marshmallows and cream. Jack is visibly tempted.
Jack: I see. Assailing me at my weakest point.
Ellie takes a sip.
Ellie: Mmm, it’s good.
Jack caves in and takes the hot chocolate, gulping down a large mouthful. His upper lip is adorned with a creamy moustache. Ellie laughs.
Jack: I need a spoon...
Ellie: I’ll find one for you!
She jumps up and begins looking through the boxes. Jack hastily licks the cream away.
Jack: You really shouldn’t be doing that. You ought to be inside, showing your mother a little solidarity, not snooping –
Ellie: This is my house. /And all of this is –
Jack: They’re your parents’ things!
Ellie: All of this is my past.
She pulls another box forward. It is marked “Childhood Dreams”. Ellie opens it, and a pillar of golden light erupts from within. They consider it for a moment in awe.
Jack: When your dad was a kid he wanted to be a lamppost.
A series of sounds emanate from the box: galloping horses, a train whistle, the opening theme from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Ellie closes the box. Another has already caught Jack’s eye.
Jack: Ellie, do you mind if I...?
Ellie: Go ahead.
Jack chooses a box marked “First Kiss” on a high shelf. He opens it clumsily, pulling it forwards so that its contents – a flurry of dried red roses – spill down over him. He jumps back in shock and clutches his hand. Ellie laughs.
Jack: I’ve been pricked! (Sucking his finger). It hurts!
Ellie walks through the conservatory, idly flipping up the lids of boxes. A burst of orchestral music springs from one, the chatter of birdsong from another. She slams the lid hurriedly shut on a third, pinching her nose to avoid an unpleasant smell.
Ellie: Isn’t it strange, to think that all those things which seemed so important and so permanent can boxed up and stacked away?
She stands on a chair and opens a box which is lying on its side on a high shelf. It is labelled “Jodie’s First Christmas”. Strands of tinsel fall from it and are blown across the stage by a cold winter wind. Ellie blows on her hands to warm them and reaches inside the box, returning with a handful of sugared almonds. She pops them into her mouth as she speaks until the mouthful renders her almost unintelligible.
Ellie: It was so cold that year, I was sure it would snow. Dad kept telling me it wouldn’t happen, the pressure was too high or the temperature was wrong, I don’t know... I was five years old, I didn’t care.
She reaches into the box again and draws out two knitted winter hats, one for a child of six years old, the other for a new-born baby. She hands the baby’s hat to Jack.
Jack: How old is Jodie now?
Jack: She looks older.
Ellie: Sometimes I wonder which of us is the big sister and who’s the baby.
Jack (mock surprise): Really? (Ellie ignores this slight.) How is she coping with everything?
Ellie: She seems alright. What’s this?
The box she holds is labelled “Ellie”. She shakes it vigorously.
Jack: Don’t do that!
Ellie: There’s nothing inside – nothing at all!
Jack snatches the box from her and runs downstage.
Ellie: Don’t open it!
Jack: It’s not empty –
Ellie: Please don’t open it!
Ellie: I just don’t want to know.
Jack puts the box down.
Jack: Your parents will be wondering where you are.
Ellie: They haven’t come looking.
Jack: I think they have other things on their mind. But they’ll still wonder.
Ellie turns away from him to look at another box.
Ellie: This must be one of Mum’s. (Pause.) They’re selling the house, you know.
Jack: It must have been a nice place to grow up.
The box is labelled “Faces”. It is full of make-up: everyday foundation and mascara, little pots of glitter for night-wear, tubes of face-paint. Ellie sets them out along the floor. A song begins in the party room: a young woman is singing, accompanied by a piano.
Jack: That’s Jodie, isn’t it?
Ellie stops to listen, her eyes shining.
As the song continues, Jack applies mascara to Ellie’s eyelashes. He puts some blusher on her cheeks. While he is doing this, Ellie draws a tiny flower by the corner of his eye with eyeliner. She puts lipstick on his mouth. She presses her lips to his, twice, to transfer it.
The song ends.
Ellie: It’s my favourite thing.
Jack: Jodie’s voice?
Ellie: I wish I could sing – don’t you wish you could sing?
