Evocations 1 – Mum

The sweet smell of soap powder,

And the scent of Tabu

And Alberto Balsam Shampoo.

The smoky air of fireworks

And damp leaves

As we walked through the park

On our way home.

The whiff of pine as you opened

The door,

The Christmas trees

Year after year,

You still put up.

Cinnamon and nutmeg,

Christmas cake cooking,

As I eat the scraps of marzipan.

The fruit you fed for months,

Cherry Brandy and Napoleon too,

And the stickiness of glue on my hands

As I stuck sequins onto a picture

Drawn by you.

The smell of furniture polish

And Vacuumed floors

And the roasting chicken

Waiting for us

And you would always

Give me some skin.

Sometimes a vegetable curry

From the Lido Chef,

In all my travels,

I have never tasted it so good.

Ungratefulness,

Regretfully,

I showed

At quiche, plum tomatoes

And mashed potatoes:

Makes me sorrowful of every time

I did not appreciate

The efforts, trials

To make me smile.

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Such Things As Dreams Are Made On: Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed: A Review

Hag-Seed: Margaret Atwood’s re-imagining of The Tempest hagseed

You don’t have to know Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1610-11) to appreciate Margaret Atwood’s homage to the Bard, but it certainly helps.  Felix is the banished ex-director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival.  For Twelve years he has lived under the pseudonym of Mr Duke, a retired teacher working on a literacy programme at a local prison.  Those who banished Felix have risen into local politics and Felix sees his chance to inflict his revenge on his enemies.

‘The Tempest is a play within a play’ Felix tells his students. But by the time Atwood has worked her magic with it, it becomes a play within a play within a play within a novel!  Atwood isn’t bothered with mundane details like how exactly did Felix manage to open a bank account with a fake name? How did he go undiscovered for so long living in a back-wood hovel?  Instead she retells the story, placing it in a modern context.  The prison becomes the Island, the prisoners become Caliban and Ariel, and Felix’s old foes become Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian.

What Atwood cleverly does is pull Shakespeare’s play apart, as Felix attempts to explain and engage the prisoners with one of Shakespeare’s most Romantic (Capital R) plays.  The prisoners have been used to the blood and gore of Macbeth and the vengeance and evil cunning of Richard III, so it is a bit of a stretch for Felix to convince the prisoners The Tempest is the play for them, but by half-way they are rapping their way through their own take on verse. Felix’s explanation and indeed the prisoner’s own realisation of the play draws the reader closer to Shakespeare’s text. It’s a play about prisons, vengeance, ambition and forgiveness.

Apart from the couple of chapters where Felix inflicts his revenge Atwood keeps a tight rein on the plot.  The revenge chapters seem rushed and not clearly drawn – a bit crazy in fact. However, perhaps this is Atwood’s intention: after all, Prospero’s revenge inflicted by Ariel in the original text is also a bit messy.  The best chapters by far are the prisoner’s thoughts about the afterlife of Shakespeare’s characters.  What an inspired idea.  It is their imagining of Caliban’s after life that really stands out, there is almost an implied subtext about the prisoners asserting their own identity and shaking of their own scales to become new beings.

I think Atwood missed an opportunity with Sycorax, Caliban’s mother, a witch banished many years before on the Island.   As in Shakespeare’s play she is mentioned, but she suffers from a bit of ‘mad-woman in the attic’ syndrome!  Atwood’s version of Miranda, played by a former dancer called Anne-marie is spunky and although she is stepping out into a ‘brave new world’ she is a welcome tonic to the naïve, fay reading of her character.

Hag-Seed is just one of several novels published by The Hogarth Shakespeare project.  Atwood’s novel certainly succeeds in drawing you back to the original for a re-assessment of William Shakespeare’s play.

Short Story – The Songbird

The Songbird

 

In her homeland Kuimba would sing; sometimes of joy, more often of sorrow.  Under the hot red ancient sun she would sing and the lilies in the field would burst into bloom, as if the rainbow of the first covenant lay shattered on the ground.   The bees would stop their work for a while and rest on the petals and the swallows would dance, forming into kaleidoscopic shapes, diving low, following the heavenly music, hypnotised by the song of this strange ebony bird.  At night when her brothers and sisters lay sleeping she would sing gently and the constellations would burn brighter, twinkling, some would shoot across the sky, burning out and dying in glory.

She is more than four thousand miles from home. She pulls up her knees to her chin and watches the blotchy flabby white man dress.  He is disappointed, disgusted in fact, but she does not care, she has sung her last note.  She has been captive in this house, with its walls the colour of clotted blood for nearly a year.  It’s her birthday, and she has decided that today is a new beginning.  She fondles the small silver cross her Bibi gave her for a safe journey and a kiss on the forehead for prosperity.  The journey was hard, walking across the desert in a caravan of malnourished nomads, and across the sea, hidden amongst cargo. She has not seen a penny since she was locked in this room.  When she first arrived she was given a room on the ground floor, her tasks were cleaning and scrubbing the semen from the sheets. She received a little pay which she sent some home to her family through Western Union, and the rest she saved in an old Rose’s Lime Marmalade jar, which is now lost.

Life was not what she expected it to be.  She hated the cries and sighs of the girls in the house, howling like alley cats against the unsteady rhythm of bed posts banging against the walls.  So she sang to drown out the noise.  That was her mistake, the music that had once been her only joy now became the reason for her incarceration.  When Mrs James first heard her song she wheeled Kuimba round on her heels with her gnarled old hands and stared at her in wonder.

“Do that again, the singing” she crowed holding Kuimba’s chin in her bony fingers.  “What a commodity we have here. What a commodity!” Mrs James calls all her girls “commodities”.

Now the men pay to clamber over Kuimba as she sings to them, never in joy, always in sorrow.  They are ugly men, sweaty men, men with sour breath and odour the smell of rotting onions.  One of the men cries when he comes, and Kuimba sings softly, a lullaby for the cry baby man. But today she has vowed to sing no more.  Her Bibi told her there is power in her song, to use it wisely. She has discovered a different power; the power of withholding.

Outside the room there are raised voices.  You don’t argue with Mrs James, not if you know what’s good for you.

“She’s a mute, she didn’t even make a noise.  I want my money back.”  He sounds whiney, piteous man, thinks Kuimba.

“Did she service you?”

There is no reply.

“Well then, you got what you came for. On your way!”  Mrs James bellows.

“I said I want my money back.”

Mrs James calls for Pete and there is a scuffle and a door slamming. Kuimba sits on the edge of the bed calculating her next move when Mrs James walks in. Her back bowed from the years of counting money on the kitchen table, and she is a caricature of a Victorian madam, all corset and wild hair pinned on top of her wrinkled face.  She lifts Kuimba’s head.

“The men pay you to sing.  You sing.”

“I ain’t gonna sing no more.”

“Look here, Wrights back soon. Don’t make him mad.  I take no pleasure in the roughness he shows you girls.  We’ll let this one go.  No questions asked.  Just make sure you lie back and sing for the next one.”

Kuimba rolls her eyes and looks squarely at the crusty old hag.  “I ain’t gonna sing no more.”

“You’re asking for trouble girly.”

After Mrs James leaves Kuimba throws open the curtains, tidies the bed, puts on her shoes and coat, stuffing her small worn Bible into one of the pockets and waits to face Wright.  It’s an hour or so before she hears the thud of Wrights boots in the hallway.  He is mean and rough, his eyes are dead, like fish eyes, and his gait makes the room and everything in it seem smaller.

