‘The air so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great….’ – On the Road, Jack Kerouac
This short story is inspired by the American poet and novelist Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), whose writing was so wonderfully descriptive and emotive, called ‘spontaneous prose.’ He was a pioneer for the Beat Generation that included Allen Ginsberg and William S, Burroughs. I personally love his novel On the Road, which is based around his travels across the US and his encounters with jazz, drink, drugs, and poetry.
Brunswick Street is a nod to his literary genius:
The tram rumbles on behind us as we hurry down the street, passing noisy school children, chattering away like monkeys. They have on matching hats and jackets in a deep green, like newly mowed lawns, against the drab grey pavement. Someone bumps my elbow, and I turn around, feeling irritated. It’s a young child, no more than two years old, holding a toy in his arms. He grins up – a toothy grin that ‘s endearing – as he points a chubby finger behind him, to his mother.
‘Sorry,’ she says, a pale, thin young woman wrapped up in a yellow sweater and colored scarf. ‘He’s being a rascal today.’
‘Not at all,’ I say, watching as she hurries down the street, her flowing skirt picking up the gusty wind.
There’s a flash of purple and red as another woman brushes past me. This one has a mass of dark curls that bob in the pale sunshine. Clunky Doc Martin boots in a deep red that my daughter would kill for.
‘Come on, love or we’ll be late,’ says a voice in my ear. ‘He’ll want us to catch him.’
My husband is not the most tolerable of men and I can see by the frown lines across his forehead that he’s not in his comfort zone. I nod in reply, as we reach the corner of the street.
There’s a window on my left, full of musical instruments. All shapes and sizes; gleaming trumpets and oboes, a piano propped up neatly in the corner, a rack filled with guitars. A neon light flashes above us, even though its broad daylight. I can smell years of songsheets and leafed books as we make our way down a set of steps; suddenly we are plunged into darkness.
There’s a burly-looking man stood in front of a door. Its open and I can see tables and chairs set around a stage. Dim lighting coming from the recesses, somewhere.
I’m nudged forward, through the door and past the bouncer who smells of mints and cheap cologne.
I smooth down my dress, pat my hair self consciously. The music, a dull throb a moment ago, hits us, full on.
‘Sit down, I’ll get us a drink.’ I’m alone a moment, allowed to take in the atmosphere.
Then the lights become like candles, giving off an eerie glow. The stage is cloaked in sooty blackness. A spotlight appears, aimed at the figure on the stage. A young man is intent on the guitar he’s holding.
Something wicked this way comes” – William Shakespeare 1564-1616
On this day – 23 April 1616 – William Shakespeare was born and also died. The date of his birth is under contention, but he was baptized on the 26 April, and tradition then meant a baby was to be baptized a few days after their birth. The day of his death though is today.
So, if tradition is right, he died on his birthday!
Shakespeare is regarded as the greatest writer that has ever lived. He was a poet, a playwright, an essayist, and an actor, and his plays include Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear, to name but a few.
I have Macbeth on my bedside at the moment, for my Master’s thesis is on the Witch figure in literature, which has to include the iconic Three Sisters, the witches at the start of the play.
In respect of Shakespeare’s contribution to Literature – for which I will be forever grateful – here’s a short story in memory of his name.
They’d fallen in love almost instantly. Mary hadn’t wanted it to happen, she’d wanted a career, maybe travel a while. But the sound of Robert’s baritone voice, enrapturing audiences, from the matinee through to the shouts of ‘Bravo, bravo’ at night, had more than persuaded her. Robert was always surrounded by a gaggle of young women, each vying for his attention. He was the star of the show but had eyes only for her.
Robert had insisted they move in together, but Mary was not so sure. There was his wife to think of: Greta. They’d been separated years, he’d told her. It was a marriage in name only, but Greta was frail, almost on her death bed. Still, Mary felt apprehensive about the affair.
That was until they found a lovely place off the Thames Embankment. It had once been a manor house, in the heart of London, split into four apartments. There were ivy vines around every window and a brass knocker on the main front door. Sweet picture windows looked over the river and further down, if she squinted her eyes, she could see Tower Bridge. It was so convenient too, just minutes from the theatre, as the crow flies.