Jack: Why don’t you?
Ellie: I used to. I don’t know.
Jack rubs the make-up from his face with his sleeve.
Jack: Shall we go and join the party, Ellie?
Ellie: Perhaps we should. Are you ready to have a wonderful time? Where’s your happy face?
Jack: I was born ready.
As they turn to leave, Jack sees the “Ellie” box. He picks it up and hands it to her.
Jack: It seems odd to leave this one, when you’ve pried into all the others which aren’t yours.
Ellie: You open it.
Jack pulls out a large scrapbook, obviously well-used and much read. He opens it.
Ellie: Is that it?
She grabs the box and looks inside, turns it upside down and shakes it.
Ellie: That’s all?
Jack: I didn’t know you did caricatures.
He flicks through the pages. Ellie is frozen.
Ellie: I spent a year with a deck-chair and an easel on the street...
Jack: The cartoons are here, too. The ones from that magazine. (Turns another page.) Ah, here’s your webcomic –
He looks up and hands the book to Ellie. She leafs through it in silence, tight-lipped, then replaces it carefully in the box and closes the lid.
Jack: They printed out every page.
Ellie: I know.
She opens a final box.
Jack: I thought we were going inside?
Ellie throws him a thick winter coat. She takes one for herself and shrugs it on. It hangs loosely from her shoulders, a very obviously imperfect fit. She rolls up the sleeves.
Ellie: No. Let’s go somewhere else. Let’s go somewhere new.
Jack shrugs and puts on his coat. He finds a packet of cigarettes in the pocket and steps outside to light one, pleased. Ellie bends down to the floor, where she finds a fresh red rose in the pile of spilt, dried ones. She tucks it into her buttonhole and follows Jack outside. They leave.
December 12, 2009
We were set an exercise of writing a 600 word story using a list of only 100 words. Only this small part of mine made any sense, and as it turned out that's sense in the loosest sense of the word. But I think there are some nice sentences. Some cheesy ones too.
Fingernail in mouth, he bites and sees the tree, the white bones of the sun, the fire and the night. His tongue is walking the road of an egg. Round. Yellow. He stands and hears the feet of sleep; feathered feet, and black as the bones of mountains. Sleep, says the white-boned moon. But he hears a new foot, fiery and full. This bird has a name. The stars have names. The earth has a name. The egg has been eaten. He walks. The earth under his feet is cold. He walks to the tree and it is sleeping – it doesn’t know. She sits in the teeth of the unknowing tree. A person with black hair, dry hair. Skin like bark, the belly a seed, the heart a root, the fingernail a leaf. The moon burns red, ashy with fire-smoke.
He bites. Blood seeds his tongue. His mouth burns. But the bark is cold and clouds the heart like smoke after fire, like rain across the moon. Who would not swim through that rain? Who would not die in that water? He knows he will sleep and lying warm – the two lying warm, round, full and new – the tongue of sleep names this man, that woman. And they fly.
The post-reading discussion went roughly like this:
Peter: I think that in the first two paragraphs he enters a godlike dream state.
Me: I thought it was about two people making out under a tree. (Pause.) At a barbecue.
Peter: Oh...of course, he's eating an egg!
Me: I don't know why there's a hard-boiled egg at a barbecue to be honest.
Peter: So when you wrote "bird" I imagined a powerful thunder god, but actually you meant a *bird*.
November 30, 2009
They will be non-chronological, self-referential, post-modern adventures of course.
To begin, a story about a beard, thus far untitled, because if it is about anything I don't know what it's about. Created using the cutting-stuff-up-like-we-did-when-school-was-full-of-sandpits-and-glitter method in the seminar a little while ago.
Off into a dim, he grew a beard at the soft zero of his chin. Beard throughout carried the ground-near-visible heard distance his teenage there, and to him endlessly earliest childhood which mother prattled tugging where realer dreams from his earliest he could. And after a son moment he height and moaning as he approached, showed him perhaps, the them to grow. Keep himself aware of the warm hardiness and who would was enraptured: strength and became aware maturity he, he had only an authoritarian of all that neat but pubescent thickening most importantly bristled mass by the pubescent burgeoning all that and full-bodied to touch the darkening of each beard. Large chin and darkening gone, was stroking unashamed fuzz but still they bodied and entailed his small bristles wool-jaw and patches and wire scrubbing razors. His fears, even by the tide refused tugging where compromising and a few millimetres imposed on his face like the victorious stamp of adulthood.