“What do you mean, she’s stopped singing.  You’re supposed to keep them in line, you worthless stinking cow.”

Kuimba counts the stairs out loud, he must have taken two at a time because the door springs open crashing against the bed after just six steps. Kuimba jumps.  She yelps in shock as he lifts her from her lapels, slamming her against the wardrobe, the handle catching her back, causing a searing pain in her kidneys.

“Listen you stupid bitch.  You’re an ugly cow, you wreak of piss, and you’re an idiot.  You’ve got one thing going for you, and that’s when you sing, so you better start singing you stupid nigger.”

“I ain’t gonna sing no more.” Kuimba whispers.

“What?” shaking her violently.

“I said I ain’t gonna sing no more.”

She screams and loses her footing as he drags her out of the room by her hair.  She hits her shins and knees against the stairs as he pulls her down the stairs, as one by one the doors of the rooms open, and Mrs James’ commodities assemble on the stairs, some of them naked, others dressed in pretty lingerie, watching in horror at the fate of Kuimba.

His grip on Kuimba’s chin is so hard she feels as if her teeth might cave in.

“You will sing” he says with his face so close to Kuimba’s that she can see his gold fillings.

“I ain’t gonna sing no more.” The words come out distorted, her jaw in Wright’s vice like grip.

He pushes her to the floor and in a few moments he’s back with a knife. He smirks and lifts Kuimba up by her chin.  He pushes his hand into her mouth, which makes her gag and choke, she can taste the bitter nicotine on his large rough fingers. He pulls her tongue and the nicotine is replaced with a salty metallic taste.  Her mouth fills with blood before she feels the pain.  Wright laughs. He spits at Kuimba and throws her severed tongue at the girls on the stairs, pushing past Mrs James, and slamming the door behind him.

Kuimba doesn’t scream or cry.  She stands for what seems like an age with the blood gushing out of her mouth.  One of the girls, Briony, a sweet Irish girl makes a move towards her, but Kuimba raises her hand.  Out of her mouth comes a note, low and guttural.  She can sing no words but she can still sound a melody. The note becomes an arpeggio, soaring higher and higher into scales, the notes vibrate into trills, into baroque ornament. Things begin to change.  The girls begin to bloom out of their pallid complexions, their cheeks become rosy and their hair lustrous, wavy and glossy. Even Mrs James’ eyes shine bright as Kuimba’s melody ascends higher.  The light bulbs flare brighter, and the dark oppressive walls are no longer claret red, but the bright pink of candyfloss.

The sweet notes become shrill, and there is no longer rhythm to the music.  The notes clash and become discordant.  The music is destructive.  The blossoming beauty of Mrs James’ girls begins to fail, and one of the girls looks in horror as the skin sags on her hands and liver spots appear on her hands.  The wall paper begins to curl away from the walls.  Still Kuimba sings on and on with no sign of stopping.  Her notes are destructive and have lost all of their charm. The light bulb brightens further as Mrs James clutches her chest and slumps to the floor, the bulb shattering above her leaving the house in darkness.

Kuimba stops. The last note still rings around the hallway.  She lifts her hands to her face and gently drops to her knees and lays down.  She is not going to sing anymore.

1438 words

 

Commentary

I started by creating a cluster around the theme “Pulling the strings” and I thought of puppets which reminded me of The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (1967).  The novel can be classed in the sub-genre of Magic Realism, and I decided I would attempt to employ this type of writing in my piece.  I have often had a niggling disappointment with my writing; that it is tame and in some sense too realist, too close to home, so I was quite excited at the prospect of challenging my imagination in this genre.  I also thought about control, which led me to consider the concept of slavery.

I did some research on slavery, I had read an article in The Telegraph about modern slavery, (Fox, 2014).  I also looked at the website modernslavery.co.uk which had some harrowing accounts of slavery and the sex trade in Britain.  Kuimba’s passage to Britain, and her incarceration are based on several accounts from the website, there seemed to be a common theme of being lured to a better life and ending up forced into prostitution.  Kuimba’s singing is magical, but I wanted to make sure that my writing did not become burlesque, which is why I insisted on a violent end to the story.  Kuimba’s incarceration and her abuse ruins her gift, it becomes a destructive force.  I was partly inspired by the song Experiment IV by Kate Bush (1986), which is about a secret military plan to create “a sound that could kill someone.”  I also was inspired by the film 12 Years A Slave (McQueen, 2013), and the scene where the Solomon Northup and his fellow slaves sing a Spiritual in order to keep strong in the face of cruelty and adversity.  Kuimba sings for herself, not for performance, but she is forced to sing for men, it is symbolic of her overall plight.

I have included some conflict in the story.  Firstly between the man and Mrs James, and also between Mrs James, Wright and Kuimba, but I wanted to ensure that Kuimba does not really argue back.  I wanted to give her a dignified defiance when she says “I ain’t gonna sing no more.”

363 words

 

Bibliography

Bush, Kate (1986) Experiment IV (song), EMI, London.

Carter, Angela (1967) The Magic Toyshop, Reprinted 1994, Virago Press Ltd, London.

Fox, Geneviève (October 10th 2014) “Sex slaves are on every street in Britain” (article), The Telegraph, London.

Greenwell, Bill (2009) “Chapter 2: Conflict and Contrast” from A Creative Writing Handbook, (ed. Neale, Derek), A.C Black Publishers Limited, London, in association with The Open University Milton Keynes.

Greenwell, Bill (2009) “Chapter 3: Vision and revision” from A Creative Writing Handbook, (ed. Neale, Derek), A.C Black Publishers Limited, London, in association with The Open University Milton Keynes.

McQueen, Steve (dir.) 12 Years a Slave (film), (2013), Fox Searchlight Pictures, USA.

Modernslavery.co.uk (website) 2014.

Neale, Derek (2009) “Chapter 1: Playing with Genre” from A Creative Writing Handbook, (ed. Neale, Derek), A.C Black Publishers Limited, London, in association with The Open University Milton Keynes.

Screenplay : (The Songbird – A short film)

The Songbird

A short film

 

Cast

Kuimba – A young African woman.

Kuimba’s Grandmother – An elderly African woman, wise and serene

Louise – A neat and pristine middle aged woman, Madam of the Brothel

Bridie – A young Irish girl, naïve, yet jaded.

Wright- A thuggish drug dealer, unstable personality

African villagers

African guerrilla militia

Various men, clients of the brothel, different classes, races and ages.

Four women, dressed in lingerie.

 

EXT. DAY.

The weather is bleak and grey, a mist of drizzly rain. A busy road. Traffic speeding past. The traffic is very loud, a mixture of car horns, sirens, heavy Lorries, speeding motorbikes, and the general hum of cars can be heard. Across the road KUIMBA is staring into a shop window. A small notice reads “Laundress required. Board and lodgings provided. Cash in hand.” plus a mobile telephone number. Kuimba’s face can be seen in the reflection of the window.

 

EXT. EARLY EVENING

Kuimba walks up an inner city street, with large imposing red brick houses. She walks up to the front door and presses the bell. Sound of doors slamming and girls laughing from inside. Kuimba pulls up her coat around her neck and shivers. She looks upwards to the top of the house. The door opens. LOUISE is dressed formerly, almost corporately.