Mary loved their life together, the bijou apartment that she’d lovingly restored, adding her own style to the otherwise drab rental furniture. Robert had been left to sort out his other life; that was not her concern. Greta was to live in Cornwall, for the sea air would do her good. They could cozy up in London, a hundred or more miles away.
Why it was scarcely a sordid affair, she persuaded herself. They’d never hidden their love, instead had dined in all the best restaurants, had weekends trips to the country, taken numerous lunches with Robert’s theatre darlings.
The letter arrived just a few months afterward. Mary had been in the smart downstairs hallway and had just opened the communal mailbox. The letter had slipped out of her hands to rest on the shiny black and white tiled floor. She’d caught a whiff of something as it had fallen; something damp and guttural, like a damp meadow in the autumn. How strange, she mused, picking it up and tucking it in her handbag.
It was marked ‘Urgent’ and had a postscript from Cornwall. Mary’s heart had leaped into her throat at that. Nevertheless, she placed it on the drink’s cabinet, just inside their cozy living room, and started to prepare dinner. Thoughts of the letter were uppermost in her mind until Robert’s key sounded in the front door.
‘Hello, darling,’ Robert murmured softly, kissing her neck in a warm embrace. ‘How was your day?’
‘It was fine, darling,’ she replied. ‘I’ve got some asparagus from the markets and a rainbow trout.’
‘How splendid,’ he said, as she helped him with his overcoat. ‘You spoil me. Any post for me today?’
‘Why do you ask?’ she replied, hanging the coat in the hallway closet. Before closing the closet door, she checked the deep pockets of his coat then followed Robert into the living room. ‘A letter came today, as a matter of fact. It’s a Cornish postscript.’
‘Really? Oh, that’s nothing,’ he replied, grabbing her around the waist. ‘I can deal with that later.’
After dinner, Robert settled down with his newspaper. The letter remained untouched, right next to the sherry bottle. Mary tried not to look at it, picking at her knitting. She was making a lovely warm jumper for the winter evenings. Robert had recently started going out of an afternoon and without her. His alone time he’d told her, the first time she’d asked to go with him. He needed his space to think, to learn his lines. He was an actor after all; this was his life. She hadn’t minded in the least.
Next morning, and there was no sign of the letter. The sherry bottle sat, half empty, but alone, on the silver platter. And Robert had already gone to the theatre. Mary tidied up the dregs of the night before – the sherry bottle, the newspapers scattered on the floor. Her head felt woozy as she threw open the living room window.
The day greeted her; warm and sunny, with just a hint of winter. Mary leaned over the window sill, looking down at the street below.
‘Ouch!’ she said, pulling away. Her dressing gown had come loose, and her nightdress underneath gaped over the window. A sharp branch of the vine had scratched at her bosom, drawing a line of blood that had crept into the deep creamy curve of flesh. Another piece had wound its way around her wrist, almost holding her fast. Mary stepped back gagging as the putrid smell hit her – there it was again, the damp, dank stench of something rotting; dead leaves in a deep dark bog. She pushed at the branch as she tried to pull the window closed, but it had stuck fast to the sill.
‘That’s odd,’ she said, aloud. Her voice felt strange; deep, guttural and low. Not like her normal tone. Mary pulled at her dressing gown, twisting the branch free. Behind her, the pile of newspapers that she’d stacked, ready for the waste bin, fluttered, lifting in an imaginary breeze. They exposed a letter – the Cornish postmark!
Mary grabbed the envelope as the window slammed behind her. The smell hit her first; the stench unforgettable. The writing on the front was bold and black:
Take a look inside.
With her heart racing, she tore open the letter, searching inside. A document, as thin as parchment, inside. A death certificate.
Greta Mortensen. Born: 1949. Died: 1989. Cause of death: Unknown, but her body was found in woods near her home.
Further down, a scrawl of a signature that feathered along the bottom of the page, as if a small bird had settled there. Mary ran her fingers across it, the deep marks of the black ink.
Greta dead? How could this be?
‘Oh, Robert!’ she cried, placing fingers to her mouth. She tasted blood as she bit down. Then she heard the rustling, coming from the window. Mary turned around sharply as the window stood open, the vine reaching out, fingers thin and bony, searching for her throat. Mary screamed, pulling frantically at the ivy, but the tendrils were too hard, the vine too well established. The branches scratched at her face, wrapping themselves around her waist, her arms, her legs.