March 08, 2009
Peter Blegvad mailed me this on getting radio plays recorded/on air and asked me to blog it for anyone who's interested*:
You should e-mail Ian O'Donoghue, technician at Capital. Make a date for
next term to get a crash course in use of the Adobe recording software
they have on laptops there, he'll enable you to record your play properly.
His e-mail is <email@example.com>
Contact Katy Ogelthorpe re getting your play broadcast on RAW Warwick radio:
info on the RAW site: http://www.radio.warwick.ac.uk/
...I think I'm definitely going to do this. Radio plays are awesome.
*Many people are probably interested. I think PB has severely overestimated the number of them likely to read my blog
February 06, 2009
Since I've got the mark back now, and did fairly well, I guess I'm brave enough to blog this. It's non-fiction, in the very very loosest of senses. And as George Ttoouli pointed out in his comments, it's not really about water. It's not really about anything, I guess. Wish I could work out how to make the blog format paragraphs properly though.
Four Stories About Water
Jack Batt had tried to kill himself once before. At five years old he’d happily stepped from the edge of a cliff with the intention of visiting Heaven, where he could meet Jesus and go swimming as often as he liked. Thirteen years later all he remembered was the fierce pain of his father’s clutching hand and the sight of blackberries spiralling past his feet, followed by a pail which splashed dimly in the sea below. Now he was floating with his father above the ocean once again, but everything was very different.
Jack lived in a lurid city many miles from the place he intended to die. Its walls flowed with graffiti and its streets were plastered in gum and vomit and bright food cartons and its people were painted orange and silver on their clothes, their faces, their hair. Toothless dealers stood on every street corner offering the chance to make the city brighter still. Jack knew a girl in the city, and she was different. Darker, wiser, older, distant and intimate as the world. She didn’t want him. She was everything.
The sun was going down. Jack sat quietly on the edge of the yacht, his trainers trailing the water. His sisters’ voices murmured sleepily below deck. His father’s silhouette stirred calmly at the wheel, enjoying his cigarette and the rare nautical adventure.
Jack’s original plan had been to slip from the back of the boat so that no-one would see him, but he saw now that it would mean risking the vicious propellers. He would have to keep quiet and drop from the side.
It was not water that struck him but the icy furnace of hell. Instinct seized his legs and jerked them like broken puppet-limbs as an impossible pain, sharp and terrifying, sliced at his ears. His trainers were kicked away. He rose to the surface.
Jack gasped gently, biting his hand to keep himself silent. He treaded water, trembling from shock in his arms, his stomach, his neck, as his father and the hired yacht chuntered merrily over the waves until he could no longer see it or catch at the sound of the engine. It was difficult to breathe, but that was only the effect of the cold. It was quiet.
Jack lay back in the water and floated, waiting to sink, or freeze, or sleep.
A child’s laughter spilled across the waves, very faint, like that of a ghost or a distant memory. Jack held himself still. He didn’t want his drowning to be noticed by a child.
‘You must be very cold over there,’ said the girl, with an accent Jack had never heard. A bright light had begun to irritate the corner of his eye, burrowing at his eyelid until it was forced to open. A few feet away an open sun shattered the clouds, silver-plating the still water. It seemed warmer there. Jack tried to focus on the speaker through after-images which purpled and pulsed.
‘Do you like our ship?’ she asked. ‘We found it in the mithdan. Fred’s going to paddle us across.’
Jack’s watery deathbed began to shimmer in the heat.
‘You must watch out,’ warned another voice, accented and piping like the first. ‘There are crocodiles.’
‘I have never seen a crocodile, Millie,’ said the first girl, with great self-importance. ‘And I learnt to swim here.’
The two girls were small and dressed in white cotton. They were sitting in a zinc bathtub on either side of a tall boy with a sunburnt nose who sculled them through the water with his hands. The sun was glaring.
