Don’t Quote Me

I’ve managed to make it to Day 9 of Nano Poblano without writing a list blog. Except for the Lost post, but that doesn’t count because it wasn’t written in eleventh-hour panic. Today, I’ve drawn a blank but fortunately Ra kindly left a prompt page for such occasions. Although they are list-prompts, I read through them to see if one of them could inspire a non-list post.

“Stuff you’ve said that’s worth quoting”

I don’t think I’ve ever said something worth quoting, at least, nothing I can recall, but it reminded me of something a colleague said about me.

I had to make a phone call to give a client some bad news. On a bad-news scale, it was nothing drastic, but I was about to tell someone something they didn’t want to hear. After I’d hung up the phone my colleague said, “Wow you’re so good at that – shattering people’s dreams! You know just what to say!”

We laughed.

“Perhaps it’s my lame super power. ”

“You  should be called The Disillusionist!”

I suppose the nice word for it, is diplomacy. People have remarked before that I have the right words – I know what to say and how to say it. I’ve always been the mediator among friends, the messenger between colleagues and the one who steadies the boat.

I guess I’ll never know how many people who I’ve left with the wrong words but I always remember moments where I believe my words have helped people cope, no matter how obscurely.

nanopoblano2015darkA few years ago, a friend of mine lost a member of their family. She paced, trying to walk away from her tears and eye contact with the people offering to help carry her pain.
“Why?” she asked, “I don’t understand why awful things always seem to happen to good people.”

“No one talks about the bad people.” I said.

And she smiled, for a brief moment she smiled.

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Checkmate

A new Flash! Friday. I had fun writing this one because I didn’t take it too seriously. The original photo was withdrawn due to copyright issues, so the replacement picture is a little less relevent to my story, although my focus from the beginning was the game and not the players.

 

ilia-chavchavadze-and-ivane-machabeli-playing-chess

Georgian writers Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Machabeli playing chess, 1873 St Petersburg. Public domain photo.

The element to include was ‘a nemesis’.

 

Resignation

Eirwen paced, “So it is true?”

“Yes, my Queen. The King is set to admit defeat, if you do not intervene-

“Forgive me,” The knight’s bow deepened as he heard the insolence in his own voice, “but the King does not know we have secured King Kali’s west tower. Despite our own losses, we have infiltrated his defences.”

Bishop Bai moved to The Queen’s side, “Are you sure this is wise?”

“I’m not made of glass.” Eirwen silenced the bishop with a raised hand. ” I must go.”

“But The King insisted-”

“The King believes he’s protecting me, but he underestimates my strength.”

“There are few horses,” The knight said moving to his feet, “Please take my own.”

“I can move faster without it,” The Queen smiled, “Your horse can’t keep a straight line-“

 

“Olivia!” Jack snapped, knocking over his king, “Play properly!”

She jumped to her feet with Eirwen raised to the sky, “The Black King surrenders!”

 

Have a great weekend! Happy writing.

Slow Flash

I hadn’t participated in a Flash! Friday for ages, so I was quite delighted when I managed to muster this one. Same rules as always – you had 140-160 words to play with, the element to include was death and the picture prompt was this…

No Sunshine

She handed me a breathing mask as we met.

“He wanted you to have it.”

“What?” I said, “Today? It doesn’t really match my suit.”

“Be nice, Stephen. Please.”

Studying her more closely I raised my eyebrows.

She sighed, “It’s all I had in black.”

I held the mask up to my face but hastily lowered it when I caught its acidic scent.

A smile formed at the corner of her mouth, “He did like you.”

“That’s debateable” I muttered, taking another tentative sniff.

Her eyes drifted to the small gathering on the docks where a woman in a oversized hat carried an urn.

“He would’ve wanted you to wear colour.”

“Yes, but Mother…”

“Ah.”

“We should join them.” she said, not attempting to move.

After a moment I said, “You know it’s not raining, don’t you?”

“It’s a parasol.”

“It’s not sunny either…”

She took my hand. “No,” she said, “But it will be.”

