Tag Archives: Irish Writers’ Centre

And That’s Flat

At the Irish Writers Centre Workshop on Saturday we’d to “create a still-life in a room (e.g., an overturned chair, some balled-up pieces of paper) that implies a dramatic moment”, and describe what happened just before or after that moment…

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It looked like a jellyfish, or at least the way a jellyfish would look if had decided to play on a trampoline and hadn’t realised how low the ceiling was.

It was splayed across the ceiling, testament to man’s determination to show off, and to the adhesive qualities of a pancake. God knows what they must do to the inside of your stomach.

It was Pancake Tuesday and she had been making pancakes because he had asked her to, since he was a traditionalist at heart, and she had been flipping them because he had asked her to, since he was a big child at heart.

She had been tentatively flicking the pan upwards, like a person trying to bounce a ball on a tennis-racket. Her pancakes would jump slightly, like a magic-carpet with a faulty motor, and then flop onto the side of the pan like a towel left lying on a bath.  

He had said she was not much of a flipper, which had not improved her mood, and then made that dolphin noise that sounds like Woody Woodpecker with a peg on his nose, which had improved it even less, or disimproved it even more. She handed him the pan and asked him to show her how it was done, in order that they could actually eat some of the pancakes so that, as she put it, he would be even more full of crêpe than usual.

He took it, put one hand on his hip like the Dread Pirate Roberts fighting a duel, and vigorously flicked the pan.

In his defence the pancake did turn over in the air on its way to the ceiling. They watched it splat, they watched it sprawl. It was as though they were watching a murder-movie with their TV upside down.

And as they gazed upwards gravity went to work, and he ended up wearing the pancake like a Spider-Man mask.

It was the best Pancake Tuesday she’d had since she was a child.

Liar Liar

At last Saturday’s Workshop in the Irish Writers Centre we were given this prompt: “A woman knocks on the door of another woman’s house. She lies to get what she wants. Does she get it?”  I know I’ve slagged her before, but there’s only one possible person this could be about….

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She was told not to open the door. She was told not to speak to anyone. She was told, most definitely, not to let anyone in.

So when the knock came on the door she opened it, spoke to the person outside, and then invited her in.

Snow White wasn’t very bright.

The Queen, who had changed her appearance into that of an old crone, said “hello, dearie,” because she believed that’s the kind of thing that old crones say.

“Hello, old woman,” said Snow White, because she had never been to finishing school.

“Are you alone?” asked the Queen.

“At the moment, yes,” said Snow White. “The seven men I live with have all gone to work.”

“She lives with seven men?” thought the Queen. “Wow, what a slapper.”

“What are you doing in these woods?” asked Snow White.

“I sell apples,” said the Queen, showing her a basket.

Other women might have asked themselves how you could possibly eke out a living selling apples in a forest that had only one cottage in it, but Snow White was the kind of girl to whom the height of intellectual thought was that one day her prince would come. She was the fairy-tale equivalent of a WAG.

“They look really lovely,” she said. “Can I have one?”

“Yes, of course. Try this lovely red one,” said the Queen, holding out the apple which she had filled with poison.

“I prefer the green ones,” said Snow White.

This possibility had not occurred to the Queen, because nobody throughout history had ever preferred green apples to red ones before.

“Er, no, you don’t want a green one,” said the Queen. “They, um, show traces of horsemeat,” she finished desperately.

“Very well,” said Snow White, who soon wouldn’t be. She took a bite, then staggered about clutching at her throat as it’s recommended that you do when you’ve been poisoned, despite the fact that it doesn’t in any way help.

“Why?” she gasped.

“Because with you dead I’ll be the fairest of them all again,” said the Queen.

“Seriously?” said Snow White, looking at her gapped teeth, her hooked nose and her pebble-dashing of warts. “I haven’t met any of the other girls in this kingdom, but they must be a right collection of mingers.”

“Oh, just hurry up and die,” snapped the Queen.

Suddenly the door burst open and the seven dwarves rushed in. They saw that Snow White was dying and they all looked expectantly at Doc. Doc, however, was actually a Doctor of Fish Psychology, a quack qualification that he had picked up via a correspondence course, so he just stared helplessly. To everyone’s surprise it was Bashful who rushed forward, just as Snow White was gasping her last, and performed the Heimlich Manoeuvre.

