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Week one study diary – Advanced Creative Writing


This week I have written three short pieces or fragments from three different prompts and edited the first of these. The first prompt was a first paragraph, the second was to write a 1970s thriller, and the third was the phrase “door-to-door selling”. All three plus the edited version of the first are included in my blog post and I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have any.


Besides these practical exercises I analysed some texts and studied advice on free-writing, clusters, editing and genre. I’ve included a summary of my thoughts on what I have learned so far.

  • On genre – the title and style of narrative (use of generic conventions) is a way of codifying language to create and manipulate readers’ expectations. Readers connect the new piece with others of the same genre they have previously encountered. “Form and content work in harmony to simultaneously trick and alert the reader to a larger meaning in the writing.”

  • On the studied texts – the wordplay in “Violin Lessons” leant a greater tension to the main character and gave additional layers of meaning in what may otherwise have been a simple tale.

e.g. “I always stick to the path,” coupled with “One slip either way and I’ve had it,” suggests a man afraid of what he might be capable of especially when added to his visions of blood pulsing from a young woman’s artery. With the flow of the narrative and the chair-maker’s internal dialogue we learn a few things about his creative process. He is stuck for inspiration and so continues making the same style of chair legs. He tells us that he gathers shapes (design ideas) like kindling, but that shapes and ideas are nothing without hard work. In the larger text he seems to be saying the reverse – that hard work without the ideas to give it shape is equally purposeless. An unexpected muse allows his desensitised mind to reawaken. She can smell the wood, while he can’t.

  • On editing – the purpose is to decide which parts are essential and which can be discarded to improve pace and clarity of meaning.


I produced five clusters based on different phrases and words. Clusters are like mind maps with the initial idea at the centre and new images and words pointing outwards until something interesting or inspiring appears. I learned from doing them how naturally my mind grasps the darker nature of the world. Perhaps after all I am, and always shall be, a horror writer. I also started to think about what I want to write for my first assignment, although OU rules mean I cannot share that piece until it has been graded. You will have to wait to read that one. I hope, for my sake more than yours, it will be worth the wait.


Writing 1

Act 1.2

The Life History of Guillermo Brown


The church clock strikes eight, so those villagers who are awake know without checking that it is six. A cock crows. A body lies across the doorstep of the church, a line of crumb-carrying ants marches across the fedora covering its face. There is a serene, momentary quiet after the chimes cease. A figure glides past the church wall, before the silence is cracked by a baby crying.


Reverend Brown places his first cup of coffee on a place-mat and rises from the kitchen table. He heads towards the stairs, intending to settle his son before the wailing disturbs his wife’s precious sleep. A creak of the floorboards assures him it is already too late. Another sleepless night has deepened the shadows beneath Maria Brown’s eyes, but she displays no impatience as she hurries towards the nursery.


On the other side of the rectory door, Amy hesitates before knocking. The shadow in the hallway frightens her. Its darkness waits in expectation. She has heard and disregarded rumours of the Reverend’s uncanny disposition. There must be some other reason why a man of God stands immobile beyond the door. He cannot sense her presence. To suggest such a thing is surely sacrilegious. She bites her lip and gently raps her knuckles against the wood below the distorting pane of patterned glass.


The Reverend sighs, concerned for his wife’s health, physical and mental. If he had known what strain the infant would have placed on his marriage, well he probably would have acted no differently, other than to insist on recruiting some domestic help to ease the burden rather than merely suggesting the idea and immediately accepting Maria’s horrified refusal. He wishes he could believe his wife when she assures him she is more than equal to the task, but she has always appeared fragile in his eyes, a young song-bird to be protected. Her enchanting voice soars in the slightly stale air from the nursery and down the stairs to where he stands, delighting his ears. His heart swells and he experiences a moment of peace. Urgent knocking on the front door breaks his reverie and in two strides he reaches the bolt and swipes open the lock. Fresh air blesses the hallway. The anxious face of young Amy greets him, a village girl whose infamous father will without doubt spoil any chance of her future happiness. He wishes he could give Amy more than spiritual solace, but he has always had a soft spot for distressed and helpless females.


‘What’s happened?’ he asks. ‘What has he done this time?’


Amy’s cheeks burn crimson and she bows her head.


He studies her hastily pinned blonde hair and the shabby shawl pulled tight across her shoulders covering her faded day dress. He tamps down an anger borne of frustration. Her father is part of his flock and he feels unreasonably responsible for this parental neglect. His thoughts drift upstairs to his wife, rocking Guillermo back to sleep. Amy has never known a mother’s love, and her father is a drunk and a wastrel, who brings his sweet daughter nothing but worry. He invites the speechless girl inside. Some sweet coffee might bring her back to her senses and encourage her to unburden her heart.



Writing 2

Act 1.5

1970s thriller.


White air curled around my face, a thick pea-souper off the Avon. The sort of morning that screamed Film Noir. I pulled up my jacket collar like Humphrey Bogart and slouched forward, watching the cracked pavement beneath my soles. The last thing I needed was to lose my way. The canal gurgled on my right and slow moving traffic rumbled to my left. Ahead of me, perhaps only ten yards ahead but hidden by the fog, the scratch and click of metal heels belonged to the beautiful blonde I was trailing. Don’t get me wrong, don’t peg me as one of those pervs the BBC warn young women about after the watershed. This was business and her husband was a lucrative client. What she was doing here, following the tow path east with the strap of a brown leather satchel stretching the fibres of her lamb’s wool coat, was a mystery I was determined to solve and not only for the generous payday. I’d seen women like her before – tiny waist and painted lips. They knew one well aimed smile would charm any man into submission. Perhaps the fog shielded me from her spell, but at that moment I was determined to unmask her. Her and the rest of them.


