Sunday, May 08, 2011

Writing Skillz

I've started a new Writing Skills course. It's thoroughly enjoyable and very different from the Creative Writing course I did last term. This is more focused on getting you writing, teaching you the basic exercises and tips you need for good, clear writing. One of the exercises is to take an incident in your life or a dream and write about it in general terms for five minutes using the past tense, then take one element of it and write about in the present tense, again for five minutes. I like this story and I think it's fun enough to tell.

Narrow escape
I was heading into town on my bike, taking a well-worn route, paying as little attention as possible. Hitting the bottom of the hill as the light turned green, I flew forward, not realising that the coach beside me was not going straight on, it's about to turn left. His front mudguard caught my rear mudguard, like a wildebeest mounting a house cat, and I was taken around the corner. I was unable to break free from the coach and was genuinely convinced I was going to die. Thankfully, I broke free and managed to get out of the way. The bus driver assured me he hadn't seen me. Barring some impromptu homicidal urge on his part, I guessed he was telling the truth. The lady in the shop at the corner gave me some lemonade to help me calm down. Aside from a wrecked mudguard and some bruises on my inner things from gripping the saddle too tightly, I was fine.

The coach has me. Time has slowed to a crawl and I am very, very calm. I calculate the options, none of them are appealing. Despite failing honours physics, I have a fair idea of some basic physical principles here: pull the bike sideways to unhook it from the coach's mudguard and I risk falling sideways, ending up under the coach's wheels. If I don't pull free, I will be crushed against the car coming up on my left. I figure that i'll get squeezed between the car and the coach and that my legs, at the very least, will be mangled. I wonder if I'll die from the shock. I break away... Which was nice.

Monday, March 14, 2011

50-word Story

She has her father’s eyes’
‘Yes, and her mother’s nose.’
‘You can really see a lot of her father in her.’
‘It’s amazing how they take after their parents.’
‘Yes, well… they’re usually the closest. Right, shoot it in the head and torch the body. Zombie kids are the worst…’

Six Word Stories

Gun, Purse, Car, Alibi. Quick Divorce.
Budgie dead. Cat fed. Now fled.

Crumbled Cookies and Typewriter Ribbons

Crumbled Cookies and Typewriter Ribbons

Rattled by the near-collision, she missed her brother's response: “The collective noun for a group of priests is... umm, a scandal!”

“Whuh,?” was all she could manage, as her attention was caught by a strange-looking man fumbling with the lock on a gate. The gate was metal, rusted and inexpertly repaired here and there. There was a sign haphazardly screwed to it, with what she presumed was “No Trespassing” in various languages. The man shuffled awkwardly, as if he had difficulty keeping his shoes on. The gate opened rustily and he slipped quickly inside, leaving one of the shoes on the ground behind him. For a second, she caught a glimpse of his foot – it looked for all the world like a hoof. Shaking her head at the thought, she hurried over to call the man back and give him his shoe.

The man had left the gate unlocked in his haste. It was tall and overhung with old, twisted growths of some foetid vine. She pushed against it and was greeted with the sight of a large house, set in a tangled, unkempt garden. The smell of what had to be a long series of unhappy animal digestive systems washed over her.

Against the side of the house, a short stone staircase rose to an open door. At the top of the step sat... A monkey... smoking a cigarette. Her amazement at this was interrupted by the sight of the strange man rounding the corner of the house, his improbably hairy left leg clearly ending in a cloven hoof. Waving the shoe, she called after him, 'Hello, I have your shoe, umm, hello!' She hurried after him, and was just about to round the corner of the house when she was stopped by a gruff shout of "Oi, you can't go 'rahnd there!".

She whirled around and looked up at the top of the staircase. There was no-one there. No-one, except the monkey… a monkey who appeared to be doing his best to look nonchalant. What made it worse was that he was attempting to whistle while still puffing on his cigarette…

“Umm, hello?” she said, her brows knitted in utter confusion “Did you just speak to me?”

“No”, replied the monkey, “this is just you ‘avin’ a breakdown. You should go ‘ave a lie down. It’ll all seem much better in the morning”.

“You can speak!” she exclaimed, dropping the shoe in astonishment

“Ah, bugger, not again, I’ve been bloody Wendied!”


“Yeh, Wendy, y’know, Peter Pan’s missus, broke into ‘is world, changed it all up.” the monkey, explained, making little tumbling motions with his tarry fingers.

“But that’s just a story!” She replied, acutely aware that she was saying this to a talking monkey. A talking monkey with ink and nicotine-stained fingers… wearing an old-fashioned editor’s visor…

“Well, it was at first, but once enough people read it, once enough kids, and quite a few adults, believed in it and wished for it to be true, well *poof*! There he was, real as any of us!” continued the monkey, pausing only to protect his cigarette from a gust of herby wind.