Around her knees, unfortunately. After all, he was a dwarf.

But what was effectively a rugby tackle caused Snow White to fall forward, her chest hit the kitchen table and the piece of apple popped out.

The Queen ran out the door and, shedding her apples, her basket and her disguise, fled deep into the forest.

That was where she came face to face with the Prince. Her shoulders slumped in defeat, and she resignedly awaited her fate.

But the Prince had been searching for Snow White for months now and in truth was getting a bit tired of the quest. So when he saw the Queen, who was not only the second fairest of them all but also had a dangerous bad-girl aura about her, the Prince found himself hooked.

So the Prince found a bride, the Queen became the world’s first cougar, and Snow White settled for life with the dwarves, consoled, of course, by the fact that they owned a diamond mine.

It truly was a story where they all lived happily after.

Dressed To Impress

At today’s Workshop in the Irish Writers Centre the prompt was this poem, “What Do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio, after which we were to write about clothing and its effect. (Please read the poem, because it’s great, and because if you don’t my last paragraph will mean nothing to you) …

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In his blue V-necked jumper and his grey trousers he was Stephen, or Stevie to his parents. Stevie was a baby’s name and he wasn’t a baby anymore, he was four, and anyway they had an actual baby in the house now. Joshua was the baby’s name, and sadly there’s no way of dumbing that down, the kid already sounded older than Stevie did.

In his blue V-necked jumper and his grey trousers he went to his Montessori school each morning with his Power Rangers lunch-box which held his cardboard packet of Capri-Sun with its attached straw, his banana for little break and his sandwich for big break. Once there he put square pegs into square holes, kept inside the lines while colouring, and joined in a song which stated the indisputable fact that the wheels on a bus go round and round.

In his blue V-necked jumper and his grey trousers he was a Good Boy, with almost audible capital letters at the beginning of each of those two words.

But when he got home he was different. In his Batman outfit he fought crime, tearing around the house in his Batmobile, though he had to pedal it rather like Fred Flintstone. He felt sure that Batman didn’t have to do that, but then the Batmobile has blackened windows, perhaps inside Batman is pedalling frantically like a duck approaching a waterfall.

In his Ireland soccer jersey he was Robbie Keane, kicking goal after goal into his little net past the large fat teddy-bear who was playing the role of England goalkeeper Joe Hart.

In his Doctor Who pyjamas his bedroom was the Tardis, and his dreams travelled through the deep blue darkness of time and space.

When he grew up he was not going not wear a blue shirt or grey trousers. He would not wear a grey jacket either, and never, ever would he wear the waste of polyester-forests that is the tie.
He was going to wear dungarees with no shirt on underneath and a baseball hat on backwards, just like the Guerra brothers that he passed every day on the way home from school.

They threw pigs off a truck for a living. When you’re four it’s hard to imagine a cooler job than that.

Round The Bend

Inkslingers snake pictureThe Inkslingers Creative Writing Workshop at the Irish Writers Centre resumed after Christmas yesterday. We were given three pictures to use as possible prompts, and I chose the one on the right… 

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For 2013 I’m going to spice up my act.

I do magic shows, pulling rabbits from hats, sawing my assisitant in half, guessing what card an audience member is holding (I always get it wrong, of course, the odds against me getting it right are huge, but I’ll say “four of clubs”, they’ll sneeringly say “no, nine of spades”, and at the end of my act I’ll produce the nine of spades from inside a babushka doll, I have 52 of them in a box just off-stage).

I also do kids’ parties, where I perform the truly amazing feat of not punching any of the brats in the face, and I also make balloon animals, twisting balloons into the shape of a poodle (or fox, or hyena, or Bambi-on-the-ice, to be honest they could be absolutely anything).

But none of this will make me as famous as David Copperfield, not even the magician one, so I’ve decided that instead of bending balloons into the shape of animals I’m going to bend animals themselves.

I’ve decided to start with snakes, because they are the most pliant, in shape if not in temperament. The picture I have on my website shows my python, Monty, as a bow-tie. I have also turned him into a string of spaghetti (well, to be honest he did that one himself), the lower-case letter “g”, and what your Christmas lights look like after you take them down from the attic.

I hope to move on to other animals. My ultimate goal is, by tying an elephant’s trunk to its tail, to make it into the shape of a piggy-bank.

