Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Second Campaigner Challenge: The Imago Mirror

I hope you enjoyed my first shot at the Rachel Harries' Campaigner Challenge. Now it's time for the second challenge!

This one was not an easy task... Rachel asked for a blog post of 200 words or fewer which had to include the word 'imago' in the title, and the words 'miasma', 'lacuna', 'oscitate' and 'synchronicity' in the story.

There was an added challenge to make the post exactly 200 words and to make reference to a mirror in the story... So I took all the challenges and came up with this...

There is a mirror at the back of this bar, and it is the only thing that stops me from leaving. It always stops me from leaving even though I should know better, even though the miasma is heavy, sorrowful, heart-breaking. I should go, but the mirror shows me too much, and I can’t stop looking. It fills the lacuna in my life, because it shows me my very own imago – my ideal love.

Or rather, my idealised version of love. It isn’t what I thought.

In the mirror, I do not sit alone. Next to me is a man, older than me, quite scruffy, but crinkle-eyed and wide-smiled, his tie is loose and his shirt is rumpled. He talks, he listens, he holds my hand. I can almost feel his fingers entwined in mine, the synchronicity of whatever brought us here at the same time, needing the same thing, blindsides me.

But when I turn to him, he is not there. Instead there is an oscitating emptiness.

I wonder; is there a lonely, crumpled man in another bar in another time, or world, or life, looking at me in a mirror?

I’ll have another drink and look for him.

©Lisamarie Lamb 2011

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Sheppey Writing Workshop: Characterisation

Lauren Cooper... Love her or hate her she is definitely a character. Not someone you would enjoy meeting in real life, I imagine, but someone who, simply by clucking her tongue or mouthing, 'Am I bovvered?' can induce rib-aching laughter.

And so began our second workshop meeting; Geof treated us to a Lauren sketch (the one for Comic Relief, also starring David Tennant - you can watch it here) to explain in no uncertain terms just what characterisation is.

I don't think I had ever considered Catherine Tate and Charles Dickens in the same thought before. Until now. Because Geof then asked us to read a excerpt from Hard Times (Chapter 1 - The One Thing Needful) which introduced us to Gradgrind, a despicable, tough, opinionated, loud, stocky, unsympathetic, aggressive man. And how do I know he is all these things? Dickens certainly never came right out and said it. No. Dickens and his masterful characterisation suggested these things through mannerisms, certain words, sentence structure, simile, everything, even down to the clothing Gradgrind was wearing. The reader fills in the blanks. The reader does the work.

Although I write, and I have characters in my stories, I hadn't really given much thought to characterisation so I found the discussion enlightening. How do you introduce a character effectively? How do you use stereotypes to shock the reader, to wrong-foot them? What about body language, mannerisms, the things they say, how they say them, even what they fail to say, what they look like (the implied information contained in the description), and maybe, just maybe, what their name, or nickname, tells the reader about the character?

We talked about them. Through Catherine Tate and Charles Dickens, we started to get an idea of just how to get it right.

Because characters aren't just there to make the plot look pretty. Without them, there is nothing. The character often drives the plot, and sometimes, due to their world views, their opinions, their innermost thoughts, they change the plot to suit them. It's a funny feeling when a character you have created starts to dictate to you, but it does happen... In my current work in progress, a novel, I have a character named Bear. I always did feel that his nickname told the reader enough about him, and I feel after our group meeting that I am right with him. I'll keep him.

Next came a tricky chat. How to present our work at the end. What would the final product be? We didn't come up with a final decision, and I don't think we will until the very last minute, because things change, new ideas spring up in the middle of something else, a thunderbolt of inspiration could hit at any time. We did create quite a list though:

- A performance (maybe a video option)
- A printed copy (booklet or paperback)
- An eBook
- Some form of Internet presence (Vlog, YouTube)
- A script
- Local radio
- A display of the work in local libraries and arts centres

So, we all have a task before the next session (25th October). It's time to get down to business. It's time to create a character for our story, to imbue him or her with just the right mix of emotions, physical attributes, stereotypical thoughts and words (to play with, of course). It's time. And who knows? This character may just write the story for us.

I think I have an idea...

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Competition: Winner: Melinda McGuire

And now I've like to announce the overall winner of my photo prompt competition! The person who wins the £10 Amazon voucher and a copy of Mother's Helper is...

Melinda McGuire!

Her vicious little vignette of a calm kind of revenge was the first choice of all the judges - congratulations, Melinda.

And here it is...

Dr. Leslie would understand when I explained that I had lost Sugar’s Ketamine pills. When I took Sugar in last week, Dr. Leslie and I laughed about how absent minded I was getting. I couldn’t find my glasses, even though they were pushed up on my forehead. And, Sugar, well, she would be fine as long as I took her back to the vet’s office tomorrow for a refill.

