A Guest Writer – Mike Jenkins

This Wednesday the 20th March  a guest author came for what I thought would be a reading… Except he ran a workshop.

Before I get into that though I need to tell you who Mike Jenkins (www.mikejenkins.net) is.  He is a poet and author. He has performed at the Hay Festival and the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, and now (more importantly *cough*) at Trinity Saint David.

He read from his book ‘The Climbing Tree’ a young adults dystopian novel and then we got to have a go. To have three goes in fact so I’ve popped them below. I must admit though I love the genre. Disasters and dystopian writing is something I enjoy reading and writing.

The first piece:

My prompt was – forced to live underground

It started with a girl, a boy and a pram. There was a baby in it and the parents seemed to have walked a long way. The boy knocked. And Jack answered. It was then that I got a good look at him, he was young. I was calling him a boy but really he was a man, after all, he had a partner and a child.  He asked Jack for a space to sleep but Jack just shook his head. He even asked to stay in the caravan during the day.

“You can’t,” Jack said. “You’ll cook.”

“We’ll cook outside too,” the man countered.

Jack sighed and looked out the door, a the dusty dry landscape. “Okay,” he said finally, “but tomorrow you gotta move into the community shelter.”

The man smiled and ushered his wife in. Which is why at sunrise we all found ourselves in the old Andersen shelter, crammed in like sardines. At least the pram had been left in the house and I was glad Charlie, my dog, had already passed from old age, otherwise he would have been locked outside. There just wasn’t enough room.

The next one was – the power goes out

The power went out, suddenly. Damn it, I thought, not wanting to speak aloud. Just in case someone answered. Silly, I’m alone, sat in my chair in the living room. But the dark is so absolute and the silence…

Nothing. No hum of electricity or clunk from the fridge as it tries to keep the food at a bacteria hindering temperature. A low whine echoes and I jump. “It’s okay Frank,” I say to my dog, a brown tufty creature of indeterminable breed. “You wait. It’ll come back on in a minute.”

So we sit. Him nestled up against my leg body shaking with fear, like he is so cold he can’t help it. I reach out a hand and pat him, relishing the comfort from his solid form and wiry texture. “It’ll be back on soon.” Still we wait.

It must have been at least half an hour. I’m going to move. Okay can’t remember where I put the candles. Inspiration comes and I tut to myself. Silly. Reaching I stretch to my mobile phone. I look at it. Odd. Why? “Well, that’s odd.” I say and I can feel Frank turn to look at me. “It’s the phone. It says there is no signal.” Frank huffs in agreement at this strangeness. The phone might be useless for calling for help but in such a dark room the little screen lights up like a small sun. I turn it out into the room and Frank is immediately illuminated, his brown eyes looking concerned. “Not to worry. Everything is fine. It’s just a power cut.”

And the last we had to work in a dialect – this I did but not too well, dialect is not my forte.

I drove into work. The gate was open which was really srange. No dogs littered the yard like discarded teabags and Jack’s car was was the wrong way round. It meant he’d been out. He never went out. He used to delight in telling us that running a dog kennels was a full time business, he even worked on Christmas day. So where had he been?

Pulling he car up next to his; the bonnet disappearing under a reaching magnolia tree I turned the radio off. Silence. No dogs. I got out and locked the door, and then shut the gate. There ought to have been more noise.

The yard was shaped like a horseshoe with barns and sheds butting up to the farmhouse. It’s there that I took off toward, my feet scrunching on the gravel. The door was open and I pushed it, forcing it beyond the lifted tiles.

“Jack?” I don’t hear anything but upstairs I think I can just about make out the creak of a stair. “Jack?”

“Here, I’m commin,” a voice said, gruff and raw.

“You okay?”

“Aye lass,” he said coming into view. His usual pink shirt was unbuttoned to his waist and his belt an old dog lead. The trousers were a well worn tweed.

“The gate was open.”

Jack nodded and shuffled over. His white hair sparse on his head and his shoulders stooped. When had he gotten old?

“I went out to the doctors,” he paused and put a hand on the back of a chair. “Now, you’re not to worry but I got angina.”

