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February 14, 2009

Hamsters and Eggs make the Best of Friends – redraft focusing on voice

Re-draft of an exercise done last term, focusing on voice rather than on the weirder elements of the original excercise. Unfortunately, I don't feel that this piece reads quite right just yet, so may have to see if I can do some additional tweaking later on.

Hamsters and Eggs make the Best of Friends

The girl knelt by the cage and peered at the fluff-ball in the corner. She rummaged through the various foods she had raided from her mother’s kitchen, where she had hauled at a chair twice her size in order to reach the cupboards. She selected a stale cheese and onion crisp, poking it through the bars at the small rodent on the other side. It was eaten. The hamster crunched it.
         So, that was a success: the hamster likes crunchy food. What to try next?
         She knew. She’d had to clamber right up to the highest shelf to acquire it, banging her forehead on a cupboard door in the process, but she had finally looted her mother’s supposedly secret stash of liquorice toffees. 
         Not so good. Apparently sweet, hard, and sticky didn’t go down so well with hamsters as with humans.
         So something softer? There were some leftover hardboiled eggs from two weeks ago that she’d found at the back of the fridge. She carefully mashed the egg through the bars towards the rodent’s quivering nose. The egg was well on the way to decomposition and had become a hive of different food-poisonings, all of which were now soaking into the hamster’s system – but she didn’t know this. In the child’s mind, the link between nasty smells and getting ill was non-existent. Getting bored with the repetitive process of giving her hamster supplementary nourishment, she started to absentmindedly pick at the luxuries herself, making up restaurant games in her head, until her Mummy made her tidy up and go to bed. 
         The next morning she woke up early, head spinning, stomach rolling, and feeling spectacularly sick. As she tottered on unsteady little feet towards the bathroom she noticed her hamster on its back in the cage, all four paws in the air. She stuck a finger through the bars and prodded it. Stiff. Strange… why wasn’t it moving? All thoughts of the pet vanished as her own illness clamoured for attention. 
          Two hours later she sat on a bed in the city hospital, an IV drip snaking into her arm. Her Mummy leaned over to her. 
        “Lizzy, this is Doctor Conran. He doesn’t know what’s wrong with you yet, but he’s going to help you get better, okay?” 
         No. It was not okay. Lizzy didn’t want to be here, she wanted to be home. She didn’t want to be stuck with the doctor, he had cold hands. He prodded and poked and she didn’t like it. The man had short blondish hair and big, hazel brown eyes, with a wide and welcoming smile, but his eyes were full of quiet contempt. Lizzy stuck her tongue out at him, turning away and crossing her arms in a sulk. 
         The next morning Conran told them it was a viral infection; he could only treat the symptoms, not the cause: that was down to her immune system. 
         As soon as she heard the news, Lizzy’s attitude brightened. Finally she would be able to escape the mean man and have fun. As they left, Lizzy sighed with relief and sagged against her mother, her body tired after killing off the infection. She was glad she was going home, and secretly started plotting Barbie tea-parties in her head. She wondered if she’d be allowed to paint her bedroom pink? 
         In the driver’s seat, glancing back at her little girl’s dozing form, Lizzy’s mother desperately tried to remember if they had any spare shoeboxes lying around the house.

January 07, 2009

Free–writing exercise from first seminar with Peter Blegvad

This is a transcript of the free-writing exercise I did in our first poetry seminar with Peter Blegvad. Basically, we were writing down whatever came into our heads as quickly as would could, whilst incorporating words shouted out by Peter whilst we were writing into the "sense" of the piece. I don't quite think I'm prepared to call this piece poetry just yet, but it does nevertheless seem to have vague kind of sense about it, some feeling of a sort of wholeness, so I'm putting it up here simply because of the curiosity it planted in my head. Anyway, here it is:

metal trees with splintered blowfish sides

an explosion of petals fall like lead

dead men walk in icy shoes

and parrots scream out expletives

orang-utan cuddles cameraman

and twitchers shoot down eagle chicks

detonates with a whisper

flashes with sound

light is buried under heavy Cyprus wood

scent of needles pricking memory

amnesia nothing destiny’s approach

somnambulism’s wake-up call

and dream-death of the forgiven soldier

anti-Semitism running rife around

the eyes of children who play

the tv switching from flame to rose

and back to liquidity

ideas slog and blankness couches on the cortex

society’s weight pushing down beyond the pillows

with a convulsive mutter

and gun-mouth rattles car-sides tinting

bass sound in soprano city

singers crunching under feet of empires

who are in legion demi-god and

not separate like cacti in the desert

water swells and boils and rushes over land

the Moses of our millennia

convex perceptions of a man who isn’t real

vanity’s mirror is full of cracks

and mankind’s use has spotted it

Alaska-like with snow-capped peaks

impenetrable to the feeble mind

a winding scree of loose ciphers

jargon gobbledegook trollish rubbish

all belong on a garbage heap

this is where we long to weather

and moulder here till death we meet.

October 08, 2008

Character sketching and word associations

In ICW last week we were told to pick someone in the class and write a piece using their character as a starting point: write a physical description, write what little we know about that person, and then twist that into the basis of a fictional character for whom we will make up a childhood background. Here's the (very short) character sketch I came up with.

A no-nonsense appearance, but still with a great sense of personal style. An open, smiling face that appears ready to welcome anyone in. A hard worker. But feeling under pressure, with the expectations of a previous generation laid upon her shoulders — she got a first class education, she must use it. Siblings surrounding her, competing with her. The rat-race in miniature. Parents pushing her, trying to get her to heights that they never reached and can only achieve through a diluted glory.

We were then told to write down one adjective that we felt encompassed all the ideas/thoughts/feelings contained within our character sketch, and the word I chose was "separate". What I found interesting was how people reacted to the piece considering that I had supplied them with my adjective prior to reading it out, especially when contrasted with the way they reacted to Joe's piece, as he told people what his choice of adjective was after he had read out his sketch. Having had Joe's piece read out to them before being given the adjective, people were able to formulate their own opinions of what his character sketch amounted to, and I don't think that I was the only one who had different ideas of what the adjective should have been when the one he then gave was "reticent". However, as I had given my adjective first it seemed that people had the word fixed in their heads, and as they were listening they were chalking up the story against the adjective, thus enabling them to pick out parts where they thought, yes, this character does seem as though she is separate in some way. Although I admit that this is certainly a far from perfect comparison, and my memory from last year is somewhat faded, the situation reminded me of Professor Docherty's lecture on the "dog dog dog" principle: because we are brought up being told that this creature is called "dog", we automatically comprehend that, yes, this thing is called dog, and we do not question why it should be called this and not something else. It seemed to me that a similar process occurred in the ICW class: because the other students had been presented with a word association they automatically defined areas of the character sketch that fitted with that adjective, as they knew that it must be there somewhere if I had told them so, whereas if they had not been given the word their minds may have veered off on a completely different course to mine.

All in all, I found it to be a very interesting excercise in exploring the relationship between writer and reader and also of the way exterior circumstances have such a heavy influence on the manner in which we receive writing.

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