My only problem will be transporting it around. I may have to take some of the rabbits out of my hat to make room.

  

Two Roads Diverged

At the Irish Writers Centre Workshop on Saturday, the prompt was to use Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” as inspiration…

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 I woke up chained to a wall. I stared into an old, old face that was five per cent piercing blue eyes and ninety-five per cent warts.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” said the Witch. “I haven’t had anyone here for ages. The last people dumb enough to come this way were Hansel and Gretel, and I had to attract them with a trail of sweets.”

“I took the road less travelled,” I said.

“Why?”

“It seemed like a better thing to do – be different, refuse to choose the path of conformity, live a life less ordinary.”

“Live a life less long, you mean,” she said. “Did it never occur to do that there might be a reason why this is the road less travelled?”

“No.”

“It’s probably because the other road leads into the town, where there are some great restaurants, a giant shopping-mall and a concert venue where I believe Beyoncé is currently performing for three nights. This road just leads here to my cottage. You must have passed the village just before the crossroads – did the villagers not point you on the right road?”

“I’m a man,” I said proudly. “We don’t ask for directions.”

Well, what about the signpost at the crossroads? Where the one pointing down the other road says “Services – half a mile”, and the one pointing this way says “Certain Death”?”

“I thought that would be the name of a tiny hamlet,” I said. “Tiny hamlets in woodlands often have names like ‘Merrie Bottom’ or ‘Crofter’s Belch’.”

“Ok then, what about the fact that there’s thunder and lightning over this road, and none over the other?”

“I have an umbrella,” I said.

“That’s the dumbest answer I’ve ever heard,” said the Witch. “It’s like saying I drove my car into a wall because I have an air-bag.”

“Well, what happens now?” I asked.

“I’m going to cook you in the oven and then eat you,” she said. “Haven’t you read the fairy-tale?”

As Frost says, I doubted if I should ever come back. But then she went to the kitchen to turn on the oven, and while she was away I ate my way out through the gingerbread wall.

Apparently she hadn’t read the fairy-tale either.

Muscles Of Love

This picture was the prompt at Saturday’s Irish Writers Centre Workshop…

It had seemed like such a great idea. Take That were back together. Steps were back together. Boyzone were back together. Their reunion tours were so successful that bands who hadn’t broken up were breaking up and re-forming, just so that they could do a reunion tour.

Mariah Carey had split up with herself, but hadn’t gotten back together since she realised that she got on her own nerves.

The Chippendales got back together. Muscles were now flab, they had to wear gloves because they now felt the cold and hats to cover their comb-overs, but they were sure that women of a certain age would still be willing to forsake a night of bingo to whoop, holler and throw underwear at them.

They had tried to book the local parish hall to rehearse in, but the vicar had objected when he found out how they would be dressed, so they were forced to practice on the shore of Lake Windermere. In January.

They had been best known for their YMCA routine, the dance which most full-frontally showed off bodies that were once sculpted, but know looked as if they were made from play-dough.

It didn’t go well. The one doing the Y now couldn’t move his arms above 50 degrees. The one doing the M slipped on the ice the first morning and broke his wrist. The one on the end, doing the A, was not allowed by his wife to wear speedos.

The one beside him couldn’t remember the alphabet.  

  

Mum Knows Best

The prompt at this week’s Inkslingers Workshop in the Irish Writers Centre was “advice”…
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She sighed. She hated it when Mum has these “little chats” with her. Usually it was to do with the state of her room, or playing music too loud, or how she should be nicer to her little brother. Today, though, after the day that she’d had, would be different.

“I’d just like to offer some advice,” said Goldilocks’s Mum. “Firstly, never walk through the woods alone.”

“Little Red Riding Hood walks through the woods on her own,” said Goldilocks sulkily.

“I see,” said Goldilocks’s Mum. “And if Red Riding Hood stuck her hand into the fire would you do it too?”

“Why would she stick her hand into the fire?” asked Goldilocks.

Her Mum was secretly horrified at herself. She had sworn to herself that she would never pose this ludicrous question to her own children. The fact that she had done so proved that she was turning into her mother, and since this is a fairy-tale that might not just be a turn of phrase.

