Challenging Stereotype

A task from my writing course, to create a snapshot of a character that challenges the stereotype 

Mum made the best shortbread. If a plate of it didn’t appear at some point during a family gathering there would be uproar. Mum was the sun around which our family orbited. Every Sunday afternoon we’d gather at her little three bed semi with our ever growing entourage of partners, children and pets for an afternoon of family based banter, endless cups of tea and the famous shortbread.

But Mum had a secret. A secret that would put an end to those long, lazy Sunday afternoons, basking in her light and warmth and shortbread.

For her 70th birthday two years ago, Mum had requested a computer. There had been a collaborative sigh as each of us wondered whether we would be the one tasked with showing her how to use it, but we obliged, clubbed together, and got her a nifty little state of the art laptop. We were surprised when she refused our tentative offers of help and informed us that she had found a group called Surfers of the Third Age, who gave free computer help to the over 60’s at her local library.

Nobody thought much more about it. Sunday gatherings continued. At first we would ask how she was getting on, hoping to get some laughs out of her attempts to conquer the virtual world but we were disappointed when none were forthcoming. She seemed to have taken to the world wide web like a teenager to Tinder, although she wouldn’t set up any social media accounts even though we begged her.

“Whats the point” she would say, ” I get to see your ugly mugs every week, why would I want to have access to your goings on 24-7?”

One Sunday, Mum wasn’t in when we arrived. We milled about on the drive as phone calls were made to various siblings who hadn’t turned up yet. Did they know where she was? Who had a key? Had anyone spoken to her recently? Darren, newest addition to the family (eldest sisters second husband and still at the stage of trying to impress us) was just about to shin up a drainpipe and into an open window, when Mum arrived in a taxi.

She scolded us as she struggled to open the front door with her handbag held under her arm and stuffed with a package that was too large for it. She really did not know what all the fuss was about. When we questioned her as to where she had been she got uncharacteristically defensive.

“Out, just out! I still have a life you know!”

she hurried upstairs with her bag still stuffed with the peculiar package.

That had been the beginning. If only one of us had been more astute, had challenged Mum about the package and Sunday morning taxi ride, perhaps the events that followed could have been prevented, but we were all too comfortable in our groove. Happy to keep circling in our orbits around her. No one wanted to be the asteroid that would send everyone spinning.

Mum managed to do that all on her own.

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Idea for the start of a story

There was a fire burning at the end of his street. He knew this even though he was subterranean and bereft of air and light, because he had set it. Steadfast had woken him early that morning, had served him breakfast as usual and helped him into his clothes. His stomach knotted as he thought of Steadfast but there was no use dwelling on it. He was not surprised to find himself so easily consoled. He never doubted his unflinching capacity to self serve and Steadfast had been an expenditure. There wasn’t anyone he wouldn’t have sold for his own gains, except Mollie.

Hot, confined and dizzy with lack of air his thoughts turn to a memory of her. She is swinging out high over the lake in Gideon’s old T shirt and not much else. She throws her head back and squints into the sun, dark damp tendrils of hair cling to her back. She yells as she launches herself into the water and the gasp for air as she surfaces quickly turns to laughter.

Mollie. Was that her calling him? His brain is a sponge slowly filling with water. He thinks he can feel it seeping out of his nose. He draws the back of his hand across his face and it comes away hot, too sticky for water, must be blood of course. Gideon had caught him square in the face with his elbow as they tussled in the dirt. The world had shrunk to the space around them and the shouts of The Guardians had faded so completely that he felt as though he was under water, choking the life from Gideon in an ocean of dust and dirt and fish scales.

2nd draft

Danny took the stairs to his bedsit. It was on the seventeenth floor but he never took the lift. It wasn’t that he had a phobia, phobias were for the emotionally extravagant and he considered himself frugal in that department, it was just that he hated the closeness of strangers, the Great Unwashed as his dad delighted in calling them. That’s partly why Danny had put himself amongst them, to piss his dad off.

