A couple of weeks back I wandered along to Write Club, a night that James and Ellen have kicked off, hosted by the mighty Skiff. The format intrigued me - we were to be shown a photograph, then given a very short amount of time to write a story based on it: 15 minutes, then 10, then 5, then 2. Over the last 6 months I've been really interested in extremely constrained creativity, and I've been routinely surprised by how much gets achieved by teams participating in the Mobile Mountains workshops I've been running... so the format was very appealing, and perhaps less intimidating than I might otherwise have found it.
I don't think I'd written any fiction - other than proposals and press releases - since I was 13 years old, and despite doing a fair bit of public speaking, I was pretty nervous about reading my work out. James very kindly prefixed the event with a stern warning that there were to be no apologies - a staple of spoken-word events, I understand - and I felt that the timeboxed format gave me a convenient excuse for any misgivings I might have over the quality of my work. Even with that, I can't claim to be happy with it - I found myself routinely heading in the same direction, overly clever-clever stories which spend too much effort trying to be twisty, shocking or rude. Ah well - it was interesting to observe myself heading down the same track again and again, even when I was trying not to, and encourages me to work on developing a bit of breadth.
I've posted my stories, together with the photos that inspired them, below; and I'm looking forward to the next event already :)
The Harpooning of the Synchronised Swimmer (15 minutes) "My dad and I, we've been doing it for years... and he did it with his dad. I'm making it sound like a tradition, but really I think it's just us, we've got a bit of a taste for it. I'd be lying if I didn't say I enjoyed it.
We go out late at night; before the early morning fishermen slide their boats down the rough shingle and out into the water, we're already a few miles out. Dad knows where they go - says the sea tells him, affecting a slight cod-sailor lilt as he does so. Me, I think he's nuts but I don't like to say anything.
Sometimes we'll see none for three, four days, and then we'll hit a shoal, sliding in and out of the water, showing off to each other. It's a bit weird seeing them out in the cold green water under the smokey-grey sky: indoors is kinder for them, they have a much better life there.
My grandpa once caught eight of them, flapping away in eerie unison, still miming at one another 'n' slamming their pouty gobs open and shut as he harpooned them, one at a time, dragged them onto the wet deck and tenderly clubbed them unconscious for the ride home.
We get them back and pile them off the boat, make sure they're they'll all still compus, then it's down a back-alley at the docks to a man who knows a man who knows a man. He say takes them up to a lockup in Gatwick then it's abroad with 'em - I hear Moscow and Eastern Europe are popular these days. We don't get the best price, but it's better than a kick in the teeth; a pair will sell for more than double, a quad can make the month.
I saw the quad again, on the telly - 2008 I think, Beijing - only for a brief flash as I was flicking channels. I recognised the scar dad's barb in one of the four legs as they lifted out of the water as one, then I switched over for Hollyoaks."
Shitrag migration (10 minutes)Morning breaks. Nothing on the mat.
"Fucking lazy fucking bastard paperboy, sacked off for the morning, no bloody respect" he grumbles, voice falling unsteadily from outrage to nothing as a month-old stain of ketchup catches his attention and derails his train of thought.
3 hours pass. Not even a bill, not even a flyer advertising window cleaners or new local sellers of pizza.
"Fucking bastard postie, fucking striking bollocks", he opines, to no-one in particular, and no-one nods quietly in agreement.
Bereft of any contact with the outside world but not really missing it all that much, he shuffles around the filthy flat. He can't find the takeaway menu - where'd she put it this time? So he cobbles together a filthy lunch, and for dessert repairs upstairs to enjoy a characteristically unpleasant 3pm bowel motion - relief followed by the crushing disappointment and then shame that only a hollow cardboard tube can bring.
As the sun crawls down the horizon and he settles down filthed in front of countdown, creases stretch out and thin triangular wings start to flex. Briefly darkening the view through the back window, the origami flock rises as one and heads 180 degrees off magnetic north for the long flight home.
Reluctant Ringmaster (5 minutes)
"Roll up, roll up, see the artist! Marvel at his brushmanship! Wonder at his innovative use of oils! Quake at the implied satire of his imagery!"
The top hat is unnecessarily OTT and slightly patronising. Plus it's dark and it's wet and it's late and I want to go inside and curl up with a ham sandwich, a jammy dodger, and Radio 1, but he says I'm not allowed to until it's done.
I bash out an especially unpleasant caricature of a rotund women who's brought her two children to see me. She shrieks, her eyes well up and they slope off, leaving 6 neat puddles of tears.
I get the night off.
Statue Pipe (2 minutes)
I been here 200 years, protected by Arts Council funding and a large umbrella-like structure which keeps the worst of the rain off and offers protection to the crowd which inevitably gathers beneath my chin in a storm. Penniless artists touch me up on occasion, keeping me fresh.
And then there's the museum next door, new plumbing, grade 1 listed over my grade 2, and I'm half-blinded by the new drain running through my left eye.