Faber Academy Course – Week 5

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Time and pace was what this week’s Faber Academy Course was all about.

Our task for week five was to write a 500-700 word piece focusing on summary and scene. Slowing time down, but also speeding it up when necessary. Probably my trickiest exercise so far.

I chose to post my ‘A Day in the Life of…’ story, covering 24 hours of someone’s life, to the discussion forum. I noticed as I started to write about Elsie – as she appeared in my head – that I was writing in present tense when it’s past that normally comes out. Most interesting.

The other classmates who commented on my work said they thoroughly enjoyed it again this week, which is wonderful to hear. I’ve gained so much confidence from this course in such a small space of time. Critiquing their work, also, has made me notice things in my own writing I’d not seen before. Such a great learning curve.

Only three more weeks to go!

Here’s Elsie if you’d like to read about her, too.

 

A Day in the Life of Elsie Jones

 The brightness of the light above my head coming on filters through my closed eyelids, paper thin with age.

“It’s all right, Elsie love, I’ve just come to do your medicine.”

It’s midnight.

How do I know this with my eyes shut? Because I can smell the lavender perfume of Rita, the night nurse at Yew Tree Rest Home, and she always does her rounds at twelve o’clock, that’s how.

Coldness creeps into my veins. “There, all done, dear. You can go back to sleep now.”

I don’t speak back to her. I would if I could; I’m not rude. But after the stroke I suffered on my ninety ninth birthday last year my mouth forgot how to work. The light fades. I pray as always that I don’t wake up again.

“Morning, Mrs Jones. Breakfast is served.” I’m still alive then. I lay perfectly still, pretend I don’t know she’s there; Julie, the day nurse, who’s come to pump liquid food into my stomach tube, to keep me alive for another day. I know it’s her because of the coconut shampoo she always uses. It’s revolting. She pushes open the curtains before she leaves.

When I’m sure no-one else is there I open my eyes. It takes a while for them to focus properly. On the table next to my bed is a large white envelope addressed to me, Mrs E P Jones, in big swirly black writing. It wasn’t there yesterday. A miniature portrait of our Queen sits in the top right hand corner.  I call it that because I cannot remember its proper name. I guess it’s a birthday card. I wonder who it’s from. I can’t reach out for it because, as I said already, things gave up working after the stroke.

Tomorrow is my one hundredth birthday. Seventh born to Arthur Drake the butcher and his tired wife Gladys, married to Stanley Jones the baker boy at eighteen, pregnant with twins at nineteen and widowed at twenty two, I never thought I’d ever reach such a milestone. A stamp! That’s what it’s called. My eyelids, heavy with time, start to droop. I pray I don’t wake up again.

“Hey, love, time for a quick wash, just a cat’s lick an’ a promise today, eh. No-one’ll know.” This one doesn’t smell so I open my eyes. Her back’s turned. She’s rinsing out a flannel. “Oh, you’re awake,” she says, now smiling down at me, hand raised, waiting. The tiny dot of a stud in her nose winks at me as it reflects in the light. Cubic zirconia, I guess. There’s no way she could afford a real diamond.  I want to tell her to go away, to leave me to die, not to care for me. I try to convey this through a furrowing of my brow and a really cold hard stare but she doesn’t notice. Instead she just waits for me to close my eyes again so she can wash my face. I conform. Silent tears slip down my face. I pray I don’t wake up again.

The day carries on in much the same way, as always: Lunch, tea, supper. It’s all the same, because I can’t taste any of it. I keep my eyes shut when someone tucks me in for the night and pray I don’t wake up again.

The brightness of the light above my head coming on filters through my closed eyelids, paper thin with age.

“It’s all right, Elsie love, I’ve just come to do your medicine.”

It’s midnight.

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Faber Academy Course – Week 4

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Fourth week in of the online Faber Academy course brings me to the half way point and already I’m wishing it was longer.

This week it’s all about setting and atmosphere.

To be honest I cheated a little this week – instead of writing a new piece to post to the discussion forum I used my current WIP’s opening page. It just felt too good an opportunity to miss to get it out there to seek others reactions. I was rather nervous, but as ever feedback was good and gratefully received.

If you fancy taking a look and letting me know your thoughts also that would be great!

 

 

Middle House 

It was called Middle House because that’s where it stood. Although saying that it wasn’t actually in the middle of the road, more nestled in the middle of a cluster of decrepit old houses, all huddled together around a small grass square. Set back from the road and built right into the side of a steeply pitched hill, it made the bedroom windows at the back lead straight out onto the sloped rear garden.

      It was the sort of house you drew as a child. Detached, with four perfectly square windows; one in each corner, of course. A grey tiled roof complete with chimney pot perched on top, and a wooden gate at the front with a path that lead you straight up to the front door finished the picture.

      Except this one was more than just a house.

      The first day I set eyes on it I knew it was no ordinary house, and I was only twelve years old. It just looked, well, it looked at me. Every other house I’d ever seen before in my short life, had never looked at me, but this one did.