KUIMBA

Hello.  I telephoned earlier. About the Laundress job.

(Pause)

Um.  I’m Kuimba.

LOUISE

Kuimba?  Yes, come in, come in.

 

INT. A hallway. Dark, decorated in dark hues of red, leading onto a kitchen. FOUR WOMEN and BRIDIE lean over the bannisters, staring at Kuimba, sniggering, Louise pushes her forwards to the kitchen.

 

LOUISE

Don’t mind them. They’ll not bite you.  Cup of Tea?

KUIMBA

No, No thank you.

LOUISE

Down to business it is then.  The girls clean their own rooms, but you’ll collect the sheets each morning. Scrub out the stains in the sink, and put them in the wash.  Iron them and give them back to the girls. We keep a tight ship here.   Can you do that?

(Kuimba nods.)

Good. Wages are thirty pounds per week. You can go out on Monday mornings, but you need to be back by midday. You don’t speak to anybody, keeps you safe, keeps us safe. You’ll sleep down there in the cellar. It’s dark but warm. Any questions?

 

 

KUIMBA

Um, what do you do here? Who are the girls?
LOUISE

(Laughs.) We’re whores darling. Oldest profession in the world, If you’ve got a problem with it you can leave now, but judging by your face I’d say it’s been a while since you ate a decent meal, or had a decent nights rest for that matter. Keep yourself to yourself and you’ll be alright. (Pause). So are you in or out?

KUIMBA

In.

 

LOUISE

Right then, let’s get you some food, I swore I could hear your bones rattle as you came in.

 

INT. Montage.

KUIMBA’s alarm rings. She sits up straight, gets dressed. She collects the sheets outside the rooms. She scrubs sheets, different colours, her hands in and out of the water. The sound of bed springs, girl’s sighs and men’s grunts can be heard, with the occasional slap and scream. Time is denoted by the endless washing and scrubbing of sheets.

AFRICA – The village women are scrubbing sheets in the river. They sing as they work. The colour of their cloth is vibrant. They dry the clothes on large rocks at the side of the river…

INT. ENGLAND

A door slams and the scene changes back to the kitchen. LOUISE hurries KUIMBA to the cellar door. WRIGHT pulls out a chair and sits down at the kitchen table. Louise opens a safe in one of the kitchen cupboards and hands Wright several bundles of notes.

WRIGHT

Slow week was it?

LOUISE

Ay.  No one’s got any money. S’pose we’re a luxury if the choice is a bit of fun against putting bread on the table.

WRIGHT

Bullshit. What about the Irish slut? She used to have them queuing up to see her.

LOUISE

She’s not as fresh as she was Wright. They won’t pay extra for her anymore, she’s not a girl anymore.

 

WRIGHT

The girls will have to put out a bit more. Drop some of your damn rules. What about the Wog? She paying her way?

 

Kuimba is listening by the cellar door. She holds her breath.

 

LOUISE

No not her. I need her, she earns her keep.

WRIGHT

Looks like you’ll be putting out then. Special on grab a granny. (Laughs, stuffing money into his pockets.)

FADES OUT.

FADES IN.

EXT. SPRING.

The Backyard to the house. KUIMBA is hanging sheets out on the line. She is singing. The melody is clear and joyous. She sings as a pigeon hops around the yard.

AFRICA – Kuimba is singing. A crowned lapwing hops around. A flock takes flight against a bright blue sky. A patch of African Iris is blooming. A dry riverbed fills with water. The sun sets, huge and red over the horizon.

EXT. ENGLAND.

Kuimba is startled by WRIGHT, who is smoking a cigarette. He flicks the cigarette butt towards her.

 

WRIGHT

Don’t stop. Go on. Keep on singing.

KUIMBA

I, um I…

WRIGHT

I said sing.

 

Kuimba begins to sing, faltering at first, but eventually the melody picks up. She finishes and looks towards the ground. Wright sniffs, spits on the ground, walks over to Kuimba, holds her chin in his hand, surveys her face, pulls backs her lips to see her teeth, lets go of her chin.

 

WRIGHT

Oi, get out here, (shouts towards back door).

 

LOUISE appears at the back door, she is smoking a cigarette.

 

LOUISE

What is it?

WRIGHT

I give you “La Chanteuse”. She’ll be the new draw. Get her moved upstairs tonight.

 

 

LOUISE

You’re joking aren’t ye.  She an’t got what it takes. She’ll put the punters off. Leave her alone Wright.

Wright breathes heavily. He paces the yard. He lifts his hand and smacks Louise across the face. She falls to the ground and sobs.

 

WRIGHT

Know your place you crusty old cow.

 

He grabs Kuimba by the chin.

 

WRIGHT

You will sing.

 

He pushes her against the wall, steps over Louise and leaves through the house.

 

INT. NIGHT

BRIDIE is scrubbing the sheets in the sink. The camera shot ascends through the ceiling to an upstairs room. KUIMBA sits with her legs crossed on a King size bed. She is dressed in a white baby doll lingerie. The décor of the room is in various shades of delicate pink. There is a dressing table with a mirror and an antique wardrobe in the corner of the room. There is a knock at the door.

Bridie comes in and puts fresh linen into the top of the wardrobe and sits on the bed next to Kuimba.

 

 

BRIDIE

Don’t fret now. You’ll be okay.

 

Kuimba looks away. Bridie moves closer to her.

 

BRIDIE

I won’t lie to you, it’s hard at first, but it’s easier if you don’t resist. It makes it easier somehow.

 

Pause. Kuimba stares at the floor. Her face hardens. She stares at Bridie.

 

KUIMBA

I am not like you. I am not the same as you.

(Pause)

BRIDIE

Maybe not. But you will be.

 

Bridie gets up to leave. LOUISE enters the room. Bridie hurries past her and leaves the room.

 

LOUISE

The first client is here. Now listen. You don’t let them in you until they’ve put on a rubber. You’re one of my commodities now and I can’t afford for you to get HIV, or worse get knocked up. You sing for them like you did for Wright. You keep singing until they finish. Got it?

KUIMBA

Yes.

 

Louise leaves. A MAN enters the room.

EXT. MONTAGE.

View into the bedroom through window. KUIMBA sings throughout shot. Her song is hauntingly mournful yet beautiful. Varying men are on top of her. The men are of different ages, class and race, some are seedy, and some look completely respectable. The view through the window changes to show different times of day and night and seasons through summer to winter.

FADE OUT

EXT. AFRICA

KUIMBA is peeling vegetables with her GRANDMOTHER. They are sat outside their thatched house with adobe walls. They are both singing. They drop the vegetables into a pail of water.

 

GRANDMOTHER

You have a beautiful voice child.  You must take care of it, it is a gift from God. Men are coming Kuimba, and when the time comes you must take your brothers and sisters and hide in the river.

KUIMBA

Do you think they will come here Bibi?

GRANDMOTHER

I do. You are very special Kuimba. Men will desire you, but you must not let them touch you. Do you understand me, Kuimba?

KUIMBA

Yes Bibi. You won’t leave me will you Bibi?

GRANDMOTHER

I am old. You must make your own way, look after your brothers and sisters when the time comes. Here, let me put this on you. Keep you from harm.

 

Kuimba’s Grandmother ties an old saint Christopher pendant on a strip of leather around Kuimba’s neck.  She kisses Kuimba on the forehead.

 

FADE OUT.

FADE IN.

