5-4-3-2-1 Talent Campers are GO!

Like most writers, I’ve done my fair share of courses – short and long, online and offline – to help improve my writing. I’ve attended events and seminars to glean nuggets of info from those who’ve been there and done it, and signed up to numerous writing websites’ newsletters .

And now, I’ve finally taken myself by the scruff of the neck and gone for the Big One: Talent Campus, the London Screenwriters’ Festival’s rocket-fuelled 7 day, 4 week intensive workout.

I’ll openly admit, I thought it was too soon for me to take full advantage of it. But then I thought, what the hell? I’ve either got talent or I haven’t and it’s probably best to find out sooner rather than later, right?

I was still unconvinced though, and my application contained 10 pages of an incomplete script which was pretty much a raw first draft, where I teed up ideas to explore further along. I figured, if they accept that, I know I’m on the right tracks.

So here I am. The intense activity away at Ealing Studios starts on June 26, but we’re in the Pre-Ignition phase and they’ve already set a first homework assignment, a 2 page script for their Impact 50 project.

It’s something I looked at briefly before, but couldn’t come up with a good idea, mainly I think, because I was concentrating on my TV pilot for a competition. So I let it go – and then slightly panicked when the assignment came through.

Don’t settle on your first idea, it said, and eventually the snippets I’d been jotting down previously formed themselves into a workable plot: An elderly lady decides to protect her canine best friend from suffering the impact.

I decided to give her a cantankerous husband to play off, then decided to give him dementia – we lost my dad to the condition, and I’m involved in the local dementia action alliance, so I’m confident including it in my stories.

But then a funny thing happened. Having only two pages to play with, I ran out of room for the dog. So the story became: A woman whose husband lives with dementia shields him from the present by recreating a date from their past. Which hadn’t been in my notes at all!

The Word Play Wagon lights the Fuse in Walderslade

I’m delighted to announce that I’ve been selected by the Kent Baton to open their Sparks Fuse Festival project, One Day Works.

My short term residence in the Baton – a vintage silver airstream caravan converted to a mobile art centre – is on Wednesday, June 4th from 11am – 6pm. It will be located outside Permark Post Office in Walderslade Village and its activities will be suitable for all ages and all abilities. No previous experience is needed, just turn up and play around with some words.

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The overall title, The Word Play Wagon, reflects the diverse creative writing activities planned, including:

  • Turn over a new leaf: Add a poem, wish or favourite saying to a luggage label leaf you create and hang it on a Poetree.
  •  A Novel Experience: Bring your favourite book and write an original short piece based on its premise (see example ‘Triffidus Corpus’ here).
  • Hint: Writing micro fiction from as little as 10 words. (Examples)
  • Spoofing Medway: Write the local news as it didn’t happen! (Example)
  • Mystery Collective Poems: Add a line to the one before – it’ll be the only one you can see! (See examples here.)
  •  If and Then: A question and answer session with a difference. (Examples – scroll down to ‘Potlatch’)

I’m really looking forward to engaging lots of people in writing activities – who knows, I might find the next generation of Medway poets!

One Day Works will host a series of one day experiments throughout Medway during the Fuse Festival and its build up. From urban high streets to country villages, the project will showcase ten of Medway’s finest creative talents across a range of art forms. Along with the The Word Play Wagon, the works include an epic poem, sculptures made from found objects, archival collections, insect inspired costumes, drawings made from thread, an acoustic live music gig and a magic lantern performance. Click here for the full list of artists and their projects.

The Fuse Festival runs from Friday, June 13th – Sunday, June 15th, find out more at their website here.

It’s arts. It’s yours. It’s free.

poetree1

Triffidus Corpus

The day outside was sounding wrong. Feeling wrong. Even for a Sunday, the silence was disturbingly, mysteriously different. No rumbling wheels, no roaring buses, no tramping feet. Shuffling, hesitant feet, yes. But none with purpose. No birdsong, just unintelligible wailing and sobbing close by.

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He wasn’t able to see the light show played out in the skies last night. Bright green flashes; shooting stars; showering comets. A magnificent spectacle, they said. A unique phenomenon, they said. You should have seen it, they said. Rather insensitively.

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The feeling of the bogey man under the bed began to creep upon him. A lifetime of being deprived of his eyes did nothing to alleviate this. Was it that famed sixth sense, becoming more heightened?

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Was it his imagination? That fluttery feeling in his stomach, a prelude to something he dreaded. But what? Reaching out to touch … what? There was nothing there, nothing to feel and yet… still that persistent nagging.