I keep dabbing my cheeks and chin, but the sweat keeps coming. My stomach is churning, but I continue to move my food around on my plate. When I checked the menu for the luncheon, I knew the fates had aligned to give me the opportunity I needed. I had been so angry with Agnes and Daniel when I found out. Damn them and their smiles and hugs and gentle pats on the forearm. They think I don’t know. They think I can’t see them and what they are doing behind my back. Even now, Daniel can’t keep his eyes off of Agnes. And, I see that she is wearing her new gray skirt, the one she just bought at the close out sale at Price Mart. She doesn’t think I remember. I can feel him looking at her.

They think they are being so clever, sitting across from each other, a part. But, I see what they’ve done. Every time she turns to sip her coffee, her and her damn sipping, they make eye contact. And, all through dinner, they looked at each other. I’m no fool. I see it. I saw you looking at each other over your cranberry sauce and dinner rolls.

I had been suspicious. I knew something was wrong with Daniel. He had been so chipper lately, even smiling at me while he did his crossword puzzles over toast in the mornings. He had never been a morning person, not in fifty years of marriage, and now he was smiling each morning. I wasn’t falling for it.

But then, when I saw them together after our church Christmas pageant, I knew. Daniel was smiling, and Agnes, that witch, was giggling. Giggling. At our age, giggling. Ridiculous.

Memories of all the times since Daniel started smiling in the mornings pieced themselves together, them talking quietly during the library fundraising brunch, smiling when we ran into each other while walking Sugar. They probably planned to see each other then and I ruined their plans. But, when we were at the market and they laughed over some shared joke, that was all the proof I needed. Laughing together, with me on the outside. I wouldn’t live that way, and neither would Daniel.

Daniel yawned again. He was eating less and less and starting to sweat. Agnes is pretending not to notice, but I am going to sit here until I see her look at him with concern in her eyes. Only then will I suggest to Daniel that we go home, that I will help him get ready for bed, that I will take care of him so that he will feel better. But, he won’t feel better.

And, in the morning, I will call the doctor. I won’t even call Agnes. I won’t even tell her. She will have to hear about Daniel from someone else.

Daniel’s hands are starting to shake. It’s time to take Daniel home.

©Melinda McGuire

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Competition: Highly Commended - Kirsty Newton-Kirby

Here is the second highly commended entry into the blog competition; there's a great twist in this! It is by Kirsty Newton-Kirby.

Food For Thought

From her vantage point, high above the tables, she could see everything going on without being seen herself. Normally she wouldn’t come out with so many people around, but they all seemed distracted by something happening at the far end of the street, and the smell of the food had been too much to ignore. Besides, they were unlikely to spot her on the high balcony above the street.

It was nice to be up on the balcony. It was a clear dry night and it was quiet up here. A rare moment of calm in her hectic life and a whole world away from under the railway bridge where she now stayed with her family. They once had a lovely home, with regular food and warm beds. But recessions hit some harder than others and all that had changed. At least the bridge gave them cover from the rain, and the homeless people that stayed alongside them often lit fires and were happy to have them join them, so they could usually find a warm spot even on the coldest of nights.

On the tables below, several plates of food were now unattended, and she was sure no one had any intention of returning to finish them.

It was amazing how people could leave so much food when her family were starving. Having to spend each day working hard to try and get together enough to fuel her rapidly growing family. Make sure they were brought up healthy and strong. Desperate to ensure their survival. And yet these people were allowing good food to go to waste. She knew it would end up in a secure bin and be left to rot. At a time when she needed it the most.

Some people were going round the tables, picking up the empty (and not so empty) plates and taking them back towards the kitchens. If only she was able to go round and take just one of the fuller plates and walk away with it. Normally she would never be so brazen, but her belly ached with hunger. It had been three days since she had last eaten. She had managed to bring home food each day, not a lot, but always something. But with her growing sons eternally hungry she had not been able to deprive them and so had gone without herself. If she didn’t get her strength up soon she wouldn’t be able to bring any food home and they all would suffer.

The need overcame her fear. She had to at least try! She scurried along to the stairs and quickly ran down them, staying close to the back wall and hoping not to be seen. Once at the bottom she crouched in a corner of the building and looked out onto the street where the tables were set out. The nearest was only a few meters away and the people were now standing up and milling about, chatting and laughing as though they had no care in the world.

She knew she had to act fast, before the last of the food laden plates were taken away. She dived for the table and for the nearest bowl of food, cramming as much as possible into her mouth. Then she froze! A pair of eyes were staring straight at her. She had been spotted. The reaction from the eyes was initially surprise, but then changed to amusement. They were kindly eyes, understanding eyes. She swallowed, and quickly went on to finish the rest of the food from the bowl. Then as the food hit her stomach she no longer felt any fear. All that mattered was the food! She furiously went from one bowl to the next devouring the leftovers from each.

