Green

Whilst musing with a group of writer friends recently, we were trying to come up with a catchy short story title.  The obvious ones – I Can’t Think of Anything, and Writer’s Block – fell by the wayside pretty quickly. Then we started on the silly stuff – My God Look At The Size of That and Not If I Can Help It – were also discarded amid much giggling. Ah, children to the last. I’m surprised nobody farted at the same time. Perhaps someone should have. We gave Death as a title quite a wide berth, feeling somehow that it had been done… to death… and tried Crossing The Road, Hamburgers for Free, (nil point) and Boom! none of which seemed to hook us. Then someone said Green, which although not receiving tumultuous and rapturous applause didn’t get the immediate thumbs-down either. So Green it was.   We had no idea we were in such esteemed company!

So, for this damp and miserable January day, here is my offering of Green. Didn’t say it was any good.

GREEN

She smiles,
quickly.
Lips parted
like an F22 undercarriage
open for business.
Plates, snatched from the table
cannot
will not
escape
her tight tight grip.
“I guess the best girl won, right?” laughs the diner,
smoothing crumbs
with long painted nails
from the cloth.
“Guess so,” She replies, coolly,
but not as cool
as the breath that she feels
smearing
the inside of her own mouth.
Until today,
waitress and diner worked shifts
together
waiting tables and clearing up
other people’s
half-eaten food and lipsticked cups.
But now, today,
Fate had slipped
an invisible wall
between them,
and where one now ate
the other removed the redundant
dirty plate,
dismissed
with a wave of the hand.
“Bring the bill, would you
sweetie,” instructs Long Nails,
and, leaning in,
drops a rapturous smile
to her faithful companion.
Loitering, plates still held fast,
“No dessert?” She asks,
wishing the answer were
Yes,
in the hope that Long Nails would succumb
and choke on a random
sugary crumb.
“Not now honey. Gotta watch
this figure!” Long Nails returned,
the smugness in her voice
smacking her hard in the face,
and putting her
firmly
in
her waitressing place.
She gripped the plates tighter
until it felt her fingers
would break.
Long Nails looked up.
“What? Gotta take
the rough with the smooth,
sugar,” she cooed.
“We both had a chance. You lost.
Guess I just look better on the screen
than you.”
It’s a tough place, L.A.
to audition.
Tougher still,
to waitress.
And before the thought
had even left her head
those plates she held so tightly
fell
releasing half-eaten
balsamic
and other staining liquids
all over
the semi-transparent
dress.
“Oops,” She said,
and closed her lips.
Mission complete.

Copyright Jacci Gooding 2017

Where Have All The Good Ads Gone?

Whilst at a multi-age gathering during the Christmas and New Year break, us of a certain age were bemoaning the fact that there just aren’t any good tv ads any more. Why was this? we demanded, chucking back the mulled wine with calls of ‘It’s eleven thirty…diet coke break..’ and ‘We just want to be together’ (best Brummie accent required), the reminiscences of which were received with blank and stony faces by the under 45’s in the group. Tsk tsk. Is that what the internet has done to us? Robbed us of the sparkling ingenuity used by the ad men to make us buy stuff? Not so – now it’s all online I was told – the good ads, that is. Bigger louder funnier – all online. There was a time I’m sure you can recall, when the ads were better than the programmes themselves… those programmes which are now being wheeled out as Bests Of, and punctuated by the talking heads of knowledgeable tv insiders. What was rubbish once is still rubbish now; back then we just had those damned good adverts to take our minds off how rubbish the programmes actually were. I mean, who in their right mind thought a semi-naked man painted orange and slapping people’s faces was a good idea?! Kevin from down our way ended up in a+e with a black eye and a punctured ear-drum two days after the first Tango Man ad was aired, when Dodgy Dave from the estate Tangoed him. I guess I understand why that ad was pulled – but hey! sales orange tango soared. I wonder if any of those tangoed by a sugary drink ended up as dentists? Just a thought. But anyway, where is this leading I hear you ask.