INT. BEDROOM.

KUIMBA is sat on the edge of the bed. She is wrapped in a sheet. She is crying quietly. The bed is unmade. The front door slams. LOUISE rushes into the room and pulls Kuimba off the bed. Kuimba stares at the floor.

 

LOUISE

What the hell do you think you’re doing? I’ve had to give that fat bastard half his money back. Oh, he wanted it all back but I says to him if you came then you got half what you paid for, I says. I had to give him the rest back because you didn’t sing. They don’t pay for your gangly looks. They pay to hear you sing. Are you listening to me?

(PAUSE)

I said are you listening to me?

KUIMBA

I am not going to sing anymore.

LOUISE

What?

KUIMBA

I am not going to sing anymore.

LOUISE

Christ. You’ve gone stark mad. What do you think Wright is gonna say when he finds out his star attraction has gone on bloody strike. I’ll tell you what he’s going to do…

 

In the background the front door can be heard closing, followed by heavy footsteps on the stairs.

 

LOUISE

He’s gonna take it out on all of us, you stupid stupid girl.

 

WRIGHT is stood in the doorway.

 

 

 

KUIMBA

I am not going to sing anymore.

WRIGHT

What did you say?

KUIMBA

I am not going to sing anymore.

 

Wright grabs Kuimba by her hair and pulls her out into the landing and down the stairs into the hallway. She screams as she stumbles down the stairs behind him. He pushes her onto the floor.

 

WRIGHT

Oi you slags, you fucking bitches. Get down here. Get down here now.

 

The doors open upstairs and Louise, the FOUR WOMEN and BRIDIE assemble on the stairs. They look petrified. Wright yanks Kuimba up of the floor and pins her up against the wall.

 

WRIGHT

What did you say?

KUIMBA

I said I am not going to sing anymore.

WRIGHT

You dirty useless bitch.

Wright pulls a flick knife out of his pocket and holds it to Kuimba’s cheek.

 

WRIGHT

Let me ask you one more time. What did you say?

KUIMBA

I am not going to sing anymore.

 

Wright forces his hand into Kuimba’s mouth and slices off her tongue. She slumps to the floor. He kicks her out of the way and opens the front door. He waves the knife at the women.

 

WRIGHT

Let this be a lesson to all of you. You stinking whores.

 

Wright leaves, slamming the door behind him. There is a stunned silence. Bridie rushes forward crying and leans over Kuimba. Kuimba stands and pushes Bridie away from her. Kuimba is covered in blood. She opens her mouth and there is a disgusting gargling sound followed by a low guttural sound. She begins to sing a melody. The music is hauntingly beautiful. The hallway brightens, the girls hair begins to grow lustrously. Louise appears to be growing younger, and the pallor of Bridie’s face is improving.

The song ascends higher and the notes become discordant…

EXT. AFRICA (JUXTAPOSITION)

A boy runs through the village. The villagers frantically begin to pack things and run.

INT. ENGLAND

Kuimba’s song continues. The light gets brighter, the notes become more discordant. The wallpaper begins to blister. The four women lose their lustre. Louise looks terrified. She looks at her hands which have grown worn and old.

EXT. AFRICA

Loud sound of machine guns. Kuimba runs to find her brothers and sisters, but cannot find them. There is smoke. GUERILLAs enter the scene burning the thatched roofs of the adobe houses. Kuimba runs towards the river.

INT. ENGLAND

Kuimba’s song becomes more discordant. Louise clutches her heart. She is an old hag. She sinks to the floor, stretching her hand out to Kuimba.

EXT AFRICA

The machine guns continue. Kuimba hides in the reeds of the river. Her GRANDMOTHER is hit in the side of the head by a Guerrilla with a rifle. She reaches out her hand to Kuimba. Kuimba covers her mouth with both hands. Tears stream down her face.

INT. ENGLAND.

The ceiling collapses. The house is in darkness. Kuimba has stopped singing. In the settling dust Kuimba can be seen covering her mouth with both hands. She opens the door and staggers out into the morning.

FADE OUT.

THE END

(Running time – approximately 15 to 16 minutes.)

 

 

Commentary

I wrote a rough draft of a radio play and a screenplay before deciding that the story should be a film. In the radio version I changed events significantly so that it ended up being a three-hander between Mrs James (now renamed Louise), Bridie and Kuimba, and was a one scene conversation between the three characters, concentrating on Kuimba pleading her case to Mrs James to let her go. I was very much inspired by the interaction of the characters in Top Girls by Caryl Churchill.  While writing the radio play I included a long monologue for each character. Kuimba’s monologue included a description of her life and escape in Africa. This scene was so visual to me that I decided to include it interspersed among the scenes at the Brothel in the film version.

I finally settled on writing a screenplay.  I considered my tutors comments in TMA01.  I agreed that it wasn’t clear that the story is set in a modern day setting. I wanted to make this clearer. I did this by setting the first scene on a busy road full of traffic, the shop window advert contains a mobile phone number. I changed Mrs James name to Louise and I reworded Wright’s dialogue to sound more up to date.  I also wanted to ensure that the men who visit the brothel represented a wider demographic than the clichéd seedy old man with wobbly flesh in the original story.

I have attempted to ensure that the directions for the actors are not to obtrusive.  Essentially I believe there is enough context in the actions and dialogue of the screenplay to allow the actors to make credible choices on how to play the part.

Derek Neale advises caution when using flashbacks and also ‘to be wary of using large flashbacks towards the end of your stories’, (Neale, 2009, p.145), however I decided to use flashbacks for two main reasons. Firstly, Kuimba’s singing in Africa establishes a Magic Realist strand in the narrative, nature responds to the power of her song. This is further exposed by her Grandmother’s warning to look after her gift. Secondly, the violence and devastation Kuimba experiences in her homeland is reflected in her incarceration in the Brothel. It was a risk juxtaposing the two scenes at the end of the screenplay, but I believe this could be very effective and stirring if handled well.

After completing the screenplay I read it out numerous times, and changed dialogue accordingly. I closed my eyes to picture the scenes, and timed each reading. I am satisfied that I made the right choice in writing a screenplay, because the original story was so visual, but I will also continue to finish the radio play as this has enabled me to develop the characters further.

461 words.

 

Bibliography

 

Churchill, Caryl (1993 [1982]) Top Girls, London, Methuen.

Ed. Neale, Derek (2009) A Creative Writing Handbook: Developing Dramatic Technique, Individual Style and Voice, A & C Black Publishers, London, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes.

Ryland, Gill (2014) Tutors comments TMA01 A363 to Antonia Saunders, The Open University.

Saunders, Antonia (2014) The Songbird, TMA01 A363, The Open University.

Driving Lessons (A short story

Fiction – Short Story

Driving Lessons

Tuesday: September 6th 1988

A terrible day.  A horrible day. Head: throbbing bump at the back.  Left shin: grazed.  Pride: non-existent, obliterated.  The first day of a new school year.  A blank page.  What should have been a fresh start ruined before I had even entered the school gates.  I’m writing this in bed.  Rump, my King Charles Spaniel is lying at the end of the bed, on his back, one paw straight up, the other bent over, and his back legs in frog position, his jowls flopped back as if smiling.  He looks posed as if synchronized swimming on a sea of duvet.