“Umm, uh, umm!” was all she could manage.

“Sorry, where are me manners? Name’s IM no. 1987324, but you can call me Thelonious. Thelonious Monkey? No? Fair enough.” He reached down to shake her hand. She took it automatically. He certainly felt real enough… furry, inky and not a little smelly…

She continued “Umm… uh… umm…!”

“Listen, love, I really think you might need that lie down.” Thelonious advised, his tiny brow creased in apparent concern.

Recovering herself and fuelled with an increasing sense of indignation at being lectured by what she presumed was an hallucination brought on by the heat, she exclaimed "look, Thelonious, number whatever you said, what the hell is going on?"

"Welcome to the Department of Actuated Potentials, love, or as it is known to its occupants, the Cliché Coop, the Bastille of Bollocks, whatever!" he said with an infuriating cheerfulness.

"The what?!?" she retorted.

"This is the place where all the knackered-out sayings, proverbs, clichés and fictional characters end up, once you lot have gotten bored of quoting 'em. It's like a Rest Home for the Terminally Over-Referenced.
Me, I’m an Infinite Monkey, tasked with eventually reproducin' classic literature by randomly bashing at a typewriter."

“But how does that work? I mean you're just a saying, a cliché!?" she countered, her grip on reality shakier than a Minister’s alibi.

"Dunno, I just figure in an infinite universe, everything, no matter how improbable, including the spontaneous incorporation of over-used rhetorical constructs, 'as a finite, if tiny probability. So, y'know... You get mentioned often enough, then *poof*... And there you are, sat in front of a typewriter, typing 'too bee or not too bee, that is the quern stone' for a living."

Grasping for some solid conversational ground, she retorted "but the universe isn't infinite!"

"Yeah, but it's ambitious...” he pointed out with a flick of his cigarette. “And that makes up for a lot."

"Wait, you mentioned Peter Pan, does he live here?”

"Nah, ‘e lives in the South of France. Goes fishing on the weekends with Captain ‘Ook. Well, with part of him…”

“I'm sorry, but this is all far too silly! Who was that man I followed in here?”

"That's Pan, the patron saint of tootly pipes, absinthe and the expression 'randy as a goat'.”

She popped her head around the corner, to see where the man, Pan, whatever, had gone. To her surprise, there was a vast pile of sacks of peanuts stacked up against the back of the house.

"Yeh, I know: 'Pay peanuts, get monkeys', even the catering’s a cliché, knowottimean? At least the bloody chimps get a cup of tea."

"Don’t you get bananas? In every story I ever read as a child, they were all monkeys could think of."

“Well, we used to, but what with the rise of Global Capitalism, sayings about compensation-based incentives gets bandied around a lot more than them kid’s stories with the bananas and balloons and lads in yellow ‘ats.”

"So, it’s kind of a popularity contest, you embody the most-often uttered cliché?" she asked.

“Yeh, well, we tried being the personifications of a couple of notions at once, but it gets very confusing. Plus, the balloons kept frightening the gnomes…”

He broke off at the sound not unlike a cat being tumbled dried inside an opera singer.

“'Ere, keep it dahn in there, wudja, I’m on me break! And keep the unicorns away from the curtains; we only stitched them back up last week!”

“Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, actuated potentials, well, the world is full of 'em, y'see? Even the big lads in physics know that.” Putting on a sniffy tone, he leant forward and pretended to adjust invisible glasses “’It's not an actual particle, per se, the electron, more a probability density function!’
Poor lad, all ‘e wanted to down was spin 'round atoms an’ now these know-it-alls are saying he may not even exist as a tangible mass.”

“I’m sorry to hear that” she said, a little hesitantly, not sure whether it was entirely appropriate to express sympathy for a fundamental particle.

“Ah, no worries, the lad gets 'is own back on 'em all the time” He chuckled “Next week, ‘e's dressing up as an 'iggs boson and poppin' up to CERN to mess with their results. He’s a git, that one"

Anyway, can't stay talkin' all day, gotta get back to me magnum opus: The Complete 'Istory of Ice-Cream. Magnum opus? Ice-cream? Eh? Fair enough, suit y'self”

He picked himself up, dusted off a small mountain of cigarette ash, paused to pry an interesting flea from his stomach, then stopped and regarded her with an inquiring glance. ‘‘Ere, any chance you could do something for me? Any chance you could go ‘round sayin’, oh, I dunno, ‘An infinite set of monkeys with an infinite set of ergonomic keyboards, dictation software and two weeks off in June could write the complete works of Shakepeare? Only, by now, I’ve got carpal tunnels you could drive a train through.”