      “Come on, Jess love, you’re the only one small enough to fit through the window and you can just run through the house quick and open the front door, yes?” my mother said, nodding at me and smiling, willing me to just do it. But I didn’t smile back. I didn’t want to be squeezed through the broken window at the side of the derelict old house and have to try and find my way through its cold, dark empty hallways to open the front door. I wanted to go home.

       Except we didn’t really have a home any more, because we all four currently lived squeezed into the not very spacious spare bedroom of the people we called Auntie and Uncle, but they weren’t really. Everyone seemed to have those sorts of ‘relatives’ years ago, don’t seem to hear of them so much nowadays, though. We’d moved in with them when Mum left Dad.

      “No-one’ll know, go on, just be fast, Jess, to the door, and then we can all go in and have a look about can’t we,” said my ‘Auntie’ Jane, with the same nod and smile that mum had just given me. A dank, musty smell crept out of the broken pane of glass and wafted itself under my nose. I swallowed hard.

       The thought of going into that house made my stomach churn, four times. When we’d come around the corner to it a few moments earlier, and it had stared at me the way it did, I had wanted to run – fast – in the opposite direction. But now they wanted me to go inside of it, on my own!

      “Come on, Jess, please! We just want to have a look around, love. We get the keys next week. It’ll give us a chance to see what needs doing and that, before we move in.”

      What needed doing, Mum? I could tell you from standing right here right now what needed doing – it needed demolishing!

My Nan’s Old Desk.

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For as far back as I can remember this was my nan’s beautiful desk.

 

When I was a child we lived next door to each other in a house handed down through generations.

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In this photo of that house in Kent, the child is my nan, Marjorie, (born 1922) and the lady behind her is her mother, my great-grandmother, Grace.

 

 

 

 

Nan – early 1940’s.

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Years later when my brother and I came along, my nan and granddad moved in to the semi-detached house next door and our new little family moved in with Grace. Something you don’t hear of much nowadays.

A hobbit sized door was knocked through in the back-to-back cupboards under the stairs, allowing us the freedom to go between the two houses whenever we liked.

Sadly this idyllic childhood came to end a decade later when my parents divorced and we moved away.

More years flew by and we all changed homes but still saw each other often. In 2003 my own daughter was born.

When my nan died in 2011 I was devastated. She’d always been such a huge part of my life and suddenly she was gone. Heart broken didn’t cover it.

We then had the soul destroying task of selling her bungalow and all its furnishings as Granddad had already left us years earlier. We sold many things but I simply couldn’t imagine parting with her beloved desk so I brought it back, contents and all, to my own house and tucked it away in the garage.

Recent  changes made me suggest we change our now hardly used third bedroom into an office. My husband loved the idea. We just needed a desk to go in it. But hey, we had one just waiting outside, right?

So, we brought Nan’s lovely old desk into the house. Unfortunately all the drawers had swollen with damp and were stuck shut.  It took a week of drying out but eventually one budged and then all the rest came free, too.

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Amongst the usual desk paraphernalia we also found some other, very interesting things.12721695_1317375918279999_1661180503_n Unfortunately now, though, we have no-one to ask about their history.

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It’s nice to know there were some good times through the bad ones.

This week we cleaned and polished and moved Nan’s old desk into its new home, in ours. 12659771_1315791505105107_554736758_nI think it looks right at home and I’m sure my lovely nan would agree.

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Faber Academy Course – Week 3

 

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Third week in of the online Faber Academy writing course and I’m really getting stuck in. 

This week it was all about character. The task I chose to post to the forum was a character sketch of someone I knew. I struggled with this at first because the picture that jumped instantly into my head was of someone I didn’t know, and she just wouldn’t go away. So I wrote about her. Mary. She must be real somewhere in the world, though, right?

Feedback started to arrive. Always the scary part. Thankfully my piece was liked, but as per previous week’s posts opinions on certain words were divided. One person’s favourite line was another’s suggestion to drop! Proving again that writing is such a subjective business and we simply cannot possibly please everyone.

It’s so encouraging to read people’s comments about your work and it’s thrilling to be able to tell others the same about theirs. Week four starts tomorrow and I’m itching to get my hands on it already.

In the meantime, here’s Mary.

 

                                                                     Mary

Black roots seeping down the centre of her dyed blonde hair is always the first thing that lurches to mind when I think of Mary. Next comes the swirl of the foul smelling cigarette smoke as it curls its way up her face and into her ever squinting eyes. I don’t remember the exact colour of them. Her eyes, I mean.  Maybe that’s because they were never open for long. When they were closed you could see just how much baby blue eyeshadow she’d smeared on that morning without using a mirror. And gaze in disbelief at the great smear of blood red lipstick she’d plastered on at the same time. Thick, sticky lipstick that always pooled into a gloopy mess at the corners of her mouth by the end of the day. Not a pretty sight, I’m sure you’d agree. But she didn’t seem to care.

“If no-one don’t bleeding well like me then that’s their problem, it aint mine. I don’t give a flying fox crap what anyone else thinks of me, they can all go to hell for all I care.” She didn’t have many friends. Not a surprise really.

