Forbidden fruits

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“Promise not to tell?” Jocelyn leant towards her friends, a smile escaping from beneath the serious expression she was struggling to maintain.

Sally and Anne-Marie leant forward, intrigued and impatient.

“Yes, how many times?!”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”

The girls squealed.

“One more time, just for good measure” Jocelyn teased.

“Yes!” both girls shouted, their voices overrun with that energetic enthusiasm and overexcitement characteristic of most teenage girls.

Jocelyn looked around one last time.

Surrounding them on the beach were the other camp-goers, some playing volley ball, some sat in groups not unlike them and others frolicking about in the sea – the cool water offering a pleasant relief from the unrelenting sun that beat down at it’s hottest between eleven and four thirty. At the edge of the beach, where the sand met the path that led to the accomodation huts, the camp mentors sat huddled together, reclining and chatting, many shading their eyes from the sun with their arms or hands. Although they were a fair distance away, Jocelyn recognised that shock of gold-blonde hair a mile off. Daniel – a safe distance away. Despite herself, she couldn’t pull her eyes away from him, and, like many people who sense they are being looked upon, he began to turn around. He looked toward the beach on which they sat and surveyed his surroundings slowly, subtly. Although he did not acknowledge her formally, there was a slight pause in his motion visible only to Jocelyn, that confirmed to her that she had not gone unnoticed. She spun back around, pleased.

“Come on then” Anne-Marie dug her hand into the sand and flicked it towards Jocelyn’s leg. Sally followed suite, hurling an even bigger handful at Jocelyn’s torso.

“Yeah, come on then. It will be time to shower and clean up for evening meal soon.”

Jocelyn turned her attention back to her friends. Their expectant faces taking her off-guard and causing a wave of shyness to overcome her, all of a sudden scared to share her secret for fear of being judged. What if they didn’t keep it a secret, or worse, told on her? For a minute, she toyed with the idea of making up a different story altogether – one that was much less climactic than the one that sat caught in her throat – but one that would carry much less risk. 

Although she had only met Anne-Marie and Sally 12 days ago when they had been put in the same bunk along with five other girls, they had spent a lot of time together – so far they had been inseparable. They’d shared many other secrets between them already, none of which had left the tight-knit confines of their friendship. Why should this secret be any different? She leant closer to her friends and hushed her voice to just above a whisper.

“I’ve met someone”

Silence followed, a brief moment that lasted one second at most, but was enough to cause Jocelyn to immediately question her decision. There was no going back now.

“Oh my god. Really?! Here, at camp?” Anne-Marie’s face lit up, her eyes wide in awe and glinting with intrigue.

“No. Freakin. Way. Who? When? You’ve been with us like, every minute of everyday I swear. You sneaky minx!” Sally began to giggle and huddled even closer – if it were possible – to her friend and looked her dead in the eyes, both hands tucked under her chin. Annie-Marie mirrored her. Jocelyn shuffled back a little.

“Tell us everything.”

“Yep. From the beginning of course.”

“Um. I don’t really know what to say really. Um. Well for starters, he is beautiful.   Not just a little bit handsome but like absolutely crazy attractive, everything I’ve ever wanted in a boy, man, and more. He is older. I can’t believe he is even interested in me at all. But he is. He really is. I know it. He’s special”

“Okay. Eeek. Go on. How did you meet? Who is he?”

Jocelyn begun to relax a little more. Talking about it made it even more exciting, even more real. She was getting into the swing of this now. She sat back and took a deep breath.

“Well, I met him whilst I went to the wind-surfing session. You know, that one that you both were too scared to try.” She threw a smug smile at the girls and raised her eyebrows.

“I wasn’t too scared, I just didn’t want to mess my hair up.” Anne-Marie stroked her hair in mock affection. Sally stayed silent but the smile on her face told Jocelyn the joke had been taken well, regardless of it’s truth.

The girls laughed.

“Anyway, he was there. And he helped me get on the board and showed me how to do it properly and there was just this connection between us. Sounds so cheesy but it’s true. I thought it was just me at first, a silly little schoolgirl crush. There was no way someone like him would want me ya know. But then you know that night at the campfire when I went to pick up some extra marshmellows from the kitchen block, he was in there.” Jocelyn’s eyes glazed over a little. The sun reflected in the pools of her ocean-blue eyes. 

“I wondered where you had gone. It all makes sense now! Lost. As if. It sounds like a bad rom-com” Anne-Marie’s eyes were even wider now. 