Later that day, when Robert returned from his daily ‘walk,’ he would find her. He would recoil at the guttural stench coming from their new apartment. He’d head for the window, wanting to rid it of the stench. There he would find his Mary. A body, hardly recognizable, wrapped in ivy.
We headed down to the coast this weekend. It was a matter of finding a spot of sunshine in between the rain showers! The Gold Coast is from one extreme to the other….weeks of drought, then downpours. The grass is grateful though and it all looks more alive after the intense dryness.
Here’s a couple of pictures taken around the coast. ..we stopped at an Irish pub on the Gold Coast highway that is dark and cosy after the brightness outside!
a story that revolves around the relationship between a boy and his dog
a tale set in a school for gifted children
The answer is NOTHING! But…they are all plot ideas, things that can start your novel. In order to move forward with your story ideas, you need –
a ‘problem’ that the character must face
the ‘problem’ – whatever it may be – is the drive that turns a good creative idea into a story. A story that will capture your reader, and enable them to turn those pages to the end of your story!
So, you want to write a romance set in King Lous X’ court in France. Who is your character? A society lady of the court, one who has her life already plotted out for her? Say she falls in love with a commoner? What does she do then?
All of these ‘problems’ that she faces are the driving forces of your story.
How can love win through in such adversity?
Once you decide WHO your character (or characters) are and then decide on the ‘problem’ they face, then it’s much easier to write your story.
Planning may be tiresome, and many creative writers (myself included!) like to have a vague outline of circumstances, the plot, and then let the ideas flow.
I’ve learned also that its good to have a few plans in place – then its easier to write your story. There’s nothing worse than having an idea fade away and you’re left with the dreaded Writer’s Block!
Keep a writing pad and pen next to you at all times! Many ideas are thought of in the local restaurant, squash game, or last thing at night – so bear that in mind.
As your plot idea progresses, add another event/circumstance/climax to the plot….then let it flow to the end of your story!
The best way to learn plot structure (and how another writer ‘fills in the gaps’ of a story)- is to READ! Read as much as you can of your favorite genre, for it will help you write that story. 🙂
Its St David’s day in Wales – that is, March 1st, a day when Welsh people send their children to school in traditional Welsh costume, looking as cute as buttons.
The costumes usually consist of (for the girls) : tweedy shawls, high stove hats with frills, long tweed skirts and pinafores with boots, and either have a daffodil or a leek pinned to their lapels. The boys wear Welsh rugby jerseys and sometimes tweedy flat caps ( which I recall get thrown around the playground by lunchtime!)
Its also a day for traditional Welsh fayre! So, with this in mind, I’ve baked a large batch of Welsh cakes (see pic below and my lovely little Welsh doll ).
Happy St David’s day, wherever you are!
On a creative note, I wrote over a 1,000 words of my thesis (due at the end of the year) that has my MC as a witch. Its toodling along nicely, thanks to heaps of reading material around – Ronald Hutton, Antonio Fraser, Tracy Borman – that have helped me get a sense of 16-17 century Europe.
The weather has cooled down considerably, which is fabulous.
Is it neat and tidy, everything in order, in its proper place? Or are there clothes on the floor, coffee stains on the table, and a layer of dust on the blinds?
Your environment can speak volumes about your personality. So too, with your characters!
(Personally, my writing room is a mixture or the two above descriptions – so I’m a part – neat- slobby writer, who needs to dust!)
All of the above details are important for character development. You as a writer are creating a person who has all the personality traits, quirks and mood swings as the rest of us!
So, the setting is as important as a character’s mood swing, or the plot lines. Why, do you ask? Because setting helps us understand the character, as an author and as a reader, that enables us to connect fully with the overall story. Readers want to feel that they know that character, and that includes the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!
Just by describing a room, a place, a vehicle, even the contents of a handbag – we are transported to that time, that place, in the story. It helps us understand the actions and events that our character will embark upon in its telling.