The bus routes have changed over the summer holidays, so this morning I had to walk down Summersdale Avenue, across the park, and up to the corner of Milbury Road for the number 8, which isn’t that far, but left me stertorous and unable to speak as I boarded.  It was absolutely rammed on the lower deck so I climbed the steps upstairs and seated myself on the second row as inconspicuously as possible.

As the bus slowed to the stop outside Lloyd George House on the council estate, I noticed Kevin Simmonds fondling Sharon Cottle up against the bus shelter. Her plump legs were wrapped around his. I couldn’t see her face, because Kevin seemed to be feeding off it, but I could see her mass of peroxide permed hair around his head.  Nothing much to speak of her face anyway, it’s all blue mascara and frosted lipstick.  To my annoyance Kevin threw a can of drink over his shoulder before alighting the bus.  I could smell Sharon’s cloying perfume, Charlie Red I think, before they even came up the stairs.

On the back seat, the rightful throne of King Kevin and his gaudy princess, sat a first year student. Basin haircut, spanking new uniform, blazer sleeves a little too long, tie done up perfectly, probably by Mum,  and a matching gormless look on his face.  I watched the scene unfold in the circular mirror.  My stomach tightened.  It was like watching a wildlife programme just before the antelope is mowed down by a lion. I could hardly breathe, let alone intervene.

“Oi Poofter, move it!”

I watched for a second with baited breath. Fight, flight, freeze or fawn? I asked myself.  Freeze.  The poor little wretch was doing his best stick insect impression.  I found myself urging him to get up and find another seat, he might get away with a slap around the head from Kevin if he was lucky.

“Didn’t you hear me you little shit, I said move.” – Still no response.

“Oh come on Kevin leave him, there’s plenty of room”, Sharon said.  I rolled my eyes, it was like Nancy and Sykes on the number 8.

“No.  It’s the principle ain’t it?  Right cunt breath”, he hoisted the boy airborne by the lapels of his neat blazer. “Move it.”  The boy stood there motionless.  I realised I would have to put a stop to it.

“Simmonds! Is it your intention to land yourself in hot water at the beginning of a new school year?  Pick on somebody your own size!”

He turned slowly around licking his lips and spitting on the floor of the bus like a villain from a spaghetti western.  I knew at that moment that this hooligan, fully grown at fifteen was not going to take notice of a middle aged spinster in a pleated skirt, he was going to devour me.

“What’s it got to do with you?  I’m not in school.”

“But you’re in school uniform, sit down and behave properly.”

He started to walk towards me, I suddenly realised he had grown a foot taller during the holidays.  He didn’t quite make it to me before the bus pulled in to the stop outside St Luke’s and we both lurched to the side, he into the head of a smartly dressed woman who looked appalled, and me down the stairwell to the lower deck. I lay there for a few minutes with my feet still on the second step and my head on the floor of the bus. There was a shriek of laughter as the army of demonic children marched down the stairs. I suddenly realised my skirt had flown up to my chin, I scrambled up quickly to try and save my dignity, but it was far too late.  I limped off the bus wounded and defeated and walked through the gates.

All day I have faced jeers from the students, sniggers in the corridors, whispers in the rows of seats during assembly. At lunch time Ms Taylor, the art teacher found me and asked me if I was okay.  She cocked her head to one side in faux-sympathy, doe eyes and pouty mouth.  She had heard some of the pupils laughing about my ordeal.  Oh! Could the humiliation be any worse?  The last thing I need is sympathy from this halfwit who thinks that being an art teacher gives her carte blanche to wear head scarves like some aged hippy.  I did a double take on the way to the canteen.  On the wall, in rather bad handwriting, “Brownie skiddy nickers”, I corrected the misspelling of knickers and counted down the time until I heard the first pupil to call me my soubriquet.

I will get a taxi to school tomorrow, but a more permanent solution is in order, my wages won’t cover that luxury, not on what Kenneth Baker pays this country’s teachers.  Driving lessons are in order, I think.

Thursday: September 29th 1988

At last, my provisional driving licence arrived in the post.  And not before time.  I have spent a fortune on taxis over the last few weeks, I’ve had to break into my savings.  I searched through the yellow pages to find an instructor. I noticed a remarkable similarity between the names of driving schools and the taxi services I had been using over the past few weeks: A1 Driving, ABC Driving, A-B Driving, A-Z Driving.  Then came more themed names: First Time Driving school, Hill Start Driving, Hill Top Driving.  I scanned the page and found a neat bordered box. Mr P Morris, driving instructor, 30 years experience, very reasonably priced, negotiable. 0225 8_______.

I was nervous about calling.  I made a pot of tea before I plucked up the courage, I even talked to Rump in the hope that he might respond with a positive bark or less encouraging whimper, but he just rested his head on his paws in boredom.

The telephone rang a couple of times before it was answered.

“Morris.”  The voice sounded abrupt.

“Yes. Is that Mr P Morris.” I said, wondering why I suddenly had adopted an accent worthy of Brief Encounter.

“Yes, Morris speaking.”

“Oh, yes. I would like to take some driving lessons.  If you’re not too busy of course.  If you are, perhaps you could recommend a colleague, or – or something.”

“No, I’m sure I can fit you in. Let me get my diary.”

The phone line went silent, I listened carefully and heard the sound of rummaging and paper rustling.

“Right then, when’s good for you?”

“Well, um perhaps Monday Evening?”

“Where would you like me to pick you up?”

“At my house please.”

“And where is your house?”  He sounded wryly amused.  I felt a bit silly.

“46 Summersdale Avenue.”

We arranged to meet at seven o’clock.  I put down the phone and felt my stomach turn with excitement or nerves, I wasn’t sure which, but I’m sure I will suffer a few nights of restless sleep before Monday.  I have just realised that I will be stuck in a car with a man for a whole hour.  Good grief, I need to get a grip.  Rump has given a less than encouraging whimper.

 

Monday 3rd October 1988

School was terrible today.  Since the bus incident I seemed to have lost complete respect from the students and I’m sure some of the faculty are sniggering at me.  I swing from one chaotic class to the next waiting for each day to pass.  To make matters worse Ms Taylor has decided to befriend me.  Every break, every lunchtime is a game of cat and mouse to avoid her overbearing humility.  This lunchtime I sat in one of the cubicles in the staff toilets and ate my sandwiches and managed a few chapters of Barchester Towers.  Completely unhygienic, but at least I had some peace.

All day through the chaos I held on to the fact that I had a driving lesson.  I searched through my dressing table when I got home and found an old red lipstick and some old blue eyeshadow, which I applied rather badly I’m afraid.  I looked at my garish reflection in the mirror and made the decision to wash it off, but it was too late.  The door-bell rang.  Rump sprang into action, barking in absolute glee.  He’s not experienced an evening caller, not since Daddy was alive, when Daddy would have his friend Fred over on a Wednesday.  They were model railway enthusiasts.  Mummy would never have allowed his obsession, but she died ten years earlier.

I readjusted my blouse and paused before opening the door.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Mr Morris is tall and thin.  He wore a smart grey leather jacket, and grey trousers with a neat pleat at the front, and grey slip on shoes.  His hair is auburn, although he only has sideburns and a rather fetching moustache.  His crown is bald, but it makes him look very masculine.  I pulled myself together and tried not to swoon.  I could tell he was a good soul because Rump took to him straight away and Mr Morris did not seem at all bothered by the dog.

