Monday, 16 July 2012

People Watching (Part 1; first draft)

This is another story for the collection I mentioned last time - it's probably going to have a second part, but I don't know if they'll come together to make one story or if they'll be companion pieces.  It's based, I guess obviously, just on the idea of people watching, and of the weird voyeurism of it, which I guess is similar to any reading experience - you're completely separate from someone, but you still watch them and come to know them and care about them.  It's set on a loose reconstruction (from memory!) of Ballycastle Beach, hence the picture

It's very much a rough-and-ready first draft, so apologies for typos, repetition and just plain rubbishness.  And as ever, opinions and comments very welcome.

It’s sort of snowing, but it’s not quite cold enough, so it’s more like sleet.  It doesn’t lie on the ground in a nice white sheet, but instead clumps in semi-melted puddles which semi-blur into a very shallow semi-lake in the carpark.

If you turn your gaze out to sea (which isn’t pleasant, as there’s a stiff coastal breeze), you’re rewarded with a view which is subtly greyer than the one they put on the postcard.  The sea is stormy, but not as wildly as you might expect, and the waves wash up harmlessly on the long sandy beach which curls away from you to the right, it’s smooth curve broken only by the solitary large rock, which locals will tell you was thrown there in days gone by in a battle of the giants, where the local hero had defeated his rival from behind the headland.  Behind the headland they have a similar but slightly different story, involving a baby cow.

The headland ought to be in sight, but the weather is such that it isn’t even a shadow, as the beach eventually fades into an eerie mist.  It looks completely deserted, but if you look a little closer you’ll see that just beyond the rock there is a figure, swimming in the sea.  He’s too far away to make out clearly, he surely must be youngster to be doing something so ridiculous, or perhaps an old man, who has swam on the beach every day for fifty years, and no winter chill’s stopped him then and it won’t now neither.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Short story number two: Elysium (draft)

(This first draft of the second story I've written for a collection that will hopefully be out at the end of Summer.  It's a bit scrappy, but I like putting stuff up as a marker that I've gotten the first draft out of the way.  If you have any feedback feel free to let me know in the comments!)

“Are you alright, Jack?”

Jack glanced up, surprised to be called by name, until a second later he re-noticed the large badge on his chest.  It was the girl who had been sat in front of him for the tutorial.  Jess, he gleaned from staring (not for too long) at her chest.

“Ah I’m fine.  I miss them, you know, but so does everyone else.”

She nodded, smiling a mouth-closed smile.  “Well I do.  I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one though.  People are so good at soldiering on, aren’t they?”

“You’d be surprised.”  The gruff voice came from over Jess’s shoulder; neither of them had seen their tutor approach as his students departed.  Paul.  He would have been old before to Jack’s eyes, middle-aged to a more generous observer, but now in this reshaped society he was positively ancient.  Neither of the youths spoke, flustered that they had been overheard, wondering if they had transgressed.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Taming of the Shrew at Reading School

Lucia McAnespie (Katherine), David Davies (Petruchio) and Tom Kay (Hortensio)

What could be better than watching Shakespeare performed on the picturesque playing fields of Reading School, with the evening sun gently warming your back and a glass of wine in your hand?  Well, that was a moot point tonight, as the evening began with a desperate plea for the huddled audience to lower their umbrellas, at which point more than one bedraggled spectator decided they had already had enough.

It is thus to the enormous credit of the GB Theatre Company that they managed to perform at all, let alone that they put on such a good show.  On multiple occasions actors slipped, slid and fell on the soaking stage, but each time they managed to see the funny side, as indeed they did with the whole play.  It goes without saying that humour is indispensable in comedy, but where some adaptations of Shakespeare rely on their audience to simply ‘get the jokes’, this production ran the comic gamut from start to finish, from well-staged wordplay to nudging innuendo to those clearly unplanned slapstick falls.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Review: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Widely regarded as an ‘instant classic’ when it came out in 1995, High Fidelity was especially noted for its ability to capture ‘every second of its own present’.  However seventeen years down the line, does it stand the test of time?

In terms of plot, it might have been written at any point.  Rob, a record store owner, has recently split up with girlfriend Laura, and goes through (as one of his ex-girlfriends puts it) ‘some kind of what-does-it-all-mean thing’, with Laura lurking all the while in the background, and Rob himself lurking just outside her house.

Hornby’s writing style also certainly endures.  He ingeniously captures the self-conscious internal monologue of anti-hero Rob, particularly in the virtuoso opening where Rob recounts his ‘all-time, top five most memorable split-ups’: ‘Sometimes I got so bored of trying to touch her breasts that I would try to touch her between her legs, a gesture that had a sort of self-parodying wit about it: it was like trying to borrow a fiver, getting turned down, and asking to borrow fifty quid instead’.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Review: Oriel Ball 2012 - Titanic

It might have lacked Magdalen’s price tag, backdrop and (as we heard midway through the night) fireworks, but Oriel’s Titanic themed ball proved a night to remember.