Well… last week I accompanied a nervous friend to a pitching session at a local agents’ get-together who where looking, unsurprisingly, for local authors. He got the book pitch down to a T but sadly fell at the first fence when asked to advertise himself.

“So what makes you so special?” asked Agent Ruthless. “Go on. Advertise your self.” I expect you can hear the breeze-heavy tumble-weed from there, can’t you? The answer “I…er…” wasn’t a show stopper and I can confirm, that even from the cheap seats, I could see that none of the agents were at any point Tangoed. Understanding that to be a writer these days means you also have to be Out There, packaged and available, blogged-up and ready to rockn’n’roll 24/7 can put you off a bit, if all you want to do is write. Leave the advertising to someone else. But my writer friend, his ego as well as his confidence dented to such an extent that even returning to the the bar five or six times later that evening didn’t help, is not one of those people. He’s a brilliant writer, but still at the beginning of his tortuous, relentless and unforgiving career – sorry – did I say that out loud? I meant….but is at the beginning of his wonderful, satisfying and creative career and has absolutely no idea how to advertise himself. By the fourth visit to the bar we had started to write pitches, and then loglines, of ourselves. You should give it a go. With or without beer/wine/gin/poison of your choice. Once his confidence was on the up again, we came up with ‘Brilliant Writer Seeks Brilliant Readers’, which does have a bit of ring to it I have to admit. Another attempt, ‘I Write, You Read – Every One’s A Winner!’ was more of a filler whilst we waited for the peanuts.

But my poor old writer chum – he won’t be pushing himself out there, unashamedly telling everyone how good he is – he’s just not that sort of guy. Oh dear. There may be trouble ahead…

Winter in Warwick

Last Thursday’s #openmic evening run by novelist @jennyjheap at The Globe Pub in #Warwick was another great evening of author camaraderie and all things writer-ey (love a new word, me). The theme was – appropriately today perhaps – Winter, and some great pieces were given an airing to a very appreciative audience. Poet Gwyneth Box evoked winter in Spain, which brought the colours and warmth of the Med so much closer to our dark and damp shores. Jenny read a poignant short story where Winter was delicately portrayed by an ageing widow. Pepping things up a bit we heard two shorts about snow – lots of snow – in the wonderful Welsh valleys, and how something that can be so restrictive to travel (ie – you can’t do it until it melts!) does actually bring communities and friends together. Heartening stuff. Writer Nick le Mesurier and his glamorous assistant read a wonderful two-hander that held many laughs and possibly a few tears (might have got a bit of dust in my eye at some point – you know how it is), and we listened, spellbound, as the hilarious yet tender story unfolded. My Winter offering relates to nature, and here it is below. ‘Cause everyone loves a sparrow, right?!

WINTER

She puffs out her chest as the north wind buffets her small body and ruffles the delicate feathers tasked with protecting her from the chill of winter. Perched amid a leafless web of spiky hawthorn branches, the sparrow finds little shelter from the icy confetti that falls silently and steadily around her, yet she is content to wait. A trudge of foot, a gentle call and a sweeping hand knocks snow from the bird-table and it falls a second time, a mini avalanche of ice dust to land on the snow below. Crumbs of fatty nuts and bread are hastily scattered across the snow-capped table and then she is alone once more. With darting swiftness she takes flight and lands amid the food, a rich brown berry on the pure white snow. Hungrily she gathers what she can. To make it through this darkest of seasons she must eat every day, the scales of sustenance holding her struggle so stay alive precariously in the balance until the earth tips Springward again.  So she eats quickly before her banquet disappears beneath fresh snowfall.

Other birds, with empty stomachs and keen eyes are also looking for food. On soundless wings a sparrow hawk suddenly descends – because she too, must eat.

Mondegreen

What a fabulous week it’s been for misspelt words, words missed out of sentences, wrong words put in, incorrect words used in both speech and text – gotta love the human inability to string two words together sometimes!