“Right first things first.  You need to become acquainted with the car before we can hit the road.  This model is a Vauxhall Nova, 1.3 engine, one year old.”  He pointed to a rather ordinary looking blue car.  He must have noticed my reaction because he said “It doesn’t look like much but with the wrong person behind the wheel this machine can become a beast. Cause a lot of damage.”

He must have taken a good twenty minutes to explain and demonstrate the finer features of the car before we got started and switched the engine on.  Then to my dismay we practiced changing gears, flicking the indicator, adjusting the mirrors for another ten minutes before we got going.  But – But! Once we got going it was absolutely exhilarating!  I was out on the open road.  I even got up to twenty miles an hour and into third gear.  Mr Morris is an excellent teacher, and he only had to use his instructor pedals twice.  “A gold star for your first lesson.” he said.  A gold star!  I waved him off and closed the front door and stood in the hall for a few minutes, ignoring Rump as he clawed at me, tail wagging.  My heart was thumping, whether it was the driving or Mr Morris I am still uncertain.

 

Monday October 31st

I hardly have the nerve to write about the events today.  The day has taken an unexpected turn.  This morning I was Janet Brown, spinster schoolteacher.  Tonight I am Janet Brown, Femme Fatale!

The day at school was as much the same as any other.  I have adopted a new stance.  Why bother trying to maintain some kind of order with these hooligans? – I have told myself.  Whatever I do doesn’t make the slightest difference.  So I have stopped trying to maintain order.  I have decided to sit at my desk and read.  There is so much I haven’t read.  I decided to read some Stevenson:  Dr Jackyll and Mr Hyde.  Wonderful.  At first the students were a little bemused and quietened down, but they soon went back to anarchy when they saw I wasn’t remotely interested or bothered by their antics.  I went from a mad woman flinging her arms around trying to achieve the impossible in teaching them, to a quietly poised reader.  Either way they completely ignored me, and at least I have my sanity intact at the end of the day.

This evening Philip picked me up from the school.  He quite rightly pointed out that it was a waste of money getting a taxi when he could pick me up for my lesson and take me home.  The lessons are going well but I’ve been having terrible issues with my three point turns.  Philip is very patient with me.  We have become good friends.  The events of tonight have thrown us even closer to one another.

I slowed down at the zebra crossing on Woodchester Road for a teenager wearing a ski mask, for Halloween no doubt.  He began to cross, looked at the car and then did a kind of double take.  Up went the mask and there before us stood Kevin Simmonds.  He laughed boisterously and grabbed his crotch provocatively.

“Get out of the road. Moron!”  Philip was leaning out of the window.  I wished I could melt into the grey upholstery of the car.

“Fuck Off!” shouted Simmonds, gyrating against the bonnet.”

“Get your hands off my car!”

Simmonds kicked the front of the car and Philip got out.  He tried to hold Simmonds but he wriggled out of his hold and punched him squarely in the jaw.  What happened next was so extraordinary, I can only describe it as a kind of red mist.  I felt my face flush hot and my eyes were frozen in steely determination. I shifted into gear, put my foot right down on the acceleration and took my left foot off the clutch. I spurted forwards, the wheels screeching as the car rocked from side to side as I ran over Kevin Simmonds.  I turned the wheel, braked, put the car into reverse, turning the wheel as I went, and then forwards again over Kevin, ignoring the sound of crunching bones.  I stopped and Philip got into the car.

We drove in silence back to my house.  I was absolutely full of dread by the time I reached home.  I couldn’t believe what I had done.  I parked outside my house.  Pulled up the handbrake.  Switched off the ignition.  We sat for an age before I spoke.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”  I thought I might cry.  “Your face, is it okay?”

“It’s nothing.”

“What should we do?  Should we call the police?”  I began to panic.

“No. Of course not.  He had it coming.  You were magnificent.  Your three point turn was one of the best I have ever seen.”

“Really?”  I said, confused.  I wasn’t sure if I should feel remorse at this point.

“Yes, the best.  Kids like that make me sick.  They think they own the streets, but tonight we reclaimed them.  You were wonderful.”

He reached his hand behind my head and we kissed.  A long slow kiss.  He checked the car for signs of damage, but it was really too dark to see.  He said he would look tomorrow.  We kissed again before he left me on the doorstep.  I am smiling as I write this.  Is it wicked of me?  No, it isn’t.  I have reasoned all night with this question.  I am utterly convinced that I have done the world a great service.  What kind of life did Kevin Simmonds have ahead of him?  He would leave school without any qualifications.  With some luck he might get a job, but I doubted it.  He would probably sponge of the system, leaving a stream of broken and abused hearts and fatherless children in his wake.  No.  The world is a better place with one less thug tonight.  Of that I am sure.  Rump seems to agree, he has curled up against me in complete unconditional love as I write this.  I will sleep soundly.

Monday 7th November

I’m afraid I rather ranted throughout my driving lesson this evening.  Philip is such a gentleman he didn’t seem to mind, in fact, he seemed to enjoy me going on.  Today was an absolute nightmare at school.  Ms Taylor has taken it upon herself to organise a memorial service for Kevin Simmonds.  Plant a tree in the school grounds.  Well at least he’s not around to carve some obscenity in the trunk.

She approached me in the staff room at lunchtime.

“Janet, I was wondering if you might like to ask some of the year fives to write some poems for the memorial service.  It might be cathartic for them.”

I responded boldly “I’m not sure if it would be wise to encourage such a public display of unbridled emotion.”  I turned back to fish the teabag out of my mug.

“How can you be unfeeling?”  She was actually crying.

“I’m not unfeeling.  It is very tragic for one to lose one’s life so young, but I can’t help feeling some of his fellow students will breathe a sigh of relief that they no longer have to come to school in fear of having their head flushed down the loo, or being forced to hand over their dinner money.”

She stood upright and screamed at me. She actually screamed.  I was a little bit impressed.  I didn’t know she had it in her.  “Sharon Cottle won’t be relieved.  She’s pregnant you know.”

“More fool her.  If it hadn’t been Simmonds some other lout would have knocked her up sooner or later.  Now if you’ll excuse me I would like to enjoy my cup of tea before afternoon lessons resume.”

She stared at me. Grabbed my cup and threw it over me.  It was scalding.  We stood there for a moment frozen in disbelief.  Then she fled from the staffroom.  The faculty returned to their broadsheets and conversations as if nothing had happened.

Philip listened to all of this calmly.  “She sounds like a right lefty loony.”

I laughed.  “Yes – a lefty loony!  That’s very good.”

He kissed me again before I got out of the car.  “Don’t let them grind you down.  You’re too good for that place.”

“Thank you Philip.”  I said.  He is so gallant, I think I might be falling in love.  I mustn’t get too carried away with myself.

Monday 14th November

Well Ms Taylor certainly got her just deserts.  It was the memorial service today after school.  The apple tree was planted while the whole of year five stood holding white candles, which was a bit of a disaster, as several of them were burned by the dripping wax.  Mr Jones, the caretaker looked non-too pleased at the prospect of scraping up the wax from the tarmac.

Philip was waiting for me in the school car park.  I got into the car and drove towards the gates.  As I turned onto the road.  I noticed a cyclist, hardly visible in the dusk, but the long skirt was unmistakable.  My nemesis.

“That’s her. Taylor!”

“Where?”

“On the bicycle.”