“And then what happened…”

Jocelyn felt her cheeks flush hot and pink. She bit her lip and looked down at the floor.

“You kissed him didn’t you. Didn’t you!”

“You totally kissed him”

Jocelyn covered her face with her hands and began to roll on the floor in fits of giggles. The others girls collapsed in a heap on top of her, a giggling pile of curls and pink skin.

“Does that answer your question?”

“Yep”

“Yes it does indeed. But I have another one. The biggest question perhaps. Who is it?”

Jocelyn spun her head around and glimpsed towards where the group of mentors had been sat. They had dispersed, each having gone their own separate ways – leaving only the imprint of there bare legs and elbows in the sand. 

“I, I don’t know whether I can tell you.”

“Why not?”

“Yeah, why not. You have to.”

“I told him I wouldn’t tell anyone.”

“We won’t tell anyone.”

“You know you can trust us. Anyway, why does it need to be so secretive. What is he trying to hide?” Anne-Marie’s forehead crumpled a little.

“Nothing.”

Jocelyn looked at her feet. She knew she could trust the girls. But she had promised Daniel. Granted, she didn’t want to lose him, that is the last thing she wanted. But he didn’t need to find out – he would never know. It would be another secret, yes, but Jocelyn was getting pretty good at secrets by now. She was too far into the confession to turn back. She was silent for a minute. 

“You can’t tell anyone. Pinky promise?” she raised her pinky fingers and held it up to the girls. They linked them together and spoke in unison.

“Pinky promise.”

Commentary:

With this passage, I wanted to introduce some dialogue as it is something that has been void in most of the earlier narratives I have written. I’d like to work on and improve my dialogue, and there is no better way to do this than to actively practice it.  

In terms of the story I saw in the image – I liked the idea of the girls being a close knit group of friends, and the conflict that I could bring in by means of a secret. Not a trivial secret, but a secret that, if found in the wrong hands, could have  dramatic consequences. Jocelyn being in a relationship with a much older camp mentor seemed to do the trick nicely!

In terms of challenges, I’d say navigating my way through the dialogue in which multiple people were talking (a group chat rather than a one-to-one) was something I’ve not had to tackle before. I was keen to bear in mind not to overuse the phrase ‘x said’ too much, but obviously I wanted it unambiguously clear who was speaking.

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Darla

Darla

She had been a wonderful friend, had Barbara. Dependable, loyal and most importantly, always happy to play for hours and hours on end. I’d been able to confide in her and rely upon her since the moment we met – something that I had never felt able to do with anyone else before. She really was my best – and at times my only – friend.

I remember the day we found each other so vividly in my mind like it was yesterday – although almost eight months have passed since. It was a Sunday, and Mr Fisher had just put out all of his new stock. On the shelves sat row upon row of dolls with wigs in blonde, chestnut, auburn and red, their piercing plastic eyes in acid green, ocean blue and chocolate brown.

As soon as the clock struck ten, a gaggle of children had piled through the door, a free-for-all of little boys and girls on the hunt for a toy – nay – the toy that held the value of weeks and weeks worth of pocket money. They, like me, were on a mission. Perhaps today would be the day I’d find the right one for me.

It was a fresh May morning and the sun reflected off the glass shop front, falling right where I stood, bathing me in a strobe of warming, yellow light. On the occasion when the door opened, there was a slight but noticeable chill that permeated the little shop, and I was thankful every time it shut again with a gentle click.

Our eyes had locked onto each other’s within what felt like minutes, perhaps even seconds. Barbara had the same coloured eyes as me –ice blue – and I was drawn to her as if there was no one else in the room. She was the friend for me – I knew it instantly. And turns out that I was right.

Ever since that Sunday morning, we had barely left each other’s side – we’d been to school together, played together, even slept side by side. It was a great comfort knowing that I had someone there for me, someone who enjoyed my company and who’d shown me more care and affection in eight months than I’d seen in all my time on Earth. The other girl’s had never appreciated me and I’d always struggled to fit in with the others – for reasons still unbeknown to me.

But none of that mattered anymore because at last, I had someone. I had Barbara. And Barbara had me, Darla.

Lost in my thoughts, I almost don’t hear the noise at first. Distant thumps that are growing closer and closer with each passing second. By the time I am fully focused on the present moment, it is almost too late. The thumps are louder now and rattling the bedroom that surrounds me, causing the photos that line wall to quiver with energy.

The brass door knob begins to twist. The door is moments from opening. 