“I don't think it would take off as a cliché” she replied, apologetically, “but I’ll see what I can do”.

“Fair enough, love, watch your step on the way out, them tigers can give you a real nasty paper cut.”

With that, he turned on his heels and went in through the door, bellowing “‘Ere, I saw that, you start flingin' that again and we'll be weeks cleaning it out of the gearing!'

She turned towards the gate, her mind racing with the possibilities and the strange sensation of empathy for a small, furry and disturbingly solid cliché...

Two years, later, his belly groaning, IMN 1987324 (but you can call him Thelonious) leant back, let out a huge fruity burp and read, with evident satisfaction, the title of the new book in his hands 'You pay Banana Pancakes with Syrup & Crème Fraiche and You Get Monkeys - Updated Clichés for a New Century’. “You beauty” he mumbled and drifted off to sleep. Not even the sound of infinite monkeys wrestling with the new Print function in Word 2010 could disturb his satisfied slumber…
The Day I got my First Zeppelin
By Daire Darcy

Every child remembers the day they got their first Zeppelin; it’s a golden moment in one’s childhood. Mine was no exception.

I remember that day as clear as if it were yesterday, togged out in my first flight suit and goggles, bouncing with excitement, sick with nerves and anticipation. My mum had determined it was time in the traditional way: checking wind patterns and consulting a tin of Alphabetti Spaghetti.

We took the public pedalo to the local Zeppelin Breeding Area, moored in the swanky uptown marshes. My mum had to hold me back, so I wouldn’t go tearing into the Zeppelinarium, unaccompanied. I’d been there earlier to pick out my Zeppelin and bond with it, before bringing it home. Little Ferdie leapt into the air upon seeing me, shedding little puffs of hydrogen in his excitement, his little, undeveloped propellers whirring in delight.

That first day was magical, as I skipped along home, Ferdie’s leash taut as he tried to chase birds, butterflies and the occasional jetliner. Every so often, my mum had to drag me back down, as a stray gust of wind and Ferdie’s enthusiasm threatened to lift me off into the stratosphere.

Of course, as everyone knows, a Zeppelin is for life, not just for Grindlemas. There was the inevitable settling-in period and house-training. My mum was not amused by the scorch-marks on the ceiling, when Ferdie dumped hydrogen willy-nilly in those first few days. I bawled in distress, when my dad threatened to rub his nosecone in it.

But, I mostly remember the delight of getting up in the morning to let Ferdie out of his hangar, feeding him his favourite Hydro-Genie treats and cleaning his outer hull with linseed oil and sealant. The other kids were so jealous, because Ferdie was a pure-breed and they usually had to make do with a mongrel Dirigible, or a Hot-Air Balloon in a cage.

Long, windless days, throwing gondolas for him to catch, weekends taking him out for flights in the Sky-Park, where he spent most of the time trying to sniff the other Zeppelin’s engines, these were the stuff that a wonderful childhood is made of. Of course, there were hiccups. One time, my little sister fed him helium and I had to stay up all night long, rubbing his aching gasbag. My mum gave my sister a patient lecture about how to feed a Zeppelin properly, ending with the old children’s rhyme:

“If Goodyear ye see, a Blimp it be,
If it’s got lots of pe’ple in, then it’s a Zeppelin.”

Then there was the sickening time when he slipped his moorings in the night and flew off. We had to go looking for him in my dad’s Ford Cortina bi-plane. I spent the whole flight with my nose pressed against the canopy, trying to peer through the clouds and catch a glimpse of my little lighter-than-air companion. Of course, he had already found his way home and was waiting for us at the back airlock, covered in storm clouds and lightning strikes, deflated and starving.

As the years went by, little Ferdie aged quicker than I. His portholes went milky with age and he leaked engine oil in a constant, weak stream. His propellers whirred fitfully and his gasbag wrinkled. He was a smelly, leaky mess, but I loved him.

One tragic day, we lost Ferdie. Passing a parade, he took flight after a huge balloon from Florida. It was a giant, azure version of their state animal. “Oh, the blue manatee!!!” I cried as Ferdie nipped at its flipper and was shot skyward in the resulting explosion.

Ferdie never recovered and combusted shortly afterwards. We buried his airframe in the garden, next to my sister’s Dirigerbil, who had died of Bag Rot the previous year. I cried all that night and the next day, but it was too late: Ferdie had debarked his last passenger and was gone to the great Mooring in the Sky.

I never forgot Little Ferdie and to this day, when I see little kids pulled, giggling into the air, their frantic parents pursuing them with their emergency jet-packs, I get a little misty-eyed and think of him. He’s chasing Cherubs in Heaven now.

Go get ‘em, Ferdie, make the chubby little gits break a sweat…