“Secondly,” she went on hurriedly, “what you call ’going into a cottage because there was no-one there’ is what the police call ’breaking and entering’.

“Thirdly, if you do find yourself in a cottage where one of the chairs is too large, the chances are that that is because someone or something very big lives there. This is rarely a good thing. The Scream movies should have taught you that.

“Fifthly -”

“Fourthly,” said Goldilocks.

“Fourthly, then,” said her Mum, “three bowls of porridge sitting on a table, two of them still at least partly hot, is a fairly big hint that the residents have not gone far. It is not a good idea, therefore, to eat one of the bowls, after presumably having spat the mouthfuls you didn’t like back into the other two. The residents whose return is so obviously imminent are unlikely to be pleased.

“Sixth, er, fifth, er, whateverly, if you have actually done all of the above then Housebreaking for Dummies, and you can be pretty sure that such a book exists, would probably advise a getaway at this point. It is unlikely to suggest going upstairs for a snooze.”

“I’m grounded, aren’t I?” said Goldilocks.

“You are indeed,” said her Mum. “You can go to your room, and just be thankful that Mr and Mrs Bear were so good about the whole thing. And leave your mobile here, I don’t want you to spend the whole time texting your friends, you can tidy your room.”

Goldilocks gave that deep sigh that only young girls can give when dealing with their mother, slammed her mobile onto the kitchen table and stomped upstairs to her room. Once there she started to text her friends.

One of the mobile phones in the cottage had been too big, one had been too small, but the one that she had now was just right.

Loop The Loop

For Saturday’s exercise at the Inkslingers Workshop in the Irish Writers Centre we had to write a Word Loop. The last word of the piece had to be the same as the first one, and each sentence had to begin with the word with which the previous one had ended. The first line we were given was “Night fell and again he dreamt of wolves”, and I have to say I had twenty minutes of enormous fun …

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Night fell and again he dreamt of Wolves. They had been his favourite team since he was a schoolboy. Schoolboy dreams of playing for them, however, had been dashed. Dashed by the fact that, when it came to football, he was rubbish.

Rubbish was what he worked at now. Now was not the word he had meant to end that sentence with, but it was too late now. Now he felt really stupid, because he had just done it again. Again he focussed on what he was writing. Writing was now his livelihood. Livelihood was too exciting and bubbly a word for the sheer drudgery of his job, which was to write horoscopes for the Wolverhampton Times.

Times like this were when he was glad the paper wasn’t called the Gazette.

Gazette is not an easy word to start a sentence with. With any luck he’d get better at this, picking better words to finish with, or else what he wrote would be shite.

Shite, he’d left himself with another problem there.

There was wild cheering in his dream as Wolves put goal after goal past Sheffield Wednesday. Wednesday was the night on which many of Wolves’ matches were played. Played in real life, I mean, not just in his mind. Mind you, Wednesday seemed to be when he dreamt about football most often, possibly because it was usually on the telly. Telekinesis, he reckoned that was called, although that’s probably not the right word at all.

All he knew was that in his dreams Wolves always won. One thing that usually didn’t really happen, unless they cheated. Cheated like he had just done, ending one sentence with w-o-n and starting the next with o-n-e.

“Ee, by gum,” Wolves manager Mick McCarthy would have said in his Barnsley accent, “you’d better not cheat like that in your dream tomorrow night.”

Said It With Flowers

At the writing workshop yesterday we looked at the crime story. We were given the sentence “I was the first into the Botanic Gardens glasshouse that day and there she was, her legs wrapped around one of those strange mountainous plants from Borneo with a note around her neck that said:”

Copperface Jack’s, by the way, is a notorious Dublin nightclub, and the Joy is Mountjoy Prison…

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I was the first into the Botanic Gardens glasshouse that day and there she was, her legs wrapped around one of those strange mountainous plants from Borneo with a note around her neck that said: “Tina’s Hen Party”.

You see girls like her all over Dublin city on a Sunday morning – wearing T-shirts with some girl’s photo on it, Playboy-bunny ears that light up, and an expression that says that they’re hungover, sick and wish they were dead.

Trouble is, this girl was.

It was hard to say what the cause of death was. This wasn’t because there wasn’t a scratch on her. It was because she’d been shot, stabbed and had marks on her neck as if she’d been strangled.

Oh, and she was missing her head.