“She’s riding all over the place.”  Philip said with disgust. “She should be wearing high visibility clothing at this time of the evening.”  He reached over and pressed the horn sharply, and then again, but this time for longer. Ms Taylor wobbled out in front of us forcing me to hit the brakes.  I stalled the car.  I started again.

“What are you waiting for?  She’s asking for it, dressed like that, on the road at this time of night.”

I sped up and Philip pressed the horn again.  She was wobbling furiously now.  At the junction she turned, her face in horror beneath the sickly yellow glow of the streetlamps.  She had recognised me.  She hurried on.  I followed. Speeding up and then pulling back.  She cycled up on to the pavement.  Philip pulled the steering wheel so that we pursued her.  Then she made a fatal mistake.  She turned down the lane to the old Sumsion Quarry.  It was dark, but she was lit by the headlights.  She came to a sudden stop by the edge of the quarry and got off the bike.  She was sobbing. She held her hands up.

“Please Janet. Please, please stop.”

I nudged forwards. Goodbye Ms Taylor.  We laughed in sheer delight. Then Philip got out of the car and threw the bicycle over the edge.  We drove back to my house, giggling all the way.  I invited Philip in for coffee.  We talked until the early hours, then he kind of lunged at me.  We made love on the living room floor.  It was rather awkward, a lot of fumbling around at first and Philip had to repeatedly push Rump out of the way.  It was a little bit of an anti-climax, I must say, it was much nicer once we got to bed and cuddled.  He is asleep now, his arm curled around Rump.  I have no doubts about Ms Taylor.  It all seems so clear to me now.  Kevin Simmonds was a thug, but people like Ms Taylor enable his behaviour.  They try to explain their behaviour by feeling sorry for these ruffians.  Blame their violence and crudeness on a disturbed and traumatic childhood.  But we all have troubled childhoods, we all have demons to fight.  If we ridded the world of thugs like Simmonds, and lefty loonies like Ms Taylor then the rest of us could carve out some kind of existence that might be worth living.  Remorse?  Not an ounce.

Friday 23rd December

They found Ms Taylor.  There is to be an inquest, but the papers have been running with suicide.  She was on anti-depressants and her friends and family are reported to have said that she became increasingly traumatised by Kevin Simmonds’ death.

I passed my driving test today.  After the test Philip drove as I am no longer insured now that I have passed.  As we left the test centre a police car began to follow us.  Then I heard the whir of the siren, and saw the blue glow of the lights in the wing mirror.  Philip pulled over.  His knuckles were white on the steering wheel.  I stared forward and held my breath.  The police officer walked over to the car.  Philip wound down the window slowly. I felt tears prick my eyes.

“Yes officer.” His voice sounded strained, as if he was trying to sound chirpy.

“Would you mind stepping out of the car sir?”

Philip got out.  I couldn’t look around.  I could only stare forwards.  Fifty two years untouched.  I couldn’t bear the thought of losing my soul mate, for that is what he is.  We are kindred spirits. Philip and the officer were talking at the back of the car now.  The officer walked back to the police car.  I prayed for Philip to get back into the car so that we could make a get-away.  Philip pulled up the boot.  He was rummaging around in the back.  I thought he might pull out a crow bar and attack the officer, but when the boot went down they both stood there talking quite amicably.  They shook hands.

Philip got back in the car calmly.  “Rear brake light not working.”

I sighed with relief.  When we got back home Philip and I sat in the car.

“Why don’t you give all this up Janet?  We can go exploring the British Isles.  Take it in turns to drive.  Rump can come too?”

It was a perfect plan.  “Yes Philip, I would like that.”

“Do you have any plans for Christmas?”

“No, no I don’t”

“I’ll pick you up on Christmas day then, come round to mine for dinner, Rump too.”

“I’d like that.”

I am crying tears of joy as I write this in bed, Rump curled up at my feet.  I am a new woman.

3997 words.

Commentary

My original idea was to write the first chapter of a novel: a romance between an unlikely pair that develops over the course of driving lessons.  Following feedback from my tutor and fellow students at my tutorial I decided to change this to a short story as I agreed with the suggestion that it would be difficult to write an engaging start to this romance in 4000 words. I also decided to change genre from a romance to a black comedy, and this was given the go ahead by my tutor following TMA04.  My tutor advised ‘Now the thing with black humour is that you absolutely can’t pull your punches.  You have to be completely ruthless.  And, of course, you can’t actually tell any jokes or do anything particularly obviously funny.’ (Ryland, TMA04, 2015).  I found this easier to do by shifting my narrative from an omniscient narrator into Janet’s own voice.  In writing a diary format I have attempted to use delayed decoding so that the story unravels at Janet’s own pace.

Once I had decided to write a black comedy I considered changing to a film script for a while as I had quite clear pictorial scenes in my imagination, particularly around the murders and the memorial service.  I referred back to ‘Chapter Ten: Film Technique in Fiction’ (Anderson, Linda, pp. 149-163) from A Creative Writing Handbook (ed. Neale, 2009).  Anderson writes of film and fiction ‘The two forms share common ground and a linked history… But they have significant differences as well and it is important to exploit the full range of fiction’s possibilities.  Most films can only show hints of a characters inner consciousness.’ (p.161). She goes on to cite Zoe Heller’s novel Notes on a Scandal (2003) as an example of where a novel narrated by an unreliable narrator is reworked to make it suitable for the screen.  I was partly inspired by the relationship between Bathsheba and Barbara from the novel in my characterisation of Janet and Ms Taylor, although Janet is much less manipulative than Heller’s Barbara, and Ms Taylor is much more innocent than Bathsheba.  Once I had decided on writing in a diary format I decided a short story was the most appropriate form.  I could perhaps have explored Janet’s inner consciousness in a film script through extended dialogue with Mr Morris, but I felt a diary would allow me to also give some insight into her impressions of Mr Morris.

I was really interested in creating an unreliable narrator, or at least a narrator with questionable ethics.  This is something quite new to me.  I found the writing activity 12.7 in ‘Chapter 12: Voices in Fiction’ (ed. Neale, p.193) very useful for this.  I wrote a few passages in both Janet’s voice and Ms Taylor’s voice – most notably the staff room incident.  I realised that Janet’s reflective voice after each of the murders needed to be only superficially reflective.  It was more about her absolving herself of her crimes.  I also found Lolita (1955) by Vladimir Nabokov to be very insightful in the characterisation of an unreliable narrator.  Nabokov’s narrator Humbert is unapologetic in his narration, yet his actions are completely despicable.  Janet convinces herself that her actions are just and she never meets her comeuppance.  In fact, she finds absolution in her relationship with Mr Morris.

I wrote three different endings for the story.  In the first Janet runs over Philip Morris and makes a get-away, in the second Janet and Mr Morris are chased by the police back to the quarry and they drive over the edge Thelma and Louise (1991) style, but I settled for the third ending where Janet and Philip are able to walk away unscathed.  It should be an unsettling ending because it is typically romantic, although neither character is deserving of this end.  I chose this ending because I felt it underlines Janet’s justification for her actions, even though the reader knows this is not quite right.  I also felt that making Janet and Morris pay for their crimes undermines the tragi-comedy element of the plot.