Danny enjoyed the feeling of the lactic acid building in his thighs as he ascended. Regular gym workouts kept him lean and muscular, and by the time he got to the last flight he was taking them in twos, grinning with the pain, showing teeth perfectly straight and white. He was still buzzing with adrenaline from the incident at work earlier, and his zealous run up seventeen flights had got him so pumped, that when he got through the door of his tiny apartment Danny felt huge, too huge, like Alice after eating the cake, he thought.  He knew that soon he would go past the point of no return, a balloon that gets one final catastrophic breath. But for this brief moment he was all consuming perfection, a paragon, a God.  The moment always tilted and slipped away, and although he had learnt that the key was not to grasp, he often did. The temptation to take another breath, to improve on perfection, was too great, and he would become his own terrorist, blowing up the sacred. The last time had almost cost him everything, but not again, he wouldn’t risk it again. He went into the bathroom and checked himself out in the mirror. His reflection stared back at him in defiance, wide dark eyes full of fury. “I know what you’re trying to do Danny, but why fight it? Don’t be a fucking coward Danny, you’re a fucking coward!” Danny gripped the sides of the sink; his hands seemed to take up the entire space. He snorted like a bull as he breathed out, and then he was breathing in, filling the cavity of his chest with a clarity that seeped through alveoli and into his bloodstream, sending out a limbic lullaby that soothed his brain, chasing away those urges that he had once found almost impossible to contain.

Moments later he was the right size once more. His phone was dancing silently face down on the glass coffee table. It was the office, his boss was probably calling to sack him, he answered it anyway and two minutes later he found himself unemployed again. One of the Great Unwashed. His Dad would be so proud. This made Danny smile. This, more than the incident at work, made Danny’s day.

first draft. Something I’m working on for a writing course.

Danny took the stairs to his bedsit. It was on the 17th floor but he never took the lift. It wasn’t that he had a phobia, phobias were for the weak minded, it was just he hated to be in that close proximity to others, the Great Unwashed as his dad delighted in calling them. That’s partly why Danny had put himself among them, to piss his dad off.

Danny enjoyed the feeling of the lactic acid building in his thighs as he ascended, by the time he got to the last flight he was taking them two at a time, grinning with the pain, showing teeth perfectly straight and white, disappointed that there were no more flights to climb. He was still buzzing from the adrenaline coursing through his veins from the incident at work earlier, and his zealous run up seventeen flights had got him truly pumped so that when he got through the door of his tiny apartment Danny felt huge, too huge for such a small place. Like Alice after eating that cake he thought, and he knew that soon he would be going past the point of no return, like a balloon that gets one breath too many. Everything in him was urging him to take that final breath, to create the explosion that would mean annihilation. He had succumbed to this urge before, too many times to count and the last time had almost cost him everything, but not again, he wouldn’t risk it again. He went into the bathroom and checked himself out in the mirror. His reflection stared back at him in defiance, wide dark eyes full of fury. “I know what you’re trying to do Danny, but why fight it? Don’t be a fucking coward Danny, you’re a fucking coward!” Danny gripped the sides of the sink; his hands seemed to take up the entire space. He snorted like a bull as he breathed out and then he was breathing in, filling the cavity of his chest with a clarity that seeped through alveoli and into his bloodstream, sending out a limbic lullaby that soothed his brain, chasing away those urges that he had once found almost impossible to contain.

Moments later he was the right size once more. His phone was dancing silently face down on the glass coffee table. It was the office, his boss was probably calling to sack him, he answered it anyway and two minutes later he found himself unemployed again. One of the Great Unwashed. His Dad would be so proud. This made Danny smile, this more than the incident at work, made Danny’s day.

Mistletoe

It waits at the end of dread,

that path I tread

each year.

and each year I said

I would no longer dread.

That I’d give it a miss

I’d no longer kiss under that parasitic branch.