“Suicide?” joked my partner, Bud. Bud wasn’t his real name, it was Aloysius, but he preferred Bud. Most people would.

“Very funny,” I said. “Someone wanted to kill this girl really, really badly, and they did it really, really well.”

“How do we find out who she is?”

“She’s Tina,” I said.

“How do you know?” asked Bud.

I pointed to the L-Plate that was stuck to the front of her skirt. “They only do that to the bride-to-be,” I said.

“How do you think she ended up here?” asked Bud. “It’s a long way from Copperface Jacks.”

“Dunno,” I said. “Let’s find the rest of the party and ask them.”

It only took a few phone calls to establish that a bunch of girls up from the little town of Kilkenny had rented one of those StayDublin short-term apartments for the weekend. We paid them a visit and broke the news. One of them said “Are you sure it’s her? We’d better ID her.”

I showed her a photo of what we’d found. She threw up on my tie.

“Any of you know did she go off with anyone last night?” asked Bud.

“This is a hen-party,” said one of them. “What happens in Dublin, stays in Dublin.”

“Not in a murder investigation, doll,” I said. “The only thing staying in Dublin will be the killer, in the Joy.”

“And of course Tina’s head, if we can’t find it,” said Bud.

I ignored that. “Did she meet a guy?”

“No,” said one of the girls. I’d tell you some of their names but they all looked the same to me. “We didn’t bother with guys, we just drank shots and danced around our handbags to I Will Survive and It’s Raining Men.”

“She wasn’t interested in other men,” said one of them. “I should know, I’m Laura, her bridesmaid and best friend. All she was interested in was David.”

She said the word David with her lips in a sneer, like the face you’d make if you were trying to spit gin through a gap in your teeth into the fire. “You didn’t like David,” I said.

“He wasn’t good enough for her,” said Laura. “No man was good enough for her.”

Just an hour ago this case had looked tougher to crack than one of my wife’s hard-boiled eggs. Now it looked as plain as my wife.

“You want to tell us what happened, Laura?” I asked.

“I did it,” she said defiantly. “I though it was me she loved, that David was just her beard. Last night, after this lot had passed out from mojitos and Bacardi Breezers, we got a taxi out to the Botanic Gardens. I wanted to give her a rare orchid, as a sign of our love. She told me she really did love David, that she’d just been with me because she was bi-curious. I was furious, so I killed her.”

“And why did you wrap her legs around the tree-truck?” I asked.

She blushed. “Symbolism,” she said. “She’d made her choice.”

“What did you stab her with?” asked Bud, who felt he’d better say something before we forgot he was in the story.

” A shears I found the in the Gardens.”

“And cut off her head with?”

“A hedge-trimmer I found in the Gardens.”

“And shoot her with?”

“Oh, I brought the gun up from Kilkenny with me,” she said. “Me ma says Dublin is an awful dangerous place.”

Home On The Range

Image via blackandwtf.tumblr.com

At the Inkslingers Workshop on Saturday we tried visual prompts. The girl who runs it showed us three photos, and asked us to pick one and write for 15 minutes about it. The photo on the right is the one that I chose, and the words below are the ones that I wrote….

He’d said he had to work late.

The dumbass fool, he thought she wouldn’t be able to hear the clink of glasses, the crack of pool-balls, the whine of Achy Breaky Heart coming from the juke-box behind him.

He wasn’t working late. He was in Jethro’s Bar again.

He’d be home around eleven, driving erratically up the dirt-track and into their yard, pulling to a halt in a spray of dirt in front of the porch, probably on top of her petunias again.

He’d make some excuse, that he’d been working with Bill-Joe, or Jeb-Bob, or Jake-Chuck, or some other dumbass double-barrelled names, and that they’d just gone for the one afterwards.

No-one gets that drunk on just one beer. She could drink three-quarters of a  bottle of Jack Daniels and not get drunk. In fact she’d done it just now.

Which was why, instead of the traditional rolling-pin, she was awaiting him with the rifle he used to shoot deer, or at them at any rate.

She wasn’t going to kill him, because she was a God-fearin’ Tennessee woman. But he was her man and had done her wrong, so she was gonna wound him, somewhere it would hurt.

That was why she’d put the telescopic-sight on the rifle. She didn’t reckon she had a very big target to aim at.