After the pain of finding a White Tie suit to hire on a night with two balls (note to self: don’t procrastinate so long next time, and don’t use web companies which send it a day late and without a waistcoat… Thanks Hire Society) and the drama of getting ready in time (7.30 seems very early for a night out) we taxied our way past the huge line of Magdalen-goers (with many a top hat in evidence) and arrived at Oriel for a queue of our own.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Smooth, first draft

[Comments and opinions very welcome!]

She smiled at me, I think.  It was hard to tell, because she might have been smiling already and just happened to glance up and catch my eye, but I think it was for me.

Of course, that wasn’t why I walked over.  I was with Danny, who was meeting Amy, and since the girls’ school broke up at 3.20 and we were in until 3.45 they would always come and wait outside the gates for us to come out.

It was quite a sight actually, with hindsight.  Small groups of heavenly angels (surely they must have been as spotty as us?) would constellate outside the gates, each keeping furtively to themselves, applying make-up and touching up their hair in the grimy and fractured mirror of the vandalised bus stop.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Smooth - part one

She smiled at me, I think.  It was hard to tell, because she might have been smiling already and just happened to glance up and catch my eye, but I think it was for me.

Of course, that wasn’t why I walked over.  I was with Danny, who was meeting Amy, and since the girls’ school broke up at 3.20 and we were in until 3.45 they would always come and wait outside the gates for us to come out.

It was quite a sight actually, with hindsight.  Small groups of heavenly angels (surely they must have been as spotty as us?) would constellate outside the gates, each keeping furtively to themselves, applying make-up and touching up their hair in the grimy and fractured mirror of the vandalised bus stop.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Sonnet 1: On pretension

When all is said and done it’s just a word.
And all the time and all the tears you spend
On quotes and notes can only be absurd
When it’s only just one word in the end.
But yet, is’t not in words that dreams are made?
In words young lovers love, and tyrants rage,
And though the men that spoke them, wrote them, fade,
In soft mellifluous prose upon a page,
They die not.  And in our Xbox days
Between the blogs and tweets and likes and shares,
We read, then through their verse and prose and plays
Then we, for one brief breath, are Shakespeare’s heirs
And so, while quotes and notes are vainly nursed,
There’s many words in that so fleeting ‘First’.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Review: A Wreath upon the Dead by Briege Duffaud

In amongst the broadly conventionally realist field of Northern Irish fiction, Briege Duffaud's debut novel stands out as a remarkable effort to use the novel form to demonstrate the fractious nature of the Troubles.

Published in 1993, prior to the end of the Troubles, it is perhaps unsurprising the content of the novel is bleak.  A novelist, Maureen Murphy, is attempting to tell the story of a pair of star-crossed lovers from her home town, an effort which is hindered both by the scarcity of evidence and the strong feelings the tale evokes.  Meanwhile the descendants of the original lovers are interacting once more in the context of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

However such a cursory plot summary cannot do justice to Duffaud's work.  Told without any detached narrator, the novel intersperses documents (newspaper reports, diaries, sections of Maureen's novel) with stream-of-consciousness style outpourings from a range of characters.  In the original love-story,  set just prior to the Potato Famine, it becomes clear that Maureen's sources are in radical disagreement about just what happened.  Meanwhile in the contemporary story, the half-remembered myths and sectarian biases of the protagonists mean mutual understanding is impossible.

Duffaud's point in writing the novel is clearly that any account of history is partial, particularly in such a strongly divided environment as Northern Ireland.  However by giving voice to such a range of perspectives, without endorsing any of them, Duffaud suggests the means by which peace can come - mutual articulation of contradictory truths.

If the novel succeeds on this radical theoretical level, it simultaneously manages to be a rewarding read, albeit one which is unashamedly challenging.  The historical love story is perfectly balanced, attracting our sympathy while suspending our judgement, while the complicated drama of the modern day tale rings true in a way that a conventional narrative could not.  As noted, the tone tends towards the bleak, but that does not detract from the brilliantly flawed characters who make up this bizarrely fascinating version of Northern Ireland

Saturday, 7 January 2012

New Story

Looking down at his watch, James realised he was going to be late.  7.23, plus five minutes because he still hadn’t gotten round to correcting the time, and he was a definitely more than two minutes away from where he thought the restaurant was.  Bad times.

Striding out of the almost empty shop (why they stayed open until eight on a Thursday was a mystery) he resigned himself to having neither time nor money for a present.  He normally prided himself on his ability to find the perfect gift, and indeed this time last year had probably been his best performance ever.  Of course, it was slightly more difficult to come up with the perfect gift for your ex-girlfriend.