Yet here I stand,

puckering up

with a fear in my gut

that my life is a sham,

that all that I am

for the rest of the year

is a careful facade

for although I try hard

I always end up

in line with the rest

of the herd

and at best

I’ll utter a protest

an unheard request

that we pass it by,

but a lovers sigh

is hard to deny.

and so at the Plain of Lethe

I arrive

born again, renewed,

alive

to traverse the year

oblivious to

the ineluctable path

that will lead me

to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 in Books

This year I failed to complete my Goodreads target of 40 books. Having said that I read some mighty long books this year so I’m not going to beat myself up about it!

Here is this years list in full

This year I read a lot of old titles. Some were beloved favourites from childhood (Earthsea) others were books that I finally got round to picking up again after a hiatus of over 20 years! (The Dark Tower series) but I also found some fabulous new (to me) authors that I’d heard rumour of but hadn’t got round to seeking out. I’m so glad I did that this year because I feel I’ve found a real  new favourite in China Mieville, and I also intend to read more Richard Morgan and Ken liu.

Here are my winners and losers of this years challenge

Favourite read: Perdido Street Station – China Mieville.  Very reminiscent of Mervyn Peak in his vivid descriptions of the intricate architecture of his strange worlds. Wonderfully flawed heroes, strange new species to discover. Can’t wait to read more!

Disappointed By: The Magicians – Lev Grossman. Uninteresting characters, predictable plot. Not for me.

Pleasant Surprise: Sorcerer of The WildeepsKai Ashante Wilson. This title popped up in a Facebook post from Tor Books  as a free download from their website. Absolutely fell in love with the main protagonist Demane. Will definitely be reading more of this author in the future.

Made me Cry Snot: The Book Thief- Marcus Zusak. Have had this book for several years (I think it was actually bought for my daughter) and only got round to reading it this year. Simple, powerful storytelling.

Best revisited: The Earthsea Trilogy – Ursula K LeGuin  I know that there are more books to the series but when I first read about the wonderful Ged in 1979 there were only three, and it was this memory that I wanted to re visit. I have these books to thank for my love of fantasy but also for the high standards I set myself when choosing a book from this genre. Le Guin is proof positive that you don’t need to write thousands of pages to tell a compelling story or to create rounded characters who we care about. A true masterpiece.

Most Bored by and nearly gave up on: Rivers of London – Ben Aaronvitch. I can imagine this as a fairly pleasant TV series but as a book it didn’t work for me as I didn’t think the writing was up to scratch.

Everyone should read: Freedom From The Known – Jiddu Krishnamurti – We live in troubled times. Civilization seems on the brink of disaster. The only way we can prevent this is to change what we believe it is to be civilized. We can only begin to do this by first looking within ourselves.

Seeing me into 2017: The Scar – China Mieville. I intend to read everything he has written by the end of this year!

Wishing You Many Happy Reads for 2017!

My Year in Books

So this year I decided to use Goodreads to set myself a reading challenge as I felt that I was getting distracted by the internet way too much and that my reading was suffering.

Here’s the list in full.

Quite an eclectic bunch of titles I think. Some are novels I’ve always wanted to read but hadn’t got round to (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep, American Gods), some were bought on a whim with the supermarket shop (The Minaturist, All The Light That We Cannot See) and others  have been continually brought to my attention over the years as “must reads” (The Alchemist). Some were free Kindle books that I read on holiday (80 Days Around the World, The War of The Worlds) and others were found whilst shelf tidying (I work in a library) and I’d either heard good things about or was intrigued by the blurb (Gormenghast, Farmegeddon)

Here are the winners and losers of this years challenge, in my opinion of course!

Favourite Read (even though it’s book 2 of a trilogy but didn’t know until a few chapters in!)

Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake

Disappointed by:

The Alchemist – Paul Coelho

Pleasant Surprise:

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Made me laugh out Loud:

How To Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran

Best re visited:

Reaper Man – Terry Pratchett (RIP TERRY)

Author I will not be reading more of in a hurry:

Haruki Murakami – Norwegian Wood

Everyone Should Read:

Farmageddon – Philip Lymbery & Isabel Oakeshott

Seeing me into 2016:

The shark and The albatross – John Aitchison