Tag Archives: fiction

April homework

This is a good site for a little light-hearted fun:

http://queens-english-society.org/lighter-side/

The homework is the find the pairs of words in the ‘Oxford Word Challenge’. (Unfortunately we are left to our own devices, as the ‘Answers’ button takes you through to a page which simply says ‘there are no answers yet’!*)

Use them as inspiration to write something of your own. You can use just one pair of words, and perhaps write a story based on an amusing misunderstanding between them. Or perhaps you can weave several together? As always, let it take you where it will: poetry, short story, flash fiction, non fiction article… all welcome.

*We have ANSWERS!

We brainstormed the ‘Oxford Word Challenge’ yesterday and now have full answers:

plain/plane: due/dew: naval/navel: links/lynx: time/thyme: beat/beet: allowed/aloud: tenor/tenner: gorilla/guerilla: sort/sought: barred/bard: Sunday/sundae: chased/chaste: llama/lama: Rambo/Rimbaud.

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Random word generator

One of my favourite ways to get ideas for short stories – randomly selecting interesting words.

I’ve just found a great program on the web that means I don’t have to drag my massive Collins Dictionary off the shelf!

Random word generator

Ages

Inspired by the ‘Cake’ format of using 6 keywords, I chose 6 of my own by blindly stabbing my finger at a dictionary. This is what I came up with:

Como | eddy | hypocaust | pretext | start | trench knife

…and here’s what I wrote:

Ages

‘Your caffè, signora.’ A deep brown voice matching his deep brown eyes. You can see why these young things fall head over heels in love with their holiday waiters.

Drinking coffee by Lake Como is exquisite, with the sun dripping over the mountains, warm and golden. The air feels like olive oil, heavy with scents of vanilla, cinnamon and coffee. Back in the 60s the heady mix contained a distinctive cigarette smoke, too. A dirty habit indeed, but I rather miss that note in the perfume of Lombardy.

It’s a shame I’m here on my own, though that waiter could alleviate the boredom. I’ve been stranded in this paradise for a couple of weeks. It’s not too bad. I enjoy my own company. I’m alone with my thoughts most days, with Roy being on an archaeological dig, or whatever it is, at Lake Garda. Roman villas and remains leave me cold, but excite Roy to the point of exhaustion, apparently. He’s staying over again tonight, so I’ll be eating my pesche alone. I wonder when that waiter’s shift ends?

Il Lago di Como. It makes my body relax just thinking about it, like slipping into a warm bath. When Roy gets back he’ll set my teeth on edge talking about the wonderful Giulia. I can’t see what a woman of such beauty and intellect – according to Roy – wants to be knocking around with a load of smelly old archaeologists. Forget Indiana Jones and think more Albert Steptoe.

As I drained my coffee a small car, brakes squealing, mounted the pavement and skidded onto the small pontoon that made up the seating area of the lakeside café. The pontoon heaved violently and the air was filled with a cacophony of breaking crockery and yelling customers. The car missed me by inches. I saw the panic stricken driver’s face as he tried to gain control, and failed. The pontoon tipped sickeningly under the weight of the vehicle, and slid the tiny car into the waters of the lake like a fried egg off a fish slice. There was a protesting cloud of steam, and the car vanished from our view.

According to the news later that day, the carabinieri and fire brigade took ages winching the car to the surface. The poor driver was dead.

I adore taking the ferry across to Bellagio. The deep green water eddied round the back of the boat as it chortled its way across. Bellagio is my favourite place in the world. I’ve got to admit I was annoyed when my peaceful enjoyment was fractured by Roy’s text message:

‘Staying over again tonight. Giulia has raised a few issues about the hypocaust.’

‘I bet she has,’ I thought, as my pizza arrived. I didn’t want to think too much about Giulia’s hypocaust, and ordered another large glass of wine.