The Writing Mood

Writinginspirations

Jo Seated on the Old Sofa from “The Most Beloved American Writer” Woman’s Home Companion, December 1937 oil on canvas, 32 x 25 in. Collection of George Lucas

My flash fiction writing has preferred to flail lately. It’s also worthy of note that I haven’t spent much time on this blog. Generally speaking, I haven’t written much of anything. All this has left me pondering my writing inspirations.

The first truth is, I rue not learning about flash fiction sooner. I discovered it by Googling ‘techniques to help you write’ about two years ago, but undoubtedly these existed pre-internet. Even so, despite my interest in writing at school and (early on, at least) selecting subjects in this field, techniques to prompt creative writing remained untaught. We were simply told to ‘write a story’ and predictably I’d fall into an idea vacuum and choke on the panic of ostensibly having nothing to write about.

Rather than learning to write, I trained myself to dismiss ideas. I didn’t launch into flash fiction as soon as I discovered it either. I stood back sceptically for a good six months and marvelled at the flash writing of others before attempting a few challenges myself. I secretly believed that I was incapable of creating anything from them, especiallywords/images that might as well been pulled from a hat.

I admit, I’ve surprised myself. Of course, I’m hardly a flash fiction/writing prompt expert. I’ve completed barely a dozen writing prompt challenges, but writing prompts have shown me it’s easier to work with (and grow) ideas if you have a focal point. An enforced focus from flash fiction challenges, be it an image or words, works especially well for someone like me who’s far too quick to throw out my ideas than wash and rise. The advantage is they absolve me from the original idea and make me work and persist with something I may have otherwise rejected. Rather than ‘nothing’ to write about, there is everything to write about – it’s a matter of finding that spark.

Reading others’ creative writing also inspires me to write, especially if I find the writing particularly powerful, emotive or beautifully phrased. Watching films can do the same. They make me want to write something; practise capturing moments with words.

Then there’s mood and music or is it music and mood? I never know what comes first. I use music to manipulate my mood and assist the tone of my writing. I couldn’t say how those musical choices are influenced by the mood I’m already in. For better or worse I write more and (arguably) better when I’m in a darker/confused/conflicted/sadder emotional place. When someone asks me how I am and I answer, ‘I’m really good’ the voice in my head invariably adds ‘I must be, I’m not writing much’. There are a couple of levels to this though – when I am ‘good’ writing less is more a consequence of doing more non-writing stuff. I also have a life-long habit of writing when I’m down because it helps me process all my ‘sads’.

What inspires you to write? Is there anything I’ve missed?

Jettisoned – Flash Friday on Saturday

You may have already read my story for Flash! Friday, but here it is again. The added element was ‘space travel’ and the prompt picture was this:

bicycle-tunnel

Bicycle Tunnel, double exposure. CC photo by r. nial bradshaw.

Jettisoned

Dawson thumped his scanner, ‘What’s our time datum?’

‘1930s judging by the state of those.’ Marian pointed to two bikes leaning at the tunnel’s entrance, ‘It’s the right kind of place to hide a Relativity Raft.’

Dawson put his ear to the tunnel wall, ‘Maybe the tunnel is the ship.’

Marian smirked, ‘They wouldn’t trust you with anything this large.’

‘I didn’t break the ASM-9!’

‘So you say. ‘

A distant whirring silenced further objection from Dawson.

Marian stepped back against the tunnel wall as the sound grew into a man on a bike. He whizzed past them and out into the daylight.

‘System Control hates us.’ Marian muttered.

Dawson resumed his scan and the instrument beeped. He redirected it and it beeped again.
He looked to Marian, ‘They wouldn’t..?’

Marian looked down the scanner’s line of sight and back to the tunnel’s entrance.

Dawson raised it again to triple check the data.

Marian ran for the red one.

Facing Your Inner Critic

On Wednesday, I arrived home from work with determination in my heart. I connected to my email account and a reminder pinged into my inbox. I expected it, I’d thought about it during the day, I wondered if this might be the right Wednesday. I opened up the email and I froze at the sight of five prompt words.

I told myself to keep it simple – pick one word or write a short poem, make it silly so when it’s bad it won’t matter. I can learn from writing badly, I can’t learn from not writing. Other voices intrude with ‘If you can’t include ALL the prompts you’re not a real writer’, ‘why bother when you can’t craft an award winning novella overnight?’ and ‘all your ideas are utter trite’. I tried thinking over the top of it and mentally plugged my fingers into my ears to trill ‘lalalalalalala’.