I wrote all three endings of the plot in my notebook.  I have almost a whole notebook of writings based on this short story.  My original story contained lots of back story to Janet’s life and politics.  Most of this has been omitted in the final draft with the exception of the small detail that Janet is a spinster who lives in the family home where she cared for her elderly father – alluded to in the diary entry of 3rd October 1988. Writing numerous drafts and descriptions of Janet’s life has made me know my character inside out.  I feel almost (rather fearfully) as if she is a real living person!  In order to ‘pull no punches’ as my tutor suggested I have forced myself to write against the grain of my character, which has turned Janet into something quite different to what I initially imagined.  I think this is important because at the end of the story the reader is left with the choice of feeling some kind of sympathy with Janet, although her crimes are obviously contemptible.  What I have tried to attempt is to take Janet on a journey.  She is not the same Janet at the beginning as she is at the end of the text.  Her driving lessons have given her freedom to respond (albeit in a loathsome way) to the world around her.  She embraces a distorted justice and a new found passion with Mr Morris.  She becomes the driver of her own life, or co-driver with Mr Morris.

During this module I have learned to think in a more filmic way when writing.  This has enabled me to create clearer scenes and stronger dialogue.  I have found writing an unreliable narrator challenging, but equally rewarding.  I have found it really useful to write and re-draft over a longer period, my ideas have almost become like organic matter, growing of their own will.  In particular I have learned to give my characters room to grow and develop within the story arc.

1020 words

 

 

Bibliography

Anderson, Linda (2009) ‘Film Technique in Fiction, Neale, Derek (ed.), 2009, A Creative Writing Handbook: Developing Dramatic Technique, Individual Style and Voice, A&C Black Publishers Ltd London, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes.

Ellis, Brett Easton, (1991), American Psycho, Vintage Books, New York, USA.

Eyre, Richard (dir.) (2006), Notes on a Scandal, Fox Searchlight, UK.

Goldthwait, Bobcat (dir.) (2011), God Bless America, Darko Entertainment, USA.

Leigh, Mike. Happy Go Lucky, (film), 2008, dir. Mike Leigh, Momentum Pictures, UK.

Nabokov, Vladimir. (1955) [2012], Lolita, Penguin Books, London.

Neale, Derek (ed.), 2009, A Creative Writing Handbook: Developing Dramatic Technique, Individual Style and Voice, A&C Black Publishers Ltd London, in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes.

Redmond, Phil. Grange Hill, (television drama), 1978-2008, created by Phil Redmond, BBC Television, London.

Ryland, G.S, (2015) Tutor comments TMA04, The Open University, Milton Keynes.

Scott, Ridley (dir.), (1991) Thelma and Louise (film), MGM, USA.

Smith, Paul. Murder Most Horrid, (television  situation comedy), 1991-1999, created by Paul Smith, Talkback Productions, BBC Television, London.

Wheatley, Ben (dir.) (2012), Sightseers, Studio Canal in association with Film Four, UK.

Nativity

A Narrated Nativity for Children

Based on the accounts of Matthew, Luke and John

Antonia Mahmood

 

In the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God.  This is how the Word became flesh and dwelt with us here on earth.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son as a gift to all, so that all might live forever with God.

For many years wise and holy prophets looked into the future and saw that a child would be born.  A child whose life and death and resurrection would mean freedom from sin,  death and darkness.  This child was called Jesus and this is how he was born.

Mary was a most holy and faithful young woman.  She was to be wed to a handsome and good carpenter named Joseph.  However, before this happened she was visited by the Angel Gabriel who told her ‘You will carry and give birth to the Messiah, the son of God.  His name shall be Jesus which means God saves.’  Now many men might have turned away   from Mary, but not Joseph.  Joseph was a good man, and he knew Mary was honest and true, so he married her and they loved one another.

The baby grew in Mary’s womb and soon she was due to give birth.  Now in those days a census was called and all men had to return to their hometowns to be counted.  Joseph’s home was far away in the South, in a little town called Bethlehem. Off they set; Mary seated on a donkey and Joseph on foot, along the dusty road.

Song

Little donkey, little donkey

On the dusty road

Got to keep on plodding onwards

With your precious load.

Been a long time, little donkey

 Through the winter’s night

Don’t give up now, little donkey Bethlehem’s in sight.

 Chorus Ring out those bells tonight

Bethlehem, Bethlehem

 Follow that star tonight

Bethlehem, Bethlehem.

 

After many days and nights Mary and Joseph reached Bethlehem.  They were tired and hungry after such a long journey, but they could find nowhere to rest because Bethlehem was so busy with all of the people who had returned to be counted.  Wherever they went they were turned away, but one kind innkeeper took pity on them, and allowed them to rest in a stable, with the oxen and cattle and the poor donkey who had carried Mary all the way from the North.

In the sky that night there shone a star so bright all could see it from Kingdoms afar.  Herod was a jealous King and he had heard prophesies of ancient times, of a new King who would free the Israelites.  He did not want to share his kingdom so he sought the advice of the Magi, wise kings of knowledge, who might be able to tell him the meaning of this heavenly occurrence.  The wise men told him that a baby was to be born in Israel and he would be the Messiah all had waited for.  Herod was outraged! He sent the Magi to Bethlehem to find this baby and to report back to him immediately.  So the three kings of wisdom set off from the east to Bethlehem in the west.

Song

We three kings of Orient are

 Bearing gifts we traverse afar

Field and fountain, moor and mountain

 Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of light

Star with royal beauty bright

Westward leading, still proceeding

Guide us to thy perfect light.

 

So the wise and wealthy knew of the infant child born in Bethlehem.  But God loved all men so he sent an Angel to tell the shepherds of the birth of his son.  The Angel was dressed in the Glorious light of God and frightened the poor shepherds at first, but the Angel said “Do not be afraid.  God has sent me to tell you of the birth of his son in Bethlehem.  Follow the star to Bethlehem, you will find the child in a stable, asleep in a manger.”  The shepherds gathered their flock and made their way down from the hills to the town of Bethlehem.

Song

While shepherds watched their flocks by night

All seated on the ground

The angel of the Lord came down

And glory shone around

“Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread

 Had seized their troubled mind

“Glad tidings of great joy I bring

To you and all mankind.”

 

The Star shone brightly and the Magi and the Shepherds followed it all the way to Bethlehem, to the stable where Mary had given birth to the baby Jesus.  They found him laid in a manger for a bed.  The Magi brought gifts of Gold, because Jesus is the King of Kings, Frankincense, because Jesus is the Priest of all men, and Myrrh, for his burial and resurrection.  The Shepherds brought gifts of young lambs, the best gift they had to give.  And all knelt and worshipped the baby born in a stable.

 

Song

Away in a manger

 No crib for His bed

The little Lord Jesus

Laid down His sweet head.

The stars in the bright sky

Looked down where He lay

The little Lord Jesus Asleep on the hay.

 

A gift so wonderful, from God that all may rejoice.  Mary and Joseph, the Magi and the Shepherds and the Holy infant settled down for the night, in the stable in Bethlehem.  All was calm, all was bright.  Many would call the baby Jesus, Emmanuel, which means God with us.  Amen.

Song

Silent night, holy night

 All is calm, all is bright

Round yon virgin mother and Child.

Holy Infant, so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace Sleep in heavenly peace.

Whispered words

A word whispered, uttered on the wind,

never ends its journey,

its meaning never dims,

though the voice that spoke it

carelessly forgets,

the word journeys onwards

sinks to deeper depths.

A word whispered, uttered on the wind,

can always be forgiven,

when two hearts are twinned

In mutual understanding,

patience, love and care,

hearts can be mended

through deep and thoughtful prayer.