A little light-headed, I decided to walk off the effects of lunch by heading up one of Bellagio’s steep side streets. Their beauty rewards the physical challenge of climbing so many cobbled steps. The higher I went, the quieter it became, until I found myself alone. Well, almost alone. I felt there was someone behind me, but every time I turned there was no one there. Suddenly I felt a pressure at my throat, and a warm, rather smelly, body behind me. An instinctive convulsion made me thrash my elbow sharply back, and, to my surprise, the assailant fell away. I turned to see him bouncing and rolling down the steps, without uttering a sound. There was so much blood.

I spent ages at the police station. Apparently when I’d thrust my elbow back I’d pushed a knife back into his own chest. The knife he was going to use on me. He’s serious but stable in Como hospital, under police guard. I do hope he doesn’t die. I wouldn’t like to add manslaughter to my list of sins.

The next day I took myself for a nature ramble on the mountain path up behind the town. The metallic buzz of the cicadas reached a crescendo as the traffic sounds of the town fell away below. The air was abruptly split by a sharp cracking sound. Goodness, I hope the hunters weren’t about. Would they know I was here on the footpath? Surely, the footpath is well known as a popular walk for tourists… Another two cracks ruptured the air, followed by a sound like an exhalation, then something heavy rolling through the undergrowth. It took a bit of searching to find him, and by then he was quite dead. A hunter killed by his own ricocheting bullet, the carabinieri told me. I spent ages at the police station.

‘I’m sorry Jean. Desperately sorry. You’ve forgiven me before – can you forgive me again? I swear I’ll make it up to you.’

‘Of course, darling. Darling Roy, you silly old thing…’

‘Giulia’s completely mad. I hadn’t realised I was igniting an inferno. She was determined to get me to herself. She had friends in very low places…’

‘You mean the car mounting the pavement? The ricochet bullet?’

‘I think it was Giulia’s work.’ Roy looked beaten, ashamed, leaning on the poorly maintained handrail, gazing out over the ravine.

Not coincidence? Not accidents?

‘Never mind darling. We can start again,’ I whispered, leaning my head onto his shoulder and putting my hand on his back as a supporting gesture.

I’ll never know what happened. He was here one minute, gone the next. It took ages for the rescue team to get down to his body.

He had good insurance. I go to Como every year, now.

Vicky Squires

Being my Mother

I have racked my brain to try to recall my earliest memories of my mother but with very little success.  I can’t recall anything in my life in my baby and toddler years.  Where were you Mum?

I know things I have been told about my baby times and have a few photos.  Where are my own memories?

I was conceived in the long bitter cold winter of 1947 – which makes me smile.  Everyone had to do their best to keep warm during 3 months of snow and freezing weather.  So my first summer was spent curled up in my mother’s uterus with not a care in the world, one imagines.  I was my parents’ first child, a baby boomer.

My Mum and Dad lived with my grandparents in Surrey and in 1947 my antenatal and post natal care would have been privately sourced as the NHS had not yet been founded.  So, by choice, and probably with financial help from my grandparents, I was taken up to London, to Westminster Hospital, to be born.  I had a big silver cross pram with big springs and spent time every fine day in the pram sleeping in the garden as all babies did then – I have the photo.  Mum later told me that she would take me shopping, to the clinic and to see friends in the pram.  I had a large wooden cot with transfers of nursery rhyme characters on the flat surfaces which in turn became the cot my own children slept in.

When I was eighteen months old my parents bought their own home and we moved there.  I recall nothing of this nor anything of my first home.  My earliest vague memories are of being taken to Mum’s friends ‘ houses to play, presumably while she went to hospital checkups when she was expecting my brother.  Mum was in her late 30s by this time.  I recall going into hospital to have my tonsils out when I was 3 but I know I have been regularly reminded of this because I was told that I was much less upset than my Mum about being separated from her, which of course I don’t remember!!!

I think I remember curling up next to Mum to listen to the radio – Listen with Mother – playing in my sandpit in the garden, being read stories, saying prayers before I went to sleep.  As I got older, but I cannot have been more than 5, I remember that my grandparents had moved to live near us and that I used to cycle on my tricycle to their house to sit on her bed with my unwell grandmother, who I called Bamma, while we watched Andy Pandy and the other early tv programmes for youngsters.  Bamma died when I was 6.  Her funeral was on Xmas Eve.  I didn’t go and have no memory of my Mum being upset.  Didn’t I notice anything?