Her body was thin and wiry, not one you’d want to cuddle up to.  Years of existing on caffeine and alcohol did that to a person, I guess. If she did ever attempt physical contact it was probably because she was drunk. Although saying that she did have an affectionate side to her because she loved the next door neighbour’s dog; often squeezing cocktail sausages through the broken section of fence for it when the owners were out. If the other side’s neighbour’s cat dared to stray into the garden, however, she’d send it on its way with a well landed boot to its ginger backside.

Mary’s favourite time of day was the evening when all the terrible soaps were on the tele. One after the other she’d watch them, through a haze of cigarette smoke and gin fumes. When the last one finished she’d slump back in her chair and fall asleep. Sometimes I threw a blanket over her; depending on whether she’d been nice to me or not really.

Sometimes she offered me food, other times she didn’t even speak to me. Sometimes she’d pat me on the back and say “You ain’t that bad really, I suppose.” This was a compliment, you understand. Other times she’d kick me swiftly in the shin when I wasn’t looking and say “Get out of the way you useless sod.”

I don’t know if she regretted some of the ways she’d lived her life, I never got to ask her, because one chilly February morning I found her dead in her chair; TV still blaring out and next doors cat asleep on her lap, purring. Even though I was only ten at the time I knew instantly that she’d died because her face had turned grey under all her hideous make up.  All that said I did still love her, though. She was my mother after all.

Faber Academy Course – Week 2

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Second week in of the online course and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.

This week it was all about POV – writing in first person, second person, third person. Personally I tend to write in my preferred first person so this exercise really helped pushed me that bit further than I’d push myself.

All of the virtual classmates were asked to chose from a selection of ideas to work with. I chose The Surprise in the Kitchen. We were asked to write 300 words in one person and then change it to another. Once happy with our work we post it to the forum where other classmates can read and comment on it. The swapping of feedback is fantastic for seeing the good and bad in your own work that you just can’t see yourself.

Here are my 300 words. I wrote it in my usual, comfortable, first person and then changed it to third. Personally I much preferred the first. Some agreed with me, saying the emotion for the reader is much closer in first. Others, however, disagreed. I’ll leave you to decide for yourself.

 

First person – The Surprise in the Kitchen

When I opened my eyes on that chilly Tuesday morning I didn’t realise there was a surprise waiting for me downstairs in the kitchen. I’d thought it was going to be a Tuesday morning like any other. But I was wrong.

Wrapping my pink fluffy dressing gown around me like a warm hug I padded softly to the bathroom with a yawn and a stretch; my usual routine. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom step of the stairs and smelled something peculiar I realised that Tuesday morning was going to be very different from any other indeed.

For a brief moment I stopped and closed my eyes. Was I still asleep? Still dreaming? “No,” my toes told me, as they squirmed in the thick carpet.

I tiptoed through the dining room before reaching the bright yellow room that was my kitchen. Sunshine beamed in at me through the small square window like the Cheshire cat, blinding me at first.

As I turned to follow my nose – to the smell – I saw him. Curled up on the door mat, like a hibernating hedgehog was Dinky; my little sausage dog. I loved that funny shaped animal so much. Just seeing him there made my heart rise and fall. He can’t have heard me creep in. Snuffly snores escaped him as his soft brown body rose and fell like my heart had. I stood and stared at him.

Not daring to move any closer (just in case), I shut my eyes once more and breathed in his musty scent. He must’ve been in the duck pond again, I thought.  An image of me dragging him out with a net, covered in soggy green weed sprang into my head. The memory of it pushed tears out of my tightly closed eyes. I knew when I opened them again he’d be gone, so I stayed very still until the smell disappeared completely. As I knew it would, because Dinky had died many years ago.

 

Third person – The Surprise in the Kitchen

When she opened her eyes on that chilly Tuesday morning she didn’t realise there was a surprise waiting for her downstairs in the kitchen. She’d thought it was going to be a Tuesday morning like any other. But she was wrong.

Wrapping her pink fluffy dressing gown around her like a warm hug she padded softly to the bathroom with a yawn and a stretch; her usual routine. It wasn’t until she reached the bottom step of the stairs and smelled something peculiar she realised that Tuesday morning was going to be very different from any other indeed.

For a brief moment she stopped and closed her eyes. Was she still asleep? Still dreaming? “No,” her toes told her, as they squirmed in the thick carpet.

She tiptoed through the dining room before reaching the bright yellow room that was her kitchen. Sunshine beamed in at her through the small square window like the Cheshire cat, blinding her at first.

As she turned to follow her nose – to the smell – she saw him. Curled up on the door mat, like a hibernating hedgehog was Dinky; her little sausage dog. She loved that funny shaped animal so much. Just seeing him there made her heart rise and fall. He can’t have heard her creep in. Snuffly snores escaped him as his soft brown body rose and fell like her heart had. She stood and stared at him.

Not daring to move any closer (just in case), she shut her eyes once more and breathed in his musty scent. He must’ve been in the duck pond again, she thought.  An image of her dragging him out with a net, covered in soggy green weed sprang into her head. The memory of it pushed tears out of her tightly closed eyes. She knew when she opened them again he’d be gone, so she stayed very still until the smell disappeared completely. As she knew it would, because Dinky had died many years ago.