Warmed by these thoughts it took me a moment to realise the metallic clicks were no longer audible. Even against the backdrop of brewing hops I had her scent. Guided by the trace of L’Air du Temps she left in her wake I clambered up the grassy bank away from the water. Sounds of car engines grew louder and I tasted lead in the city air. Horns wailed in frustration as a new breed of sales executives seethed in the slow moving traffic exasperated but not caused by limited visibility. Business didn’t stop if drivers couldn’t see beyond the plates of the car in front and neither, it seemed, did my beautiful blonde mystery, Mrs Oakridge.



Writing 3

Door-to-Door Salesman


“Go away!”


The young woman with red stains on her polka-dot apron would have bruised the tip of Albert’s nose with the door if he hadn’t taken a timely step back. Beyond the indigo barrier her scrawny mutt persisted in yapping its own warning. “Not welcome. Go away.”


Her garden had shown promise. Albert had dared to hope as the chirpy bell squawked an unrecognisable tune that this one might actually buy from him. The neat rows of primroses and the soap-bubble puddle beneath the brightly coloured toddler’s slide had suggested a woman with time on her hands. Yet she stored her moments like a miser and refused to give any to Albert, not even when offered ‘the deal of a lifetime’. She’d taken one appraising glance at his cheap suit and worn shoes before deciding this damp and desperate man had nothing of value.


Albert’s wife had decided the same thing two years ago when the school had let him go. He sneered at the euphemism. Let him go sounded like a release rather than a prison sentence. Getting this sales job was his final attempt at winning back his wife and kids, move out of his car and back into the family home he’d paid for.


His briefcase contained the deal of a lifetime. Something so wonderful he’d never dared open it lest its magic escape. Yet behind each door cynic after cynic refused him entry and the case remained closed. Unwanted and turned away day after day. Handing it back to the company would signal a final defeat, and the cat studying him from the neighbour’s window suggested a kindly, lonely old woman lived there. Someone eager to open wide their door and invite a hungry stranger with a bag full of promise into the hidden rooms beyond their dark hallway. It was the hope Albert clung to as he shuffled resentfully along the brushed pathway and knocked on the red front door.



Writing 1.2

Act 1.6

Editing

The Life History of Guillermo Brown


The church clock strikes eight, so those villagers who are awake know without checking that it is six. A cock crows. A body lies across the doorstep of the church, a line of crumb-carrying ants marches across the fedora covering its face. There is a serene, momentary quiet after the chimes cease. A figure glides past the church wall, before the silence is cracked by a baby crying.


Reverend Brown frowns and glares at the kitchen ceiling. In spite of the early hour his white collar is fastened to his black shirt and his jacket buttoned up, ready for whatever God might throw at him this day. He abandons his mug of coffee and rises from the rustic table. At the foot of the stairs, he pauses, head cocked to the left. A creaking floorboard informs him he is already too late.


Another sleepless night has deepened the shadows beneath Maria Brown’s eyes, but she displays no impatience as she hurries towards the nursery. Her nightdress hangs from her slender frame, obscuring any hint of feminine curves.


The Reverend’s foot rests on the bottom step. His face full of indecision. His shoulders leaning forward ready to ascend. The enchanting voice of his wife soars through stale air from the nursery and down the stairs to where he stands, delighting his ears. She is his song-bird. His heart swells and he experiences a moment of peace.


On the other side of the rectory door, Amy hesitates before knocking. Her eyes widen as she notices the man-shaped shadow beyond the bevelled glass pane, its darkness expectant, head angled to listen. It is not impossible to imagine he can hear Amy’s breath tremble as she exhales. She bites her lip and taps her knuckles against the smooth wood below the distorting window.


The knocking breaks Reverend Brown’s reverie. In two easy strides he reaches the bolt and swipes open the lock. Fresh air blesses the hallway. The anxious face of young Amy greets him, a village girl whose infamous father will without doubt spoil any chance for her future happiness. His face softens into a welcoming smile, wishing he could offer Amy more than spiritual solace.


‘What’s happened?’ he asks. ‘What has he done this time?’


Amy’s cheeks burn crimson and she bows her head.

Reverend Brown studies her hastily pinned blonde hair and the shabby shawl pulled tight across her shoulders, the faded day dress beneath. Her father is part of his flock and such wilful neglect of this pretty daughter, still not quite a woman but almost, reflects badly on the Reverend. He thinks of his wife, upstairs, rocking Guillermo back to sleep. Amy has never known a mother’s love, and her father is a drunk and a wastrel, who brings his sweet daughter nothing but worry. He invites the speechless girl inside. Some sweet coffee might bring her back to her senses and encourage her to unburden her heart.


- in editing I tried to reduce the quantity of inner thoughts and display instead external actions. I have not been entirely successful yet, but I am confident that it reads better than the initial draft. I reordered a few of the paragraphs to improve the structure and avoid the skipping forward and back in time of the original draft. I hope the glimpsed shadow, the use of the word throw, and the word pretty indicate that this man of God is also a man of flesh.


So there it is, a busy, productive and enjoyable first week of study. Next week, because of various online events and commitments including Horror Weekend, my study week will stretch into the following week. You should expect my next study diary update in about ten days.

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