Take this paragraph from Stephen King’s Misery:
“She had gone out to do the chores. He heard the dim crunch of her footsteps on the snow. She went past his window wearing a parka with the hood up. Her breath plumed out, then broke apart on her moving face. She didn’t look in at him, intent on her chores in the barn, he supposed. Feeding the animals, cleaning the stalls, maybe casting a few runes – he wouldn’t put it past her. “
The MC, Paul Sheldon is describing the actions and setting outside his trapped bedroom. It aptly conveys his sense of isolation – the feeding of the farm animals – and his mood of despondency as he watches the world go by without him.
So, make a list of your character traits, quirks, physical descriptions.
Then, put them into a setting – is it an urban city? Or a rural, country setting?
A country setting evokes images of peace, tranquility, relaxation.
A city evokes images that are fast-paced, stressful, hard-edged.
So, mix it up a bit! Put your character into a country environment in which they are stressed, isolated, unable to cope (just like in Misery).
By the same token, place your character in an urban environment where they meet their soul mate and fall in love.
Also, think about horror, sci-fi, historical settings and themes – there are endless possibilities!
The cyclone has swept across the Gold Coast, leaving crashing waves, erosion of the beaches, uprooted trees and destruction everywhere. Now downgraded to a 1 category (in the cyclone table), Oma is still raging outside my house, rattling my blinds and driving my terrier dog Billy to distraction.
Cyclones are known to be unpredictable, and can blow out as quickly as they appear. With this in mind, I ‘ve found an image on my Twitter account by local photographer Dean Johnson, whose inages of the Gold Coast are spectacular.
Here’s a clip of a surfer bravely encountering one of the many high sided waves we’ve encountered. Nature is breathtaking in its beauty, its power, its penchant for destruction that leaves us in awe.
I went along to a writing workshop over the weekend. The Gold Coast Writers Association (GCWC) has been around for a few years, but I’d never actually taken myself along to it, even though I’d known of its existence for a while now.
Why, you ask?
Isn’t that a place to mix with other like-minded people, to connect and share ideas?
You would think so.
But an inner voice rises up every month and my inner reticence comes to the foreground. Then, I find numerous excuses not to attend any writing workshops. The excuses are numerous, ranging from visitors arriving, or urgent shopping to do. Anything really, that stopped me from having to discuss my favorite subject – that is, writing!
So, last weekend, I had no excuse. I’d already told my husband I was going along to it – and he’s very supportive of my projects – so I went as a visitor. Note here, I didn’t join up!
For a start, I was late. That meant that I hurried up the stairs (it’s above a library), to find the lecture had already started.
The room was packed and hot.
I found a stack of chairs and sat down on the corner of a table at the back of a small community hall. The lecturer, a well regarded local author, gave a very encouraging lecture on dealing with – The Idea (behind your novel), The Character (and how fully to write them), and The Plot (where to get inspiration). Also, tips on narration – with 1st or 2nd narration and how each helps with the flow of your novel.
All well and good. That is until we had a writing exercise to do (I will post my story in a sec), and various people stood up to read out their stories!
Phew, how brave are they!
Anyhow, I will likely go back next month and pluck up the courage to mingle – just a tad more…..!
Here’s the story – the writing prompt is in italics, the rest is mine.
William Smith knew that what he was about to do was wrong. But the more he thought of the task ahead, the more sickening urge to see it through overwhelmed him.
The gun was loaded. Pressed to his shoulder. Cocked. William’s finger’s hovered over the trigger, his eyes scrunched up and focused, peering into the darkening landscape.
He paused. Thoughts running through his mind like quicksilver. So many thoughts.
His wife. His kids. They were his immediate concern. His family. But then, his father’s voice, loud and clear in his head. Strong and fast, making his knees tremble, his mind unfocused.
William’s fingers shook over the gun barrel.
I can do this, he said, to himself. He will be proud.
Aim! Target! Get it in sight, you fool! The voice of his father, like a gunshot, whirling around him.
The tail end of the animal came into focus. Beyond the trees. Nose up, sniffing the air.
The woman in the dress shop told her mother, Janelle, it fitted perfectly. ‘This is so now you know,’ she’d said, standing next to Rosie in front of the ornate mirror. ‘Red is the colour. Haven’t you seen it on the best catwalks?’ Janelle shrugged, pulling the dress down over Rosie’s knees. A whisper of […]