“Angina?” I said my voice too high. “What does that mean?”

So they are my three pieces and I love the middle one. Thinking about expanding it into a short story for the masters.

A Guest Writer – Rati Saxena

So this Tuesday gone – the 19th March – I wandered up to the Carmarthen campus to listen to Rati Saxena ( http://www.boloji.com/writers/ratisaxena.htm) . I wasn’t sure how this would work as she is a Hindi poet. But I also found out that she is also a translator, scholar and runs kritya (www.kritya.in).

She has written four collections of poetry and it is these she read from. I don’t understand Hindi but as she varied her voice and tone I was able to feel joy, sadness, fear and anger. There were translations that were read as well but I looked forward to the Hindi readings. She is a true performance poet.

Screenwriting 4

Well, it turns out that screenwriting is far harder than I would have thought. It’s not what you put in but rather what you leave out. I’ve written a scene where a woman is abused by her husband (nasty I know but he does die in scene four).

Anyway, she is being beaten… Do I show it? Or more importantly, can I write it?

Turns out I couldn’t. In fact, I didn’t even try, there was no point. Such a dramatic, emotional and action led scene wouldn’t have worked with my ham-fisted attempt. Nor did I think I could do it justice. So I didn`t. Instead I closed the door – literally. I left the camera outside and introduced the son. I kept it trained on his face while the audience only heard the noise of what was occuring in the bathroom. The result was effective and worked.

Then I did a boo-boo. I let the husband leave while the wife remained on the floor of the bathroom. Not that the audience knows that. Instead they hear movement and a hand clutches at the door.

At this point my support worker was in stitches – I’d written a hammer horror, even down to the bloody claw like hand… So I went back to the drawing board.

Now the audience sees only a blood smeared hand on a white tile. I think it may still be reminiscent of those hammer films, but it works better.

Then, again, I made another mistake… I followed this scene with the discovery of a body. My lecturer noted this and said, “No! Too much tension.”

So I’ve had to do some fill in scenes. And it has worked. Honestly the script is so much better that I’m over the moon.

Wish me luck with the next section…

And I’ve got to decide what genre it is… mystery, crime, romance, comedy… Where exactly are my characters going?

Sleep deprivation

This is short story that I wrote for the course. Enjoy….

Sleep Deprivation

He looked at Sylvia’s face. Her snoring had woken him again. It was arrogant kind of snoring. Her face was soft still, not much lined but it made an appalling noise; the kind of noise which, in the dark of night made you consider mortality and the hopelessness of imagining it might mean anything. John rolled onto his side and jammed the pillow over one ear. It didn’t help. The snoring rumbled through the bed making him feel the vibration. “Jesus”, he mumbled into the mattress. There was no way he could take any more. “Sylvia, turn over,” he said looking over his shoulder at the hateful form. Dutifully she did and for a brief moment there was no snoring.

Perfect, he thought and started to settle. He could feel his limbs become leaden and his eyes started to close as sleep claimed him. As he started to slip into oblivion he heard a car pull up. In it was Sylvia, but not the woman lying next to him, no, instead he saw the girl he had fallen in love with. Her rich brown hair fell to her waist and was tangled and wind-blown, she was a sight to behold. “I’m going to marry you,” John cried and she smiled. Her sky blue eyes were so deep he felt them see into his very soul. Moving closer he touched her cheek. “I love you.” Again she smiled and he glimpsed the quick whiteness of her perfect teeth. He placed a hand on her waist and felt the familiar way she fit, her slimness and firmness a forgotten sensation. “I really do love you,” he whispered as he leaned in to kiss her plump youthful lips. Her mouth parted in expectation and just as he touched her a roar sounded. Startled he jumped back and looked around. He appeared to be in the local haunt he once took Sylvia to, the place they had first made out and where he had got to second base. The roar sounded again and he turned slowly to Sylvia. She was still sitting on the bench she had once sat on as he declared his love, but as he watched she opened her mouth. It continued to open until it had stretched to the point any human jaw could open, except it carried on, hollowing her cheeks and making her eyes stare widely. From her mouth came a noise that stopped his heart and froze the very blood in his body. “Sylvia?” he called but she didn’t respond. Instead the noise got louder and began to be overlaid with a scream, a high-pitched scream.