I’ll start with this quote that forms part of a book review: “…so no need for rubber over parts.” I suspect the correct word should be ‘pants’, but parts works for me. Sounds like it could be an interesting read. Then this, from the i newspaper and although technically not a wrong word, the small bit of copy was enough to make me chortle. The copy was entitled ‘Satanist club allowed at school’ (page 3, 30th Sept) and the last line ended ‘…said the club would provide an alternative to the school’s Bible-centered Good News Club.’ I kid you not. But I did double-check the date and it’s not April 1st. But as any high-wire walker would tell you, it’s all about balance.

Next up is a friend who has hens and a habit of texting without her glasses. This is what she meant to say to her teenage son: ‘With you soon – just putting the chicks away’, and what she actually texted, sans glasses, was this: ‘With you soon, just putting the dicks away.’ Up to  you which version you prefer.

I know an elderly gent who functions very well using his own language. Or rather, a cross between old no-longer-used West Country sayings and words, and new words created by his encroaching deafness. Only last week he was talking about his glorious crematus. Hmmm… was he planning his funeral? I wondered. It took a while until, after much frowning from both parties, he took me outside to view his glorious crematus. Or Clematis, as it turned out. And very pretty it was too.

Punctuation – and especially that pesky comma, is guilty of altering the meaning of, well, pretty much anything, as Morecambe and Wise observed in a skit about the famous 1929 song What Is This Thing Called Love. Or as they would have it: What Is This Thing Called, Love?

I only noticed my most recent missing word faux-pas when I re-read an email I had sent. What I thought I had written: ‘Sorry about that, my cock-up I think.’ And you guessed it – what I actually wrote: ‘Sorry about that, my cock I think.’

So the (correctly spelled!) word of the week has to be – Mondegreen – from Lady Mondegreen,  “A misinterpretation of the phrase ‘laid him on the green’, from the traditional ballad ‘The Bonny Earl of Murray’” (1954)

Staying Alive

Getting close to your main character has its perils. What do you do, when, like a heartless lover, you’ve finished with them and seal their fate with that final full stop? Is it over between you? Once that closing chapter is written and the story you’ve plotted and perfected is done, what happens to your characters? Now, if you’re savvy, you would have ensured at least one of your characters makes a return in some sort of sequel (surely there is only one sort of sequel?!) – a DI for example. ‘DI YoureNicked returns to pound the stony streets of *choose your location* arresting baddies by the bucketload’ or ‘She started out as just a customer care worker, but now she runs the Company. Read what came next for Brenda O’Flaherty (other protagonists are available) in this sizzling sequel to Customer Care Hotline…’ See what I mean? I wonder if Helen Fielding knew that her creation Bridget Jones would become the sensation it has. I suspect she did. Sensed the Zeitgeist, and all that. Clever Bunny.

So who should be the top four types of characters you would keep alive to keep your readers coming back for more?

Well, number one has to be

  1. Your Main Character – The Winner. ‘Cause everyone loves a winner right? Of course we do. Just so long as they fail loud and long first. Y’know, lose their lover, lose their job, find their lover, regain their job, lose their lover again, struggle with some demons (usually the addictive sort), get passed over for promotion and dumped on from a high height by their nemesis – but hey! they still come out a winner and we love them for it.
  2. The Baddie. Gotta love a baddie. Yin, yang, all that stuff. No good DI YoureNicked turning up for work if there’s no-one to nick because the baddies have just found their consciences and now do voluntary out-reach work. No, you’ve got to have a baddie, whether it’s an all-out Bad Baddie, or a slimey grimey smarm-monster with no social etiquette and a taste for unpleasantness. Dracula for example. Now there’s a character you can get your teeth in to.
  3. The Other Character. You know the one – not entirely sure why it’s there but seems to hold the story together… and that actually doesn’t have to be a human character at all – could be an inanimate object: Lion, Witch…Wardrobe…
  4. The Fourth Dimension (Usually In The Form of a Cat or Dog). Yes yes, yes, I know, dogs and cats are often the main character, the furry protagonist; Bob, for example, surely upstages his ‘owner’ at every and any available moment. Cats are like that. But what I mean by fourth dimension here, is not other-wordly, but the Other Other Character that may only have a minor role in the story but is the hinge on which the whole story hangs. The mysterious shopkeeper in the Mr Benn series for example – we never know anything about him, but without him Mr Benn wouldn’t have had half the fun he did.  And now here, from someone else long ago, is