Then the shouting started. She had been spotted!

‘Someone get that mutt off the table!’

‘Stupid dog! Get out of here!’

She dived onto the ground, feeling bad for not having got any food to take back to her puppies. Then she saw it. A bread roll lying next to one of the tables. Grabbing it she ran as fast as she could back to the safety of the railway bridge. Soon her pups had demolished the bread roll, and then they snuggled next to one of the fires and their ever changing homeless masters. Full, warm and content. Another day survived.

©Kirsty Newton-Kirby 2011

Monday, 12 September 2011

Competition: Highly Commended - Debbie Viggiano

The results are in! We had some really great stories, and so we decided to award two stories with Highly Commended, and one story as the overall winner. Here is the first of the highly commended stories by Debbie Viggiano:

As weddings went, this was a good one. Stunning bride. Handsome groom. Both now a little worse for wear of course. The speeches were over. Copious amounts of champagne had been quaffed. Ties and silk cravats were at this very moment being loosened. I peered around the floral centrepiece partially blocking the view from my seat. There was the bride’s father. Now he was on the dance floor, hips grinding as he imitated John Travolta. Shame about the beer belly.

I sighed and withdrew. Sitting back on the velvety upholstered seat, I tuned out the disco music and studied my empty wine glass. The other guests seated with me were strangers. Together we’d laboured through the wedding breakfast, small talk dutifully made. Nobody had voiced it, but it was obvious. This was the singles table. People without partners. The paunchy chap in the check shirt had turned his back on everybody, pretending to be fascinated by the dance floor antics. He was divorced. I had been privately incredulous that anybody had wanted to marry him once. Never mind four times.

The woman in the mustard cardi had made goo-goo eyes at Check Shirt earlier.

‘No I’m not married,’ she’d replied to Check Shirt’s question, all the while masticating a bread roll with her mouth open. ‘I’ve been saving myself for the right one.’ She’d smiled toothily at him, unaware of the bread lodged between her front teeth.

‘More wine?’ asked the chap next to me.

Warm vinegar wasn’t really my tipple. ‘Why not,’ I smiled. My table companion sloshed the liquid into the glass. And over half the tablecloth.


I laughed politely. Dear God. Was this my lot then? Going to other people’s weddings? Watching other people celebrate togetherness? A lump lodged in my throat.

‘Excuse me,’ I said to my table companion, ‘just need to powder my nose.’ I fled. Tears threatened. The last thing I needed was to break down. Not in public. You see, this wedding should have been mine. The bridegroom had once been my fiancĂ©. Yes really. We’d dated ever since Year 7 at school. And the bride? My best friend. I’d known her forever too. When Sam and I had announced our engagement, Jules had been thrilled for us. So how had it all gone wrong?

I banged the toilet door shut. Ripping off a stream of toilet paper, I blew my nose. Not now Cathy. Don’t get emotional. Not on their big day. You’re just feeling sorry for yourself. I dabbed my eyes. Took some deep breaths.

It had been me who’d broken off the engagement and cancelled the wedding. Cold feet. That’s what my father had called it.

‘Everybody doubts at some point lass,’ he’d put an arm around me. ‘Pre-wedding nerves.’

Except it hadn’t been that. I’d just suddenly realised that Sam wasn’t the man for me. Oh I loved him. Had done for years. But like a brother. And realisation had dawned: women don’t marry their brothers. Sam had been devastated. Until Jules had tentatively taken his hand. Squeezed it gently. Looked at him with hope. And love. Real love. And Sam had responded. He’d lit up like a Christmas tree. That was what had hurt the most. How quickly I’d been forgotten. A dented ego. Not something to be proud of really.

I scrunched up the tissue and tossed it down the toilet. I loved Jules and Sam. Wanted them to be happy. It would just be so nice to meet my own Mr Right. And not be seated at the Singles Table with Check Shirt, Mustard Cardi and Wine Slopper.

Rinsing my hands, I contemplated my reflection in the mirror. More lipstick. I foraged around in my bag and applied a shimmering layer of Passion – the only passion in my life at the moment. I’d had enough. Time to go home. I’d say my farewells, hug Jules and Sam and then slip away.

Exiting the powder room, I cannoned straight into a bulky body.

‘I do beg your pardon,’ said a deep voice.

‘No really, my fault,’ I assured.

My stomach flipped as I gazed up into a pair of eyes the colour of melting chocolate. Disco music filtered down the carpeted corridor. Suddenly the record changed. The opening bars of Love Is All Around filled the air.

‘My name’s Luke.’

‘Cathy,’ I replied.

‘Well Cathy. Would you like to dance?

