Here you will find some of the exercises I have been set as part of my writers group. They are a useful challenge, get you out of your comfort zone and force you to write in a style, or about a subject you would not normally consider.
Exercise – Running, a first person account 400 words.
Response – we are all running from something. In this case our life.
Comment – Somewhat autobiographical this one. I shall say no more.
The laptop and shoulder bag do not balance. They have different arcs, at odds with each other. The net result of this is to make me run in a hunched crab-like fashion across the arrivals hall. For those of us on the Sunday night fight into Schiphol this is a familiar sight. Soon to be stressed managers fleeing from the natural disaster of their broken family life into the corporate numbness of another week in the Rotterdam Hilton. The only respite, a possible room upgrade to a junior suite and your own lounge to watch pornography in.
I continue to run. I am on a tight schedule. Timing is everything. I need to get the 20:45 train to Amsterdam central. Then it is a fast walk to The Greenhouse and five grams of Northern Lights. Walk, waddle, run back to the station and the 21:30 fast train to Rotterdam a late check in and the escape of THC. The good thing about Holland, that I tell anyone who will listen, is that you really can plan your escape from reality using the train schedule.
I realise I have left my Euros back at home. Shit, shit! A delay, a loss in the slack I have left to complete my mission. Cash point on the right. Stop. Fumble with jacket. Shit, the strap from the laptop back is across the pocket. I stop, take it off. Throw it to the ground in anger. Card, machine, PIN. What! PIN again. No! Fuck, deep fuck! They have cancelled my card. They have found me out. The meeting tomorrow morning is to fire me. I shiver, a mixture of blind panic and relief. To be released from this waste of a life would be a relief, but we need the money, the show must go on. Oh fuck! One last time to get the PIN right. Oh shit! Right this time. Money grabbed, bag back on shoulder, crab run to station. Still just got time.
The Netherlands transit system does not let me down. I sit hunched, utterly alone, the tight flowers safe in my coat, watching lights pass. This is as good as this week will get. A place of calm and solitude. A moment I wish could last forever. I have three days of pointless meetings to survive, then I can run away again. This time back to my family. Only I know I will crave release from them in a few days. Then, I will find somewhere else to run, to hide.
Exercise – write a letter about a domestic situation to a relation.
Response – A letter between estranged siblings about their mother
Comment – Tried to cram as much sub-text into this one as I could.
I hope this letter finds you well. I know we have not communicated for a few years now, but we need to put aside our differences, as I am the bearer of difficult news.
Denise and I went to visit Mother yesterday. It has been a few weeks and we hadn’t heard anything, so guilt was setting in. When we arrived, it was an age before she answered. We thought she was out, or dead. But she eventually opened the door in her nightdress and asked who we were.
Inside, honestly the place was a pigsty. Plates and crockery left where the last mouthful was taken. Clothes left where they had been soiled and discarded. She has taken up smoking again and the house stinks. We opened windows, but the smell has already migrated to the curtains and cushions.
We asked if she was all right. She kept asking who we were, and saying we had to go as her boyfriend Peter was coming over to take her out. She seems to have lost fifty years and any memory of us. She sat there for an hour telling us about Dad. How she met him, how much she reckons he likes her. If it wasn’t for the lines on her face, you would believe she was a teenager again.
We tried to tell her that Dad was gone. Had left her a year ago, but she wouldn’t have it. Told us we were lying, trying to come between them. She became quite angry, shouted at us to leave.
Is this delayed grief, a refusal to accept what has happened? Before now, she has appeared so stoic. Perhaps this has been building. She has been a little more reserved recently. Stopped going to bridge club, no longer working in the charity shop. But, at the time we thought nothing of it. Well, we need to think about it, her know. This cannot go on. Whether this is madness or sorrow, the end result is the same. She needs constant care and she and we do not have the means to accommodate it, as you very well know.
I beg you. Please put aside the past, her rejection, my jealousy. We need to do what is best for our mother. Denise and I have done what we can, in our way. She now requires more, and even though she would never ask or ever admit it, she needs you.
Please call. My number is now 01223 830 226.
With Best Wishes
Exercise – write about a chaotic situation. 350-500 words
Response – how much crap can you dump on someone in less than five minutes
Comment – really enjoyed writing this. It flowed and took less than an hour from start to finish.
About Last Night
Pete returns to consciousness. Urgh! His mouth tastes of alcohol and sweat. His head pounds, his brain wants out, not prepared to put up with this regular weekend abuse. His hands cradle his head. Ohhh, please just stop hurting. Sunday is a day of rest and he intends to honour that singular bit of the scriptures with all the hungover religious fervour he can muster, nothing but tea and sympathy.
“Bing” (Text) “Sorry I had to leave early hun, but wife was expecting me home last night xxx.”
