Sunday, 25 November 2012

Here's one that didn't win....

Apparently, George Orwell often mistook rejection for failure. He kept going just the same, in a state of gloomy optimism with which I am pretty familiar.

I entered this story in the Bridport micro fiction competition, and it didn't win. was rejected. But that wasn't a failure on my part: I successfully wrote it, entered it, and am now posting it. In the spirit of success. Or something. 

This is based on an actual theatre which was part of the Brighton Festival this year, and I really didn't go there, and there really was a Balkan band playing when I walked past, too busy to join the happy throng inside...

The Hurly Burly Café Theatre
I have never been to the Hurly Burly Café Theatre. I have never seen the oompah Balkan quartet with the gypsy in dreads from Dubrovnik. I didn’t buy black vodka from the pop-up bar, or sit on the bleached grass on Leonard’s raincoat with the wind in my hair. No one kissed me smoky when I scrounged a gold Soubrane. And when our lips didn’t meet, it wasn’t the real thing.

The song escaped over the addled roof-tops, the slates and chimneys and minarets. The curtains were cloud-drapes, moonlit and sun-dappled. Children ran among the giant legs. There were gryphons and unicorns and fluttering pennants. There was a pianola and roast chestnuts and a talking fish.

You were there, I expect, leaning over the table. Paying in florins and sixpences, counting the coins with rings on your fingers.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


I'm preoccupied with death at the moment, the sudden and premature deaths of two people I knew, the fact my mother has a serious illness. I have just come back from a very beautiful funeral, which captured the everyday wonders of a supposedly 'ordinary' life.

One thing which came up over and over again was the fact that the person whose life we were celebrating loved stories - Discworld, the Narnia books, the Lord of the Rings. In recent weeks, I've felt as if my own concerns - with writing, and story telling and publishing what I write - are somehow trivial and self indulgent, as if I should Grow Up and get on with something else.

But I don't know how to do anything else. I can teach people, but what I teach is that writing is a way of finding meaning in life, if not the meaning of life. When someone dies, we sing songs, and read poems and the people who loved them tell stories about them, the memories and moments that live on. The music and poetry help us to survive, collectively, they keep the light burning.

And stories can do the same thing too. So that is why I write. Not to be published or famous or noticed. (Though every writer wants other people to be part of what they do.) But because I need to.

On the way back from the funeral, I got on a bus, weighed down with everything, the sadness and sorrow of it all. After a while, I saw the sun was out, shining through the mist of condensation that blurred the windows. We were passing the Brighton Pavilion, and I wiped the mist off the glass. I could see the pop-up skating rink they have set up for Christmas, empty chairs and tables waiting for the evening, a tiny glimpse of the ice through an open door. All in bright sunshine.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Plot number seven: Rebirth

And finally. We go to stories - and therefore plots - for things we can't find in Life. We are looking for patterns, for an explanation of some sort, a conclusion that can be drawn. We want the story to give us something back, a feeling of reassurance, the belief that while life ends, it also teaches. New beginnings emerge from bleak endings. There may or may not be rebirth in the hereafter, but there is certainly rebirth in the now. Or so the Hollywood screenwriters would have us believe.

I don't know what Christopher Booker says about this, because frankly I have looked at his book enough to feel pretty well informed about his point of view. His is the compendium approach to creativity, in which an assemblage of narratives, a great story pile, must surely offer something to those in search of narrative enlightenment.

Life is not neat or reassuring. Virginia Woolf thought sanity was a lie. Thing have happened in my life recently which don't suggest that life is a pattern of any kind. Experience tears holes in our reality, and there isn't much to mend them with. And yet. There is still the story of Pandora's box to keep the flame alive.

When Pandora opened the box, and all the bad things came out, all the evil and suffering and pain and horror, it seemed there was no hope. But Hope was exactly what there was, the tiny spirit trapped in the bottom of box who came fluttering out last of all. Ibsen said that human beings can't take all that much reality. Maybe he was being too harsh. Maybe all they need is a little bit of hope, enough to sustain the insanity of optimism which keeps us believing in the magic of story, and of being alive.