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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Summer Pursuits

It's been a trying time. We tried to be helpful by agreeing to open up the field we rent for our ponies as a temporary car-park. This was to help the owners of said field, who were celebrating a family wedding at their home. Could the overspill of guests use the field for their cars? Of course, we said. How lovely. But we didn't realise the guests would leave the field-gate open all night! From 5am, so we are told, our pony and another he egged on from a neighbouring field trotted gleefully around the village.
They found their way into a farmer's field and nibbled ten new bales of hay. The packaging was ruined and the damp getting in. The owner of the other pony was cross with ours, who was the certain ringleader. And the farmer was fed-up with everyone, understandably. As the ponies were too full of hay and high spirits to be chastened, the two men got cross with each other instead!
Hubby had to act as peacemaker while catching our (exceptionally pleased with himself) pony and mending fences in every sense of the word.
Middle daughter made a notice for the field-gate requesting any remaining wedding-guests to please not open it, walk in and excite the ponies any more. As she attached the notice, four adults strolled past her, went in and proceeded to do just that! Whatever happened to the Country Code? I remember in the sixties/seventies seeing the reminders on television about closing gates.
Meanwhile our neighbours are replacing a fence and the removal of the old one has caused the boldest of our chickens, improbably named Spiffy-Peaches, to get excited and venture through the resulting gaps. Our small kitten, recently allowed to begin exploring the great outdoors, is amazingly not fazed by the chicken, despite being a third of her size. She is thrilled at the hunting opportunity presented by a plump, but small-brained bird on the ground. Hubby had to canter down the garden and rescue Spiffy-Peaches twice yesterday while he was trying to work. Thankfully, Coop, Bernhardt and Kevin Kiev are less adventurous.
I have seen one beautiful daughter graduate - what a wonderful day that was; another beautiful daughter pass her driving test (waiting for her in the test centre with the real driving-instructors gave me a lot of short story ideas) and a third beautiful daughter go off to a week's residential novel-writing course for ages fourteen to sixteen. She has a story published in an anthology, Objection To Perfection, published by Gentlemen Press, and full of pieces by young writers aged thirteen to twenty-one. So, feeling proud of them all, I'm fluffing up my feathers in a style reminiscent of Spiffy before she encountered the kitten and started jogging back up the garden.
In between animal escapades and motherly pride, I have read The Colour Of Milk by Nell Leyshon. I really enjoyed this little novel. It's very quick to read if you don't have much time and is so moving. The language is spare and direct, which adds further shades of grey (I didn't mean to say that) to the bleakness of the narrator's life. I thought I would be annoyed by the lack of capitals at the beginning of sentences. But it was appropriate for the narrator to write in that way and not distracting after all. And for me it was a good lesson in pared-down writing and how effective and emotive that can be.
I'm also looking forward to reading The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, which is long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and published by saltpublishing.com. They are running some short story competitions at the moment, which I have been busy entering. I've read an excerpt of The Lighthouse and really enjoyed Alison's style and voice.
Tomorrow, all being quiet in the garden and field, I start the first read-through of my own novel. This will be the day I read it as a reader, a very critical one who is easily bored by unnecessary description, tedious dialogue, rambling plots that go nowhere, characters who don't leap from the page and repetition of ideas in case the reader didn't get it the first time a hint was dropped. I know I can be guilty of all these in a first draft and I don't want to let any of it slip through the net. Or through the fence. Or out of the gate.
So I shall be ruthless and harsh. I won't correct typos etc., since they might occur in parts that I'll delete eventually. I'll cringe at the silly mistakes, gritting my teeth as I leave them where they are for now, and just note where the massive, sweeping changes need to be made. And I'll let you know how it goes. By the end of the summer, I hope I'll have made some real progress with it.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Tale Of The Unexpected

I enjoyed a lovely morning at Henbury School in Bristol yesterday, watching a Year Ten art class and chatting to the students as they worked. The group was given an entire day to devote to their project - individual pieces based on images from my story, Struthio Camelus.

This story featured in the 2010 Bristol Short Story Prize anthology and is a surreal tale about a man metamorphosing into an ostrich during a job interview. As well as amazing depictions of the metamorphosis, they also picked out all sorts of other details, showing a good understanding of the story.

I saw St. Bernard dogs, the Branch of the Year trophy, the company tie, the office safe, the ostrich-feet bursting through the hapless man's brogues, Emily the hapless bride's wedding-dress (one of these was a collage made from bank-notes) and the interviewer sitting at his desk surrounded by the cheese-plant and the hat-stand mentioned in the story.

They used a variety of media and techniques: paints, inks, collage, pencil and pastels. Every student had their own ideas, yet they all helped and supported one another. Their teacher, John Bennett, was inspiring and enthusiastic. He worked so well with them while also encouraging them to think for themselves and follow through their ideas.

I had a wonderful time. All the students were happy to answer all my questions and let me examine their work. They were so polite and enthusiastic, a credit to their school. All their work will be displayed at the ShortStoryVille festival in Bristol on Saturday 14th July and a recording of me reading the story will (hopefully, if I can work out how to email it) be playing in the background.

I never imagined being involved in anything as amazing as that when I dreamed up this strange little story about how the things we expect to go one way, in a straightforward direction, often divert us off course in a way we could not have envisaged. The other theme is that we should never underestimate what others might know about us, or plan to do with us, given the chance!

In a nutshell, anything can happen any time. And often when you least expect it.