John threw himself out of bed still screaming and the noise was still there. Standing in nothing but a pair of boxers he looked at Sylvia, snoring and creating that noise. He shivered and wondered about going back to bed. “What’s the point?” he asked himself and hugged his arms around his chest, trying to get a little warmth as his sweat dried on his skin. There really was no point, it looked like he’d managed to get a massive half hour but Sylvia’s snoring could not be stopped. Turning from the bed he snatched his dressing-gown from the back of the door and walked out. Amazing really that she hadn’t woken from the scream, but then, once asleep nothing woke her. “Cow.”

He shuffled down the hall trying to think of anything but sleep, there was no way he was getting any more, not tonight. It wasn’t fair how she got a full night and yet he had to exist on barely two hours a night. It had been years since he’d had a good night sleep but lately she’d got worse. Sometimes John hoped that she had sleeep-apnea and then not wake up. “Please,” he whined into the cold empty kitchen.

A cup of coffee, that’s what he needed. Getting out the coffee he pulled open the drawer to get a small spoon and stopped. There, sitting next to the teaspoons, were the knives and in particular the large butcher knife. He could take that and one swipe of his arm and her throat would be cut. Then he could sleep and she wouldn’t make that noise. John stared at his hand and reached out to grasp the handle of the knife. It wouldn’t take long, but… he thought of the mess. There would be no way he could sleep in the bed, the blood would be everywhere. No if he was going to kill Sylvia it would have to be less messy. Replacing the knife he picked up a teaspoon and closed the drawer. If he was to go about planning the killing, then how could he do it? John made his coffee and stirred. Poison? No that would just take too long. Stabbing was out… What about strangulation? Except he would have to lift her head enough to slip a rope or tie or something around the back. His hands weren’t strong enough to just use them, so he would have to use something and that wouldn’t work as Sylvia would wake and hit him, probably thinking he wanted to do “that thing.” John sighed; he would have to think of something else.

Taking his coffee he walked to the kitchen table and sat down, wincing as the cold plastic hit the back of his legs. Honestly, it was like being back at school. He had wanted the wooden set but the darling wife had decided that plastic was more ‘in’ and anyway “it was wipe down so she could clean up silly mistakes.” Then she had tittered, no woman of her size and formidable character ought to titter. God, sometimes he truly hated her. So, stabbing, poisoning, and strangling were out… what else? John took a sip of coffee and thought. Then he had it. There was only one way left.

Smother, he would smother her with her favourite pillow in the nasty floral pattern. Not the nice plain patterning he wanted but some loud pink and purple flower affair, nasty. If he used the lounge cushion then he could put it back after. Perhaps he could tell them it was sleep-apnea. Perhaps they wouldn’t even ask. Taking a big gulp of coffee John wandered into the lounge, the nasty beige lounge with the nasty pink velour sofa. He would get leather, brown leather with real wood trimming. Smiling he picked up the ‘favourite’ cushion and walked toward the bedroom. In the back of his mind a small voice suggested that it wasn’t a good idea to kill his wife, but the louder voice told him of the sleepless nights and her loud aggressive voice calling him a “lazy shit”. No the cow had brought this on herself.

John moved into the bedroom and for a moment paused. Should he finish his coffee first? But then he looked at the sleeping form of his wife and a rage filled him completely. People say you see red if you become so angry that you lose all sense and for John it was the same but only for a moment. He came to his senses looking down at her with the pillow posed above her head. He must have moved quietly otherwise she would have woken.

John stopped and listened. Nothing. No sound. No snoring and if he listened hard… He couldn’t even hear her breathing. “No Shit!” John leaned over his wife and placed a hand on her neck feeling for a pulse. Nothing, but then was he feeling in the right place? Putting down the pillow he pinched her nose together and covered her mouth with his hand. She didn’t struggle or try to knock his hand away. Silently he counted in his head… he hit ten and removed his hand. Turning on the light next to the bed he jumped back as his wife suddenly snapped into focus. She lay on her back with her eyes open, staring at the ceiling. John grinned. “Sylvia… Sweetie? You okay?” He paused and shook her. Laughing he shook her harder. “Sweetie? You dead?”