Mum had a few friends with children my age so I remember playing with Lorna and Jane but most of my play at this time was at home or organised.  No going out to play in the street with whoever was about for me.  I know I found the regular company of friends when I started school so wonderful.

I remember Mum walking me to school every day – about a mile and a quarter each way, with my brother now in the pram.  It seemed a long way.  And of course Mum came to collect me too and no doubt did any shopping as we passed the shops on the journey. Once I had learned to read regular trips were made to the library – I was an avid reader.   Vans selling fruit and veg and fish and of course the milkman came around our streets and the salespeople always talked kindly to us children and sometimes the milkman gave us a ride on his milk float.

When it was the coronation in June 1953 we had a street party for the children and I had a special white dress edged in red and blue.  The children near our house were invited to watch on Mrs Robin’s 9 inch tv and about 20 of us crowded into her living room.  I cant remember anything of my Mum during these celebrations – I must have been too busy enjoying myself.

At home Mum kept us busy.  I did a lot of colouring and painting, plenty of reading.  I helped to make lavender bags and apple jelly.  My grandfather came to lunch every weekend and as I grew he taught me to play card games.

So these are my early memories of life with my Mum who was the centre of our world.  But how was it for Mum in the 1940s and 1950s?   How did she feel about having her first child?  And moving to her first home? And having a second child? And managing a limited family budget? And having to walk or cycle everywhere or go by bus? And doing the housework with very limited help from electrical appliances? I guess that for her, as now, that was how life was!

To me Mum was always there but as we grew up, she seemed to become more of the background to my life rather than a strong mother figure.  Mum cooked and cleaned and looked after us but what did she do for her own pleasure?  She sewed and knitted and gardened – was that pleasure or necessity?

She had a very good friend who lived over the road – they stayed friends until Mum died.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that I learned that, right to then, they had held secrets about themselves and in particular their ages and lives before they met – to protect their respectability.

Mum was a member of the Ladies Circle and they met once a month but as children we were only involved once a year at their annual picnic.  We went to church regularly and Mum and Dad used what influence they could muster to get us into the school attached to the church which was always over-subscribed.

What I didn’t find out for years was that Mum had been a regular tennis player before she was married but I don’t ever remember her playing except with us in the park.  Mum had also been active in amateur dramatics and in her possessions I found some glowing reviews but I cant recall her ever participating during my life time, even after we grew up.  Now that she is no longer here it is too late to ask her.

Do we think we know our Mum?  Did I just take her for granted?  What do our own children really know about us and what really makes us tick?

Mary Armitage

Pompeii

A piece in response to ‘Close your eyes and imagine you are somewhere.  What do you feel like?  What can you smell or hear?  No visual descriptions.’

 

I am at Pompeii as Vesuvius erupts

I hear the rumble at the same time as I feel the ground vibrating and shaking.   At first I do nothing.  I am trying to work out what is happening.

I hear screams and feel people running past me brushing against me.  They are breathing deeply and encouraging others to run with them.  Some are shouting for their family members, some are crying.  Children are shouting for their Mothers.  More screaming, fear in all the voices.

Then people start to cough and I find that I am wretching and struggling to breathe.  The air tastes foul.  It smells of sulphur.  I turn into my house for some water.  It tastes fresh and clean.

I try to keep my eyes and mouth closed to keep the swirling dust out.

Then I realise that I am running and shouting too.  Where is my daughter Carolina, my son Stephano, my husband Donato?

The dog is barking.  I can hear the fear in his bark.  I unleash him.

I hear Donato calling me.  I shout back and we find each other.  Donato has Stephano with him and I scoop my son up squeezing him to me, burying my nose in his hair, smelling his sweet boyish sweat and kissing him while holding Donato’s arm tightly.  “Mamma,” he asks, “what is happening?” “” I don’t know, I reply.  “Donato, what is happening?” I shout.