In an instant, I snap up straight, smooth my polka dot dress and assume the position I had been in when Barbara had left the room twenty minutes prior. My dark, synthetic curls perfectly positioned about my porcelain face and my plastic eyes unblinking from their china socket.

Commentary:

I’ve always been a fan of horror and mystery – although I find myself watching more horror films rather than reading/writing horror stories.  Well, there is no better time than the present to start dipping my toes into a new genre, so here I go.

Unsurprisingly, I saw this image – the doll in particular – as rich fertile ground for a horror story. I was keen to avoid anything too gory or crazy, just something quite subtle that could leave the reader feeling a bit spooked. What also caught my attention was the obvious bond/closeness between the little girl and her doll – a theme that I have used in the narrative.

The way I went about spooking the reader was to keep the narrator ambiguous right through to the final sentence, with the hope that the reader would assume the story was being told from the point of view of the little girl – duh toys can’t think and talk, that would be ludicrous! I then used the final sentence to flip the story on it’s head and reveal the real story-teller, the doll. A subtle mind game, but I am hoping it is effective nonetheless! Let me know what you think.

 

 

Synchronicity

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Michelle

The scent of Patrick’s aftershave mixes with the cool summer’s air, caressing the back of my throat as I breathe, in rhythm with the rise and fall of his chest. With each of our joint breaths, the coarse hairs of his beard scratch my forehead, but I am too content to care. The low, sun casts long shadows that creep towards us, some stopping just short of our feet, others falling over us like we are a joint canvas and they are the artists medium. I close my eyes and the birds are singing, a chorus of song that feels like it is being performed solely for our pleasure. Coming from the house I can hear the distant buzz of the television that we both forgot to switch off on our hurry outside.

This dinky, quirky house share on the outskirts of Camden Town is, as the saying goes, our little slice of heaven. Close enough to the busy cafes and bars, yet far enough away to be able to enjoy evenings like this, whereby we can pretend as if we are far out in the rural countryside. Every night we have the choice between dancing until the early hours of the morning surrounded by friends and strangers or staying in enjoying the company of each other and the serenity of the nature that surrounds us. Tonight we chose the latter. My shift at the library all but wore me out and Patricks stint at the carpenters meant that when came through the door at 6:30pm his rugged face was contorted into a worried scowl. To cheer him up, I made him a cup of coffee and the two of us got busy cooking a quick but hearty dinner of beans, eggs and chips.

And here we are, tummies full, knots of stress unwound and brows unfurrowed – our arms interlocked and the sun falling down over our faces. Never have I felt happier and more in love than in this present moment. When Patrick came into my life last year, everything I felt was amplified – joy was taken to dizzyingly new heights and fear took on a whole new meaning with the stakes being infinitely higher. The ups of which there are many, and the downs of which there have been very few have resulted in the best year of my life. With Patrick, my future is something I look forward to, not something I dread like before. Whatever tomorrow may bring, I welcome it knowing Patrick will be at my side and I at his.

Patrick

Mrs Jones stands in the neighbouring garden, her presence known not because she is visible, but because the misty spray of the hosepipe penetrates my peripheral vision. It looks like fire as it reflects the orange sunlight.

Michelle’s head is on my shoulder, a delicate weight of soft skin and hair that tickles my jaw. She smells of soap and books and the sound of her gentle breaths have a calming effect on my own – breaths that were quick and full of stress at first and now slow and deep to match hers.

Below us sit the blankets that, only a few weeks ago, were necessary to stop one turning into an icicle. This evening however, they are redundant. The warmth of the sun acts as a blanket itself, alongside the close proximity resulting body-heat that Michelle and I are sharing.

It feels like it was only yesterday that we were huddled beneath said blankets, under the misty night sky with the wool a little itchy on our skin – same time, same place, her head unmoving from my shoulder. We laughed and kissed and cuddled and even though it was bloody freezing, it was one of the best nights of my life. But then summer came like an explosion of birdsong and long days, and against all logic, time ran past us at frightening speed. Things changed before I had a say in the matter and now, next week, I must leave. Leave her behind and never look back. I love her more than I have ever loved anyone else. I love her so much that it hurts – which is why I must go. I know she will never forgive me. But it’s something that I have to do. Not for me, but for her. She deserves more than I can give her and perhaps, one day, she will thank me.

Commentary:

I brought this picture because there is something about couples that just suck me in. I love Love – reading about it, looking at it, being a part of it. This picture to me screamed passion, contentment and happiness and I was drawn to it immediately.