As he fought his way into the icy wind he wondered to himself why he was even bothering to come.  Matt would have told him that it was a hopelessly optimistic attempt to persuade her to take him back, but that wasn’t really true.  Not that he would have said no, he just didn’t hold out any hope that she would give him a chance to.

And to make matters worse, it wasn’t just going to be Lucy, or even just Lucy and her insufferable family.  (“Oh, you study drama?  How lovely!  You know I thought about being unemployed once too…”)  No, this was the first time he was going to be confronted with Nicky.  Lucy and Nicky.  Licky, as Matt had gleefully portmanteaued. 

Only as he turned into East Street did he see the huge grey puddle on the side of the road, and the bus bulldozing towards it.  Clearly his luck was in tonight, he moaned inwardly, bracing himself and turning away from the road.  But the splash didn’t come.  “Great.  Even the bloody bus pities me,” he muttered sullenly.

Still inwardly cursing to himself, James finally made it to the restaurant.  A ridiculously shaped creature glared down at him from above the entrance, its angry red eyes perfectly contrasted with the puerile discoloured tongue.  It would have been funny, except he knew that he would have had to starve for a week to have taken Lucy for a meal here.

Late, he didn’t think to wait before going straight in.  The restaurant had a curious scent of lemon, and the noise coming from round to the left told him the direction he needed to go.  Ignoring the joyless grin of the waiter on the door, he headed to meet his fate.

It astounded him, in the era of Facebook, that there could be so many people around a table and he could know so few of them.  At the head of the table Lucy’s mother was fussing, looking splendidly ridiculous in a supposed-to-be gold dress, while her father stood next to her, glaring at the Chinese lettering on the wall as if certain it was a deeply personal attack on himself, his family and Margaret bloody Thatcher to boot.

The subject of Lucy’s mother’s fussing must be Nicky, James surmised.  Taller than him, thinner than him, with the rolled up sleeves of his prissy pink shirt revealing biceps even bigger than his hard-earned chicken wings.  Lucy’s mother was apparently concerning herself with brushing a stain from just below his left hip.  Get a room.

And there, watching this deeply incestuous act of cleaning, was Lucy.  With a sudden surge of joy he noticed she was wearing the white jumper he had bought her last year, the one he had always teased her made her look like he must be her servant.  It was long and tight, curving round her hips and covering the tops of her skinny jeans, which in turn ran down her long legs to a pair of shiny black heels.  She was talking to her mother, her face twisted into what she always hoped was anger, but to him could only ever be adorable.  He remembered the last good conversation they had had, back on their trip to Dublin, and –

“And who are you then kid?”  The deep Scouse (probably?) voice brought him back to reality.  He tore his eyes away and brought them to rest on a curiously obese man, giving him a not unfriendly look.  James didn’t recognise him.

“I’m – I’m James,” he faltered, dreading what was he had to say next.  “I’m a – a friend of Lucy’s.”

“Oh aye?”  (Was it Scouse?  Now it sounded more like Pirate.)  “From University I supposed?  You Oxford types eh.”

“No, not from Oxford.  I knew her from when we were at school actually.”  And we used to date.  And she told me she loved me before she realised she preferred men whose names and fashion senses suggested they always wondered why they had a Y chromosome.

The man paused, clearly conscious of his mistake, but not troubling himself to look overly guilty about it.  A glimmer of recognition flashed across the man’s eyes.

“Oh, right, James, of course.  Yes well you probably wouldn’t remember me, but I live next door to the Higgins’s, I remember you driving round to see her eight nights a week.  Red Vauxhall Corsa, right?”

James blushed to almost the colour of the car and nodded.  The man smiled sympathetically.

“Well it looks like the only seat left is next to us, so you’re more than welcome to slot in here.  If you don’t want to go give Lucy her present…”

James felt his cheeks burning still darker.  “I didn’t manage to get her anything in the end…”  He hovered momentarily, weighing up whether to go and say hello or not.  He should do, he realised, but wouldn’t it just be awkward for everyone?  And surely she would come over later anyway.  Conscious of the genial Scouse Pirate’s watching gaze, James moved as if to go, swayed back, and finally surrendered into the waiting seat.  The Scouse Pirate smiled knowingly, although he didn’t seem like he was going to share that knowledge with anyone.

“The name’s Eric.  And this is my wife Veronica.”  A still fatter woman on Eric’s left smiled up at him, gesturing that she would say hello but she didn’t want to risk losing one of the prawn crackers in her mouth.  

“You might be wanting this,” said Eric, pouring James a large glass of an expensive-looking Merlot.  James smiled and swigged.  Deeply.