My determination waned. ‘Maybe next Wednesday…’

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The wisdom of A.A.Milne

This attempt got me thinking again about this link my friend Sinéad sent me last week. It references the work of Anne Lamott (I’m sorry that I don’t have the primary source), and she speaks of how she turns down the volume on her evil inner critic. Anne’s critical voices are certainly familiar to me and while I could identify with the words the imagery she applied to them was her own. My inner critics have different personalities and different faces.

Different faces. Up until reading Anne’s comments, my inner critics were faceless and I’ve always dealt with them by avoidance. They’re like the playground bully surrounded by its minions sitting on my favourite swing or waiting for me at the school gate. I’d walk the long way. I’d give up using the swing. Anything to avoid the confrontation. I’ve never looked my evil inner critics in the eye.

Maybe confrontation is in order. I need to stand beside them and notice they’re shorter than I remember. I need to hear all the rude, awful and insulting things they have to say so I can laugh with indifference. Maybe it’s high time I metaphorically kicked them in the shins.

My antagonists are as follows:

GuilteDum and QuittleDee
The twins. They play off each other, one making you feel guilty about not writing, the other reinforcing why you shouldn’t. They are heavy set, eight foot tall and carry baseball bats to claim taxes on the words you haven’t written. GuilteDum says, ‘You’re not writing, you’re not writing, you’re not writing’. QuittleDee choruses, ‘You’re not writing because you’re incapable’, ‘Give up, leave it! You don’t have it in you to write, so why waste your time?’, ‘Why write today, when you can write tomorrow?’

Doubtfire
Vampiresque figure, lanky with his hands clutched at his chest. He favours the shadows and speaks in hushed rasping tones. He creates doubt in the cruellest places of your heart. ‘You know they’re lying, don’t you?’, ‘They don’t mean it, your writing is actually awful and they’re just saying those other things to spare you from the truth’.

Termite
The shonky builder, dark angry eyes, ill-fitting jeans and unruly hair (Why this? *shrugs* No idea). He undermines all past successes – ‘That thing you wrote yesterday? Complete fluke’, ‘There is no chance you could do that again’, ‘Those certificates you have, obtained by chance’, ‘Give up, you’ve peaked already!’.

Wasp
Thin, stern looking woman carrying a ruler to wack you over the knuckles if you put a word wrong. Often she’s just plain insulting, ‘Stupid idea! Ridiculous! You have no hope of ever writing with ideas like that’, but occasionally she speaks a useful and helpful truth, ‘Urgh! Well that sentence isn’t working’. It’s just a shame she has to be so patronising.

What do your evil inner critics look like? Ask yourself – is your inner critic constructive or destructive? And if they’re destructive, shrink them like Alice in Wonderland and put them in a jar. They are good for nothing.

Unscheduled Stop – Friday Flash

Which for me is Saturday. I posted this earlier today. The prompt photograph is this:

automotive-62827_19201

Flash! Friday link

Added element: A phone call.

 

Unscheduled Stop

The first time the telephone rang Mother screamed.

Emery emerged from the dining room, ‘Everything alright, Ma’am?’

‘Yes, Emery. Thank you.’ She removed the hand that had sprung to her chest and righted herself. ‘God-awful noise, just caught me by surprise.’

Emery nodded, raising the receiver to his ear as Mother disappeared into the breakfast room.

‘The Mortimer residence.’ he announced. His ghostly complexion paled further as he added, ‘Yes, yes,’ and then ‘I’ll tell her’. He hung up and he saw me, my eyes peering out from under the stairs.

‘Miss Josephine,’ he cleared his throat, ‘Go upstairs to Dorothy, breakfast will be served later than usual.’

He followed after Mother and closed the door. While his words were lost in low tones, Mother’s grew louder.

‘Accident?’

Dismissive laughter.

‘Robert’s in his study-‘

Pause.

‘He went where?’

Pause.

‘I don’t need to check the car!’

Floor boards creaked.

I scarpered upstairs.

The second time the telephone rang, Mother screamed.