‘Afternoon,’ the boy said politely. Water lapped against the sides of the tub as he paddled nearer. ‘We’re headed to the other side. You can hop in if you like.’
Jack reached for the edge of the bathtub. Two small girlish hands caught his to help him grip the slippery side.
‘I wouldn’t mind an extra pair of hands to help with the rowing,’ Fred admitted reluctantly. ‘We’ve a couple of miles to go, I think.’
Jack turned his head to see a long, long bank, brown and unpopulated, stretching from end to end of the horizon. ‘What’s over there?’ he asked, puzzled.
‘Silly!’ said Millie. ‘That’s Bhusawal. That’s where we’ve come from.’
‘We’re going to go all the way across,’ her friend cut in excitedly. ‘It’s an adventure!’
Her small blue eyes were very wide. Jack tried to smile. ‘Is it?’
‘We’ve never been,’ explained Fred. ‘Who knows what’s on the other side?’
Millie scooped up a handful of water and let it dribble back into the river. ‘Are you coming?’ she asked. ‘It’s so much fun.’
‘I don’t think so,’ said Jack. ‘It’s been a long time since I’ve had fun doing anything.’ The girls nodded blithely, but he thought Fred understood him better, because after a long silent look he nodded brusquely and began to paddle away.
‘Come on, you two. Don’t look back.’
Jack let the bathtub slip from his hand. Treading water, he waved them on their way. In a few minutes he was quite alone.
The sunset here was a thing he had never imagined. The sun was larger, redder, rounder, and sunk so slowly he thought the world would burn before the day ended. And when it had vanished deep night fell with the suddenness of a gunshot.
The darkness had a familiar solidity to it, like the profound slumber following a vivid dream. It seemed to move like a living thing, brushing his arms and his wet hair, flying softly past him, enjoying its freedom from the sun.
The darkness became a bat, which touched its nose to the surface of the water. Jack’s face was spattered with the fallout of an almighty splash. A wailing voice cut into the silence.
‘¡Me caí! ¡Me caí! ¡Estoy mojado!’
‘¡Patéa las piernas, Alejandro! Trata de nadar.’
A small, distraught head bobbed and floundered within the reach of Jack’s arm. He swam forwards and caught the figure, a skinny body twisting in distress. A tall woman appeared above them, stretching her arms to pull the boy to dry land where a man of incredible age embraced him despite his state of saturation.
Jack was in a smaller space, a square pool of clear water. A house stood nearby within the confines of a tall wooden fence which allowed a slatted view of empty fields beyond. A single road wound through them, spotted here and there with trees made dead by the moonlight.
‘Entra te a la casa,’ said the old man. ‘¡Rapido! Hay hombres malos.’ He took Jack’s arm and began to tug him pathetically along the side of the pool towards the house. Jack shook his head, struggling away.
‘I can’t – I don’t understand. Let go!’
The woman knelt on the puddled floor in front of him. ‘It’s dangerous to stay,’ she told him quietly. ‘There are too many guerillas about. You’re English, you don’t know that they will hurt you. Come into the finca.’
Jack swallowed hard. ‘I want danger,’ he explained. Her concern threw his words into stark stupidity. ‘That’s why I’m here.’
The woman sighed, but concealed her disappointment so swiftly Jack might never have known it was there. She kissed his forehead, letting the pool-water smear her face. ‘Thank you. Good luck.’
Jack clung to the tiles until she had carried her soaking son into the house. The door closed, and gradually the lights behind the curtains went out.
‘Look, kid, are you hurt? We can’t help you if you won’t tell us.’
Jack raised himself on the elbows and saw what surrounded him.
It was nothing more than a vast frozen field, indistinguishable from the cloud-white sky save for the bleary smudge of trees on the horizon. White mist rose in gusts as the temperature battled the couple’s hot breath.
‘Want to walk back to my place?’ asked the woman. ‘I could fix you up a cup of coffee.’
‘Thanksgiving’s no time to be out here on your own,’ said the man.
It hurt to look at them. They were joined so irrevocably by their gloved hands.
‘I am alone,’ said Jack. He scuffed patterns in the ice with his finger so he wouldn’t have to meet their eyes. ‘It doesn’t matter what I try to do about it. I can’t fix it.’