An old post, but still helpful nonetheless!

The Red Book

Imagine this: your work is snapped up by an agent who says ‘bloody brilliant – 50 million copies right off the press – I’ll make sure they get distributed to all the car-boots and charity shops in the area asap…’ Would you look at your agent and think perhaps it would be time to sever your relationship? I pondered on this dichotomy as I picked a book at random from a dusty cardboard box of pre-loved books at a car boot recently, handed over my 50p and dropped the book into my bag for later reading. Whenever that would be. I forgot about it until emptying the bag a few days later and when time allowed, I would sit with a coffee and have a little look at it. Now I have of course, and can’t put it down. I’ve checked-out the author’s website and am ashamed to discover that he is a very well known writer, having burst on to the writing scene in 1991 (my god that seems like another century!      No, wait…) though at the time of my purchase I had never heard of him. But hey, I was busy in the ‘90’s with babies and nappies and whatnot, so reading never happened. Ever. And by the time it did resume it was usually to help with homework or to read a school report, so it’s not surprising that this particular author slipped under my radar.   Anyway, win-win for me, as I have discovered purely by chance a writer whose work I enjoy very much and will now hunt down and trap at my local library, and whose back catalogue will keep me going through the forthcoming winter nights. Is it a lose-lose for him though? All that effort put in to plotting and writing and editing, to end up in a dusty cardboard box at a car boot? For 50p? Although that 50p did go to support a local charity.  On balance however, I think that if a book I had written had been sold in the traditional way back then (and the book I bought is 16 years old though you’d never know it by the good condition) then made a reappearance at charity car boot, a little part of me would be pleased. Pleased because it hadn’t ended up in landfill, pleased because 16 years later it was still in existence, and pleased because two parties benefitted from its re-sale. I guess humans will never stop reading or writing or painting or drawing or singing or all those other creative endeavours our humanity enables us to do, which means we’ll always have books of one sort or another. One of my daughters commented recently about ‘that red book I used to have. The one with the picture of a rabbit popping out of a blue box. What happened to it?’ Red book? I queried. Blue box? I had to think long and hard, trawling through the memories of all the children’s books and toys that came and went (mostly to and from charity shops) and then I remembered. The Red Book. It was made of fabric, and the pages padded out with foam so it was soft and easy to get hold of. For a ten month old baby. Guess I must have been reading back in the ‘90’s after all then. The book must have stayed around a while until we moved on to more complex storylines and characters – a giraffe with a sore throat rings a bell – but I allowed myself a little smile. What a precious thing to have given my children: a love of books.

Donate your books to Oxfam

Picture Prompt

As writers, many of us use the things we see around us as inspiration.  Sometimes we have an audio prompt – a conversation overheard, a snapchat or message on our phones, even a snippet of a song on the radio – but often it is the things we see that start the cogs turning.  With this in mind, I want to share with you these pictures taken very early on Sunday morning in the Teign valley in Devon.  Taken an hour apart, the contrast in the colours and feel of the photos is quite dramatic, and has already sparked my imagination to write a competition piece.  I hope you find them useful too.  Just imagine the gentle sound of the trickling water and the chattering of the birds in the reeds and you’re almost there…teign-valley-at-dawn

6.45am

 

an-hour-later

An Hour Later

Like the in-coming tide, I hope the pictures get your creative juices flowing!