Like I said earlier... as weddings went, this was a good one.

©Debbie Viggiano 2011

Friday, 9 September 2011

First Campaigner Challenge: Home

There is a challenge up at Rachael Harrie's blog - the First Campaigner Challenge. The idea is to write a piece of flash fiction, up to 200 words (excluding the title), and the opening must be, 'The door swung open'.


And there are some optional extra challenges too - make the piece exactly (excluding the title) 200 words and finish it with 'the door swung shut'.

I decided to try it, to see what I could come up with, and below is my attempt; wish me luck!


The door swung open. Reluctantly. I thought it would be easier. On the way here, on the journey that you said was too long but which was really much too short, I had rehearsed what I’d say, what I’d do, how I’d cope with the disapproval.

But you told me not to come, didn’t you? You said that you didn’t want me to see you like this, old, in pain, that you weren’t the father I had known. And I, glad of the excuse, told everyone that you wouldn’t see me, that you wanted it this way. Which is why this is the first time I’ve been here, in this place they call a home, in the place you called home for the last three years of your life.

I stepped over the threshold - reluctantly - to collect what few belongings you’d left behind and I felt the loneliness being caught out and scattering to the walls. And what was there apart from some dried up flowers and a tatty paperback? Just one thing. That photo, the one of you and me smiling at each other, happy.

As I left, your distant voice still echoing, the door swung shut.

© Lisamarie Lamb 2011

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Sheppey Writing Workshop: A Roof Over Their Heads

It was a chance flick through a local newspaper that did it. And it wasn't even me doing the flicking. The Sheerness Times Guardian had dropped through the letterbox earlier in the day and I, too busy with work and baby duties, put it on top of my husband's pile of post and forgot about it.

I forgot about it until that evening when my husband burst into the office where I was working and pointed excitedly to an article featuring a local man named Geof Reed and his idea to bring together writers in the community to create a project called 'A Roof Over Their Heads'.

"This is just what you're looking for," he said. I scanned the article, still thinking about the assessment I was writing for work at the time. Halfway thought I forgot the assessment and re-read the article, slowly, trying to take it in, hoping I was reading it right. The idea was to research the area, the Isle of Sheppey, and write about the people who had lived where we're living now, or who might live where we're living in the future.

I read it again.

I wanted to join a writing group. I wanted to learn more about where I live. I wanted to be involved in something interesting and exciting. I wanted to meet other people who understood the love of putting pen to paper, or fingers to a keyboard...

Would this group satisfy all of that? Would it be too much of a gamble for safe little old me?

I wondered for a bit, thought for a bit, mulled it over for a bit. And usually, being the sort of person who likes their routines despite yearning for a change, I would have left it at that. Instead I did a very daring thing, and sent Geof an email. He replied. I was in.

Some weeks later and it was the day of the first meeting. I had a time, I had a meeting place, I had looked on the satellite map to find out where to park (take the second right after the chemist's) and I was off. Nervous and desperate to fit in.

Desperate for this to go well.

There were eight of us in total, including Geof. And I think, although I was too sweaty-palmed to say anything, that we were all a little unsure where the day would end. What ideas might be brought out into the open, who wanted what and what was expected of us...

Introductions were first. Of course. No one likes standing up in front of strangers and... But wait, hang on. It wasn't that bad. The people around the table, the people in the room with me, had similar goals, had similar hobbies, did similar things to me. There were poets, non-fiction writers, short story authors, playwrights, Geof himself writes performance pieces, and all of them, no matter what genre or particular craft they specialise in, love to write. As I am sitting in my study writing this post, I imagine that they, or at least some of them, are sitting wherever they like to write and pouring words on to a page.

I'm sure they are.

And so, actually, it was all right.

The time went in a blur of excitement for me; I could feel it surging up and my mind was racing through all the possibilities open to us. Geof read some of his work, offered advice about plotting, where to get ideas from, showed us how he works (a massive sheet of paper taped to a wall with names and dates and scraps of information scribbled on it), we chatted about what we thought we might write about, what we wanted to get out of this.

And I knew this was exactly what I had been looking for. Geof had even arranged for us to go to Sheerness Library to learn about the local archives and history that they housed there; Florence the librarian and expert on all things Sheppey talked us through the microfilm machine (microfilm! I can't wait to use it! Will I really need to take sea sickness tablets like they do in the films?) and the censuses, the photos and the maps, the books and the articles relating to the Isle of Sheppey.

There's so much I don't know.

There's so much I want to find out.

The next meeting is on 21st September, and I can't wait - this is going to be fun!

But the strange thing is, we don't buy the local paper.

So I've no idea where we received it that day. We haven't since, and we'd never had it before.

But I'm glad that for whatever reason (mistake or fate or whatever) someone decided to give us that particular copy.