“It must be the mountain,” he says, “we must get away.”  “But where is Carolina,” I demand, my voice full of fear.  “She is with your Mother,” he tells me, “Grandma will look after her.  We must get away now.”

I fill a bottle with water, grab some money, some fruit.  I fill a bag with our valuables.  “Come on,” shouts Donato.  I can hardly breathe, we must go.  And we three run away from the direction of the mountain towards the sea.  We know the path well so can run at first while we are on familiar ground.  I feel my chest tightening, the air is full of ash and I still try to keep my mouth closed.  We are fumbling along now more slowly.  There are many other people going the same way so we soon find ourselves being swept along with the crowds.  Soon we are out of the town and stumbling across the fields but the air is still thick with dust.  When will we reach safety?

Stephano screams and falls to the ground letting go of my hand.  Now I am screaming as I feel about to find him.  “I have hurt my foot Mamma,” he says, “I tripped over a stone.” “Can you walk?”  I ask.  His father picks him up and carries him as we move ever forward.  Is it my imagination or is it getting hotter.  I am perspiring and I can feel that Donato is too.  I try to open my eyes but the pain is intense as pieces of ash and earth hit me in the face.  Donato is coughing.  He slows down to catch his breath and Stephano starts to cough as well.  The branch of a tree hits me and I let go of Donato to stop myself from falling.  I am screaming  for him and he has turned back to help me when the fog of ash intensifies and we are all coughing and can only lay on the ground, hug each other and try to breathe…………….

Mary Armitage

Win some, lose some

“What are you doing up there?” Marian’s voice drew nearer as she pounded upstairs towards the bedroom. “We’re going to miss the flight. You do realize the time, don’t you?” George knew that most wives took ages to get ready to go out, especially if there was packing involved. Marian, however, was always ready on time, and never had to switch off the engine to go back for a forgotten item. He fumbled desperately in the pocket of his overcoat, though he was sure that the elusive airline tickets were not there. There was a piece of paper, but not what he was looking for. He stuffed it back as Marian entered.

“I know I put those tickets in a pocket; I just don’t remember which one.” He sounded pathetic, even to his own ears. Marian was now in efficient mode. “Have you looked in here?”

“Yes, I’ve just….”

Frowning, she pulled the overcoat towards her and peered at it.

“This isn’t your coat,” she announced.

“What? Are you sure?”

“Of course. This one is almost new. Yours was tatty. A similar colour, but tatty. Anyway, we don’t have time to worry about that now. Perhaps you’ve packed the pocket that contains the tickets in your suitcase. Have you thought of that?”

George started towards the stairs, heart sinking even further. He would have to unpack everything. It would take ages, and they really would miss the flight.

“Just a minute! Here they are; in your wallet. Come on! Let’s go, for God’s sake.”

They went, and the holiday turned out to be a great success. The sun shone every day, and Marian turned a beautiful golden brown as she lay on the beach, glistening with sun-oil. They were both pleasantly occupied, pretending to read whilst lazily watching the parade of young flesh passing constantly up and down. As the time for aperitif approached they gathered up their belongings and repaired to the hotel. Dinner was served on the terrace, and afterwards there was time for a stroll arm-in-arm along the starlit beach, where the bustle of the day had given way to the susurration of little waves tipped with phosphorescence.

Back in cold, damp Essex the largest jackpot in the history of the Lottery was won but not claimed. Hardly surprising, as the crumpled ticket reposed in George’s wardrobe, while its puzzled purchaser searched in vain. “I know I put it in a pocket,” he told his irate wife. “I just can’t remember which one.”

Val Brookes

Cake!

There’s a Manchester-based online writing group that has an interesting ‘Wednesday Write-in’ every week. Gets the old grey cells moving! I’m enjoying the challenge, and perhaps you will too:

http://cakeshortandsweet.wordpress.com

‘Cake’ is a very interesting concept, and perhaps something like it could happen in the Torbay area, too.