Category Archives: storyslingers

Pancakes and Possession

Our latest story prompt was a bit of a mixture, with a few stories based on the theme of pancakes and others focusing on the theme of possession. We even had a poem to add to the mix this time. Regardless of theme, all of the stories were a great success with the rest of the group and we hope that you enjoy reading them!

Yours, by Michael Bailey

Gwen walked along the woodland path here and somewhere else. It was cool in the leafy shade, a relief from the searing sun outside on the lake. The path wound up the hillside between birch trees. A strong breeze shook the branches and made the leaves shiver. The birdsong died away as the temperature seemed to drop and Gwen felt the skin on her arms rise in goose-bumps. She looked behind her, there was nothing to be seen and yet a shadow moved at the corner of her vision. She stopped and looked again, the shadow didn’t move but hung like a dark area out of focus close to the path. “Get away from me. You have no place here, go back to where you belong,”, Gwen commanded. The shadow dissolved but Gwen didn’t feel reassured. She hurried on, turning down the hill and back into the sunlight at the lakeside.

She was still agitated when she met up with her partner, Rob. She told him what had happened and he asked if she was sure. She nodded. They went back up the path she had taken but all was peaceful and untroubled. They returned to the lake and sat on a bench looking left across the lake to the cleared track through the woods underneath the descent of a winter ski lift.

Rob lifted his binoculars and studied the vertical trackway. The supports of the lift cast black shadows that lay parallel at intervals like railway sleepers. He had thought he might spot a deer but instead he saw nothing. He couldn’t be sure, he couldn’t see anything to focus on but he got the impression of something outside his field of view moving from shadow to shadow towards them. Finally it disappeared behind the brick building that housed the end of the ski lift fifty yards away from where they sat. Now it was Rob who felt the hairs on his neck rise. He could sense something there, hidden behind the wall he was staring at. Gwen suggested they go into the hotel.

They talked about what might or might not be out there and drank a beer each, encouraging one another to put the incidents aside as the products of overactive imagination in this slightly spooky out-of-season ski resort. The shadows softened and the colours intensified into the golden hour of evening as they stayed at their table by the window and ate supper.

Upstairs in their room Rob was relaxing when Gwen burst sobbing from the shower. She said she was frightened, her eyes were wide and the suntan on her face had blanched where her skin was drawn and pale. Rob tried to put his arms around her but she pushed him away clutching her towel tighter around her shoulders. No, she said, I’m frightened of you. “Who are you?” she asked, staring hard at him. “I’m Rob and you are Gwen and we are the same as ever”, he told her. He suggested they go back into the bathroom and look in the mirror.

As she stood in front of the mirror over the sink with Rob standing behind her Gwen couldn’t bring herself to look. Rob gently raised her chin with his hand.

Look, he said, there is nothing to be frightened of. He put his hands on her shoulders and massaged them and her neck which was stiff with tension. As she relaxed she let her towel