Still laughing John went around the bed and got into the other side. Curling around his now cooling and obliging wife John closed his eyes. As sleep took him he laid a kiss on her neck. “Night, beautiful. I’ll get you help in the morning.”

Screenwriting 3

I’ve changed my idea, the other one just wasn’t working. It was a decent enough story, a child’s fantasy, but it just didn’t have ‘legs’. There was very little way of putting in a subplot and exploring the intricacies of screenwriting. So out went the child’s film and in comes the adult drama. I’m actually enjoying it. Even if it is harder to write.

To make atmosphere and mood without getting into a characters head is very difficult. Every now and then all I want to do is to write about what the character is thinking but I can’t because all the screenplay is about is action and dialogue. So how do you create tension? I’ve been thinking about it as I’ve got to write a scene that introduces the film and must show why the storyline is so scary. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a horror but more of a thriller and murder mystery.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to use:

  • the place – creepily tidy… so something appears off.
  • the actions of the character – the antagonist must scare the protagonist and the audience.
  • the over-reaction of the antagonist – something small will haven and he will over-react creating an over-wrought situation.
  • the fear of the protagonist

I don’t want to give the story away but lets just say he is not very nice to her. Anyway it is particularly difficult – so I’m off to write it now… Wish me luck.

Saffron

This is my version of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ as worked from the breakdown I posted the other day.

Saffron

She runs, hardly able to see. The darkness around her is oppressive and bears down on her like a presence, always watching. She stumbles and falls to her knees, smelling the damp decay of the rotting leaves, sobbing as the foul mud oozes between her fingers. Trying to stay silent she pants her distress, listening for any pursuit. Finally she hears a crash behind her and the rumble of a growl so low and near that her blood freezes in her veins. Getting to her feet she winces as she places her weight on her right leg. Her knee is twisted. Limping, she realises that she has lost her sandal, the same one’s she had argued with her mother about that morning.

“You can’t wear them,” her mother had screamed at her.

Saffron had just sneered and walked out of the house.

“They aren’t suitable for the woods,” her mother had called out.

Now, having lost one and feeling the sharp undergrowth cutting into her sole, she wished she had listened, wished she had not gone into the wood and that she was back home. Instead she had done something bad, so very wrong and now they were after her.

She had found a house in the wood. Truthfully she was meant to be visiting a sickly aunt, eating cake and drinking too-sweet tea, but there had been a different path and she had no wish to sit in a dusty parlour smelling of old lavender, so she had followed it. The house had been quaint and cute, made of hewn wood and with flowered curtains at the windows. She had quickly found it locked but a stone and a good arm had sent glass tinkling to the floor and Saffron inside. She decided to have a good look round, she might even see a few valuables.

Unfortunately there hadn’t been any treasure but she had found food and a bed. She really hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she had. And then they had come home.

As soon as the door had crashed open she knew there was something strange. Everyone in the village had told her about the monsters, hairy beasts that stood like men and would kill those who trespassed in their wood.

“Never take the left path,” people would whisper, but Saffron had forgotten. Why would she even bother to listen to the ordinary people? She was too beautiful to come to harm. Her father had always told her she was his little princess.

Now, limping though the mud, her golden hair hanging about her in limp rats-tails and her clothes in tatters, Saffron truly wished she had listened. She wished she were anywhere but in this wood.

Behind her she heard a snuffle and a low laugh. “Little girl, I can smell your fear.” The voice was close. Too close. Trying to increase her pace she turned sharply.

Behind her the child watched the stumbling girl. He never quiet understood why the pretty ones were so evil. His mum called them monsters and now this one had eaten their meal for today. He watched her stumble forward and slam into a tree. The sound was like a bat striking a barrel. She fell back, unmoving but with her eyes open. He walked over and stood above her looking down.

Saffron couldn’t see. She could only hear. She heard the thing come over and stand next to her. Just before she fell into a dark quiet place in her mind she heard the creature call out.

“Mummy. Daddy,” the child called. “I found her.”