In terms of research, I did my best to date the photo  and with the help of my mum (thanks mum!) we decided it was from the 60’s. I did not want to get to bogged down with back story but I did do a little reading into careers for men and women of that time but that is about as far as I went. I decided that I wanted the passage to be very much centered on the feelings between the two people, and most importantly, how they make each other feel.

At first, I had only planned to write from the females perspective, but, as I progressed I realised an opportunity to create some conflict and tension – allbeit unbeknown to ‘Michelle’. I thought it would be interesting to create a narrative in which there was a misunderstanding, and to present the different perspectives and feelings of two people in a relationship. By presenting Michelle’s story first, followed by Patricks, I hope to introduce a little shock-factor. Most importantly, I want to leave the reader with questions, and leave them wanting more. I have called the passage ‘Synchronicity’ – playing on the synchronicity of the couples’ breaths and physical bodies, but their lack of synchronicity in thoughts and visions for the future. 

One challenge I faced – being the sensitive soul that I am – was that I felt bad for Michelle as I was writing it. Guilty for putting her in this position, and very sad for her imminent tragedy. I think that this is something that I must work on throughout my writing journey – not everything works out for the best and being able to navigate tragedy and cruelty in ones writing is an essential skill to have as a writer.

A sunny Sunday afternoon

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The sun shone over Emily’s face as she sat basking in the high midday sun. It was warm and soothing, and made a brilliant orange colour when mixed with the pink skin of her closed eyelids. Beside her, she could feel ToTo panting gently, his tight, soft curls tickling her calf as they brushed her with each breath. Emily was thankful for the blanket that her mum had laid out for her and her sisters to sit on late that Sunday morning, as she could feel the spikiness of the grass beneath it that was trying, and failing, to scratch her bare legs. Around her, a busy bumble bee buzzed closely past her ear and into mum’s white butterfly bush and the tuneful whistle of the birds was the only thing audible in the still, summer sky.

For most of the morning, her and her younger sisters Mya and Jodie had spent their time running about the garden playing chase and hide and seek. When Mother had brought baby Beatrix out and placed her on the blanket for them to watch for a while, they lounged about beside her making Daisy chains and periodically cooing over the cheerful babbles and excitable legs kicks that the tiny human was emitting. Sitting down was a welcome relief to Emily, who was pleased to get the chance to catch her breath after this morning’s rather active shenanigans and play. 

Emily was having such a wonderful Sunday that she did not want it to end – the thought of school tomorrow loomed over her head as it did most weeks, and although she didn’t mind school that much she supposed, it was definitely more favourable to play with her sisters all day in the glorious sunshine. There was something about being outside that made Emily feel free and happy – she’d always enjoyed the great outdoors since she was very young and understood just how very lucky she was to have such a large garden in which to play. She remembered fondly about the times that Daddy swung her around by her arms in big circles, as if she were flying, and the times that the two of them both went out butterfly hunting with a paper and pen so as when they found one, they could both sit as quiet as possible whilst drawing the pretty little thing. Nowadays, Daddy seemed much busier – too busy in fact to even look at Emily’s drawings let alone partake in such activities. Luckily for Emily, she had her sisters to keep her company, and there was no denying that they kept her very busy indeed. Mya, with her signature hair bow was always full of beans – and being the youngest (not including the baby) this was no surprise. She would always be the one that was running about the garden at such speed she would oftentimes be transformed into a giggling blur. Jodie, the second oldest, was much more reserved and laid back, always following along with whatever crazy plan Mya had concocted that day. Emily felt as if she were a comfortable balance of the two girls – she enjoyed running around, causing mischief and exploring her surroundings, but she also enjoyed sitting down with a nice book, or drawing with her coloured pencils when or if she got a spare five minutes alone.

Emily was keen to make the absolute most out of the remaining time before her and her sisters were to be called in for their early tea and made to sit at the dinner table until everyone – even the adults – had finished their plates. Aunt Maggie especially took such a long time to eat – as most of the adults did – usually spending such an inordinate amount of time just chatting about boring adult things. One would think that they did not have anything better and more exciting to do such as play chase and make potions out of lake water and blossoms. How boring it was to be an adult, thought Emily, as she saw the curtains of the back window flicker and her mums face peering out about to summon the four of them – five counting ToTo – to the dining room.

Commentary:

I chose this picture because of the serene atmosphere it gives off. The sun is shining and the girls look calm, content and happy. Plus the dog and baby are sweet as anything!

With this passage, I wanted to close my eyes and put myself right there in the picture, feel the sun on my face, and really experience what it would be like to be one of the children in the photo – to be carefree and full of adventure and curiosity.