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What was that? A waft of air passed by his face, light as a feather. He was reminded of a fly, caught in a spider’s web. Trapped by uncertainty; perplexed by inactivity. Stilled by fear. He became aware that something was waiting …

Lurching towards him, leathery leaves rustling.

A stem whipped back and forth.

A swish and a slap.

The sting whistle slashed.

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“A Triffid is in a damn sight better position to survive than a blind man. Take away our sight and our superiority to them is gone.” – John Wyndham, The Day of the Triffids

I wrote this piece for The Skywatcher Investigation, our interactive alien game during the Rochester LitFest 2013 Other Worlds, Other Voices Festival. Using Wyndham’s descriptive language to capture the feel but creating a character of my own, it was performed by the multi talented Lance Philips of Physical Folk, playing a blind gardener, who succumbs to attack by a Triffid, played by the wonderful Sophie Williams. I read the piece aloud to the sound of Mozart’s requiem, Ave Verum Corpus, adjusting the text to fit the rhythm of the music.

It was a new experience for me but one I thoroughly enjoyed working on, and hope to do similar again in future.

Photo credit: Nikki Price Photography

My favourite opening lines in fiction

Challenged by James T Kelly on Twitter @realjtk, I plundered my own meagre, mainly fantasy, collection, to select a few of the best.

None are from the literary giants that The Independent – who started this challenge – took theirs, but my own favourites, plus a couple I’ve bought and got as far as the first line but then … well, you know how it is. They’ve been chosen because they paint a picture in my head without describing anything physical. Or they just make me laugh.

First Among Sequels – Jasper Fforde

The dangerously high level of the Stupidity Surplus was once again the lead story of The Owl that morning.

My number one – encapsulates the ultra alternativeness of the alternative Swindon in one line.

firstamongsequels

 Stargazy Pie – Laura Lockington

Nobody understands the meaning of the word embarrassment unless they have travelled on a packed Inter City train with a small masturbating monkey, trust me on this.

We don’t know the how or why but we get it.

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 Chocolate – Joanne Harris

We came on the wind of the carnival.

And we knew something magical was going to happen.

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 The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

I read this for the LitFest Skywatcher event (scroll down), writing my own piece using his descriptive language to capture the feel. Reading it aloud on the Sunday afternoon, with Sophie and Lance acting it out, all was silent apart from the bells of Rochester Cathedral and Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus paying softly behind me. It was quietly chilling.

Photo: Nikki Price

Photo: Nikki Price

The Truth – Terry Practhett

The rumour spread through the city like wildfire (which had often spread through Ankh Morpork since its citizens had learned the words ‘fire insurance’).

Master of the * and turning a cliche on its head, I could probably have filled the list with lots of Pratchett.

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In fact …

The Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett (favourite first whole paragraph or two!)

The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin. Thunder rolled back and forth across the dark, rain-lashed hills.

The night was as black as the inside of a cat. It was the kind of night, you could believe, on which gods moved men as though they were pawns on the chessboard of fate. In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weasel’s eye. It illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: ‘When shall we three meet again?’

There was a pause.

Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: ‘Well, I can do next Tuesday.’

Irresistible.

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The Righteous Men – Sam Bourne

The night of the first killing was filled with song.

Macabre beauty.

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Valhalla – Tom Holt

‘Oh, look,’ observed Napoleon. ‘There’s a speck of dust.’

The diminutive French general concerned with housekeeping? Really?

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The Northern Lights – Philip Pullman

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

He spelt demon wrong differently to everyone else. And why does a Hall need a capital letter? Do the Landings have capitals too?

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The Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling

The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it ‘the Riddle House’ even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there.

The first Potter book not to begin at No.4 Privet Drive; the first to show us how far she was prepared to take these characters; the first to give us real background on He Who Must Not Be Named; the first to give us pay-off from that trip to Olivander’s.

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Jackdaws – Ken Follett

One minute before the explosion, the square at St. Cecille was at peace.

The juxtaposition of war and peace. And a must if, like me, you’re slightly obsessed by the Special Operations Executive.

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My favourite two I’ve only read the first lines of, saved on my Kindle:

Night at the Circus – Angela Carter

‘Lor, love you, Sir!’ Fevvers sang out in a voice that clanged like dustbin lids.

Shades of Grey (God, no, not that one – relax!) Jasper Fforde

It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit, and ended up with me being eaten by a carnivorous plant.

Roll on the summer holidays …

Ok, there is one ‘classic’ that’s probably on everybody’s list:

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Defines ‘Evocative’.

rebecca