‘Alright,’ said the woman, smiling. ‘At least it’s a beautiful place to be lonely.’
‘Make sure you head off soon though,’ her lover advised him. ‘You look tired.’
Their smile was one smile. Long after they had vanished, Jack was tortured by the unison of their footprints in the snow. He curled into a ball. Yes, he was tired now, so tired, and he could barely feel the cold.
The ice folded inwards. The ice shimmered unreally. Jack felt it creep back over his limbs, ductile, reforming. The sky overhead was brilliant with stars. He traced out the Swan, the Great Bear, the Pole Star, which twisted curiously as salt water lapped over his eyes. He realised that it was a struggle now to keep afloat.
A few moments of frail kicking, no thoughts in his head but starlight. Then, like the dawn after a dream, the sound of a new engine sputtered somewhere far away. Jack lay back and let the water claim his head.
Perhaps someone would find him.
January 22, 2009
Don't wake up so late. Don't stay out all night drinking with your friends. It's alright for them but you are more fragile. Don't brush your hair back from your forehead. Your forehead is too big. If you wear your make-up this way your nose will look smaller. If you do these exercises your jawline will become more defined. That's too much make-up. That skirt is too short.
Don't speak to that boy. Come listen to this boy play music; come eat dinner with this man from Oxford University. If you are not careful you will make all the mistakes that I did. Don't crack the eggs like that. I'll do it. I can't believe you're eighteen years old and you don't know how to break an egg. Don't stay at that boy's house. Don't get married to him. He will never be able to provide for you.
If you study this subject you must be aware that you will have to become a lawyer or a teacher afterwards. Don't listen to actors, they have given you wild ideas. Don't you want any money when you are older? Don't you want to live? I am only trying to stop you making the mistakes your father made. You look like your father.
Your sister is looking beautiful. Yesterday she baked me a wonderful cake. Her young man is doing very well. I'm glad you asked.
Now pick the eggshells out of the mix and I'll show you how to stir.
Cruelty story (untitled)
There was something strange about the way they walked, something confusing and ragged. Three of them were crying. All girls, about my age perhaps, some a few years younger. We rolled down the window but they told us to drive on.
We were heading towards the park and the little railway station whose roof was covered with leaves. The evening light made it more beautiful than it actually was.
I heard later that one of the girls who was mixed-race had become whitewashed due to the company she kept. A few hours before sunset her black friends had marched her two white friends down the leafy railway line to prevent this from happening again.
The sun behind me melted silently through the Georgian houses, red light running everywhere. I glanced back. The silhouette of one girl took hold of the head of another, moving oddly, harshly like a shadow puppet, while a third girl drove a knee into her face.
The impact which I felt in my own head was tiny and deafening. The distant blow seemed to make a quiet popping sound.
We drove back towards the shadow-puppets, but many of them saw us coming and ran away.
January 14, 2009
Ian's Modes of Reading essay (or my fantasy thereof) expressed in its true form as an erotic romance. Or something along those lines.
At its obscenity trial, ‘Howl’ was adjudged to have ‘redeeming social importance’. Assess this verdict. How would you define ‘redeeming social importance’, and is there evidence in the poem to support a reading along these lines? Also, is ‘redeeming social importance’ a condition of our enjoyment of the work as poetry?
Hell and Literature were not unfamiliar bedfellows. In fact as Literature walked nervously through the vivid American streets she found herself caught time and again in the memory of Hell's scent, his muscled form, their mythical flirtation when he had gone by the name of Hades and their passionate, lingering reunion years later when Dante brought them together once more. In her most honest moments Literature was forced to admit that she had never known the touch of a setting like Hell. But this time - this time was different. For now it was Ginsberg on his back in his tiny flat surrendering to Hell's fiery embrace, and it was Ginsberg now, not Hell, who called to Literature and yearned for her, desperate for her to give him what he wanted: a redeeming social importance the like of which no poet had ever known before.
(while I deeply regret the fact that Ian has chosen to jeopardise not only his essay but indeed his entire literary career by ignoring my suggestions, I wish him many excellent marks and thank him for the opening sentence)