I didn’t do too much research for this one, instead reverting back to remembering how it felt like to be a child. The social context didn’t feel all that important to me as I wanted to focus on what was going on in that garden, at that very moment in time, and to live in the present, not the past or the future, which children are very good at doing and adults less so.

In terms of challenges, I needed to be careful not to be too self aware or older than my years, as I was taking up the role of a character who is much younger and less informed than myself. I have attempted to look at the world with fresh, curious and untainted eyes, whilst still introducing an element of conflict – a distant father figure. I have made sure to tackle said conflict in a naive, carefree and untroubled manner rather than anything too serious so as to avoid an unbelievable character who is too emotionally developed for her age.

Everything

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John balanced on his haunches in the centre of Trafalgar Square, holding Kitty gently under her elbows. The velvety fur of her double-breasted coat was soft between his fingers  and he could feel the warmth of his little girl emanating through the layers. She was at that age where she was able to stand almost unassisted, but was still comically unsteady – like a drunken adult or new-born calf learning how to use all four legs. Looking at the little human that he and his beloved Lizzie has created still amazed him all those 12 months after she was first placed in his arms. And with her light brown curls, slightly oversized ears and a smile that resembled a chipmunk, she was the spitting image of her mother – beautiful. The distant hum of chatter was audible in the gentle chill of the mid March air, and although from an outside view the square was bustling with tourists, the only people John could see were Kitty and Lizzie.

Times like this were rare for the small family of three. John was, and had always been, incredibly busy with his job – at first, a pilot in the second world war, and now a commercial pilot for long haul flights – often spending days at a time away from the family home. Before Kitty was born, although he missed Lizzie greatly, it didn’t seem quite so bad – but now, with Kitty growing at an astonishing rate, he felt like he was missing out on big chunks of his daughters life – which rendered memories such as these evermore precious.

As he crouched there, limbs entwined with his daughter and Lizzie snapping away on the new Kodak camera, a pigeon fluttered passed. It was a little too close to John’s right shoulder for his liking, but Kitty followed it with her eyes, in awe of the creature. It settled a foot or so in front of her, and she squealed and giggled with delight. Flapping her arms in excitement, she began an attempt at moving closer to the bird, which was now pecking at some disgusting looking crumbs on the floor. John admired his daughter’s chubby knee as it wobbled cautiously in his peripheral vision in her attempt at putting one buckled shoe in front of the other. Noticing her cotton socks pulled up over her tiny ankles, he simultaneously melted a little and bursted with overwhelming pride. That was his daughter. His wonderful, perfect little daughter. Such moments of overwhelming love affirmed to him what he knew the minute he held Kitty for the first time – that he would do anything for that little girl. Anything at all. It was not until after she was born that realised that it was possible to love something so small and new to the unfathomable degree that he loved her. He loved Lizzie just as much, of course, but in a different way. Kitty meant everything to him and more.

At that moment in time, the term ‘everything’ was metaphorical – he had Lizzie, friends, family and a great career also. Pretty soon however, unbeknown to him, she would be all that he would have left. She would be his everything, his only, and he would have nothing else.

Commentary

What I was immediately drawn to with this picture is the sheer love and adoration that the father has for the child. You can see it in his body language and most definitely in his eyes. The happiness of the little girl is also just too adorable for words. I feel that this image is capturing a very special memory that is intimate for the three people involved – the child, father and the person taking the photo, and that such moments are oftentimes pretty rare. It was these thoughts and feelings that I wanted to portray in my passage.

In terms of research, I attempted to date the photo and decided to go for the 1950’s – 1955 to be exact and I had a little look into the social context of the time, what major events happened that year and more specifically, the jobs available that were common in the era. Although not much of this comes across in the passage aside from the main characters job, all of this information helped me get into the mindset of someone who lived in the era.

Writing this passage has been beneficial to me because it brought me out of my comfort zone. Although with my novel I am writing as a male, much of what I write is very familiar to me because it is set in modern day Britain and tackles a lot of issues that I am knowledgeable of. With this passage, I had to get myself in the head of the father figure in the photo, who is different to me in several aspects; gender, age and time period – I know very little about the 1950’s, and most other eras that precede my own. I think the biggest challenge for me though, is the fact that that the character I am writing as (in third person) is a parent, which I have no experience of being (guinea pigs don’t count apparently!). I figured that the best way to overcome this challenge was to focus on the strongest type of love that exists in this world and run with it.