“What the fuck!” Wife!” Pete screws up his face, tries to remember. No, no, there were boobs, he definitely remembers boobs, there was no dick, he is sure there was no dick.
“Tring” (Phone) “Peter is that you, Peter! It’s your mother, your father has left me. The bastard, has been lying to me, been carrying on behind my back, Christine, that slut from the golf course. Peter…..can you hear me…..? I want you to come over at once”
“Yes mum. I can hear you, what do you mean dad has left you?”
“Tring” (Phone) “Hang on mum, someone on other line, I’ll just get rid of them…..Hello, who’s this?”
“Your bloody father of course, sorry, had to get new phone, your damm mother broke the other one…”
“Oh errr hello Dad, ummm I’ve got mum on the line at the moment…”
“Ohhh, errr, yes well. I had no choice, the mad old bat was driving me mad, come on over, I’m living in the beach hut, I’ll explain.”
“Ummm, hang on a minute Dad, ring you back in a minute…(click) Mum, you still there…….(silence). Oh fuck.” She has never got the hang of phones.
“Bing” (Text) “Hey lover, how you doin’ I had a great time. Never done that before, bet you hadn’t either 😊 😊 call me soon darling xxxx.”
“Jesus H Christ!” Pete sits up, head throbbing, not just from the excess ketones in his system. “What the fuck is happening?” He scowls at his phone, a malevolent object that has delivered instant chaos into his life.
“Bing” (Text) Reluctantly, like a moth to the flame, he looks, unable to refuse any communication, however dangerous or banal. “Hey Pete, brave move last night on twitter. Way to go bro. Wish I had the balls to say that about chief dick wad. All true. Kudos to you!” Dave.
“Fuck!” He looks at his feed (Following 28 Followers 168 Tweets 264) A one-hundred-and-forty-character rant about Douglas being an incompetent twat who wouldn’t understand a social media strategy if it offered to suck his dick. “Hah” well at least he won’t see that, the cretin hasn’t even got an account.
“Tring” (phone) “Ahhh hello Peter, Douglas here, took your advice from Friday’s meeting, got myself an account, started following a few people….see me Monday first thing….”
Pete throws the phone across the bedroom and draws the duvet back across his head. “Ohhh shit!”
Exercise – An Edwardian picnic. You are the tutor, describe your uncomfortable relationship with the family. 500 words
Response – A letter to a lover, despairing at their situation.
Comment – I wrote this in real time, as you would have to then. I wanted an unsympathetic and unreliable narrator.
My Dearest George
God how I miss you! I know I am supposed to be a writer, but words cannot convey the frustration I feel at being apart, by virtue of having to play this woe-begotten part. Although we are trapped and denied by our feelings, I find myself even more oppressed by the stifling mediocrity of the middleclass. These automatons seem to revel in their conventions that prevent any emotion or pleasure escaping their fixed expressions.
Let me tell you of my plight. last week we went on a picnic. A picnic! An occasion for pleasure, for laughter, for words and feelings to be exchanged in the full view of the sun. The warmth should have fuelled our excess, our lust for life and each other. It should have been a time to make memories to be treasured and to warm the dying embers of our old age. Instead what did I find? Yet another occasion to display circumstance and class, preserved like the salmon, in aspic. Even beneath the glorious sky, perched on a hilltop with the sea close by, my family found a way to suck the majesty of our location. Servants moved like agitated chess pieces, ruled by a nervous queen, desperate to ensure that everything and everybody were in their correctly allotted roles and places. A formal imposition on the ragged fecund nature that surrounded us. And there was I, dear George, a piece with no real role, a token to be played with by whomsoever saw fit. The father, thinking I am interested in his dull job in the city. The wife, anxious about the progress I am making with her dense progeny. The daughter, precocious only in that she thinks I find her attractive. She looks at me with wide bovine eyes and imagines I find her irresistible. The only think I am resisting here is the overwhelming urge to tell them all how pointless they all are. That there is no nobility in their lives, no future that has not yet been decided and mapped for them. Theirs’s is a life already over. It has been written, like a poor script to be performed by amateur actors in life. Not even a good farce to be enjoyed with friends.
The dull ache of playing my part is taking its toll. I cannot write. All that emerges is bile and doggerel. I am consumed by my position. I thought it would be an escape. A summer to teach and a freedom to compose. Instead I feel more trapped and more observed than ever before. My soul has retreated. It longs for our peril. That is the fuel I know I need to create. Not a picnic, not responsibility for learning, but fear of discovery, of illicit talk and clandestine meetings. That is what I crave. So, if you hear a knock, late at night, do not be afraid. It will be me, escaped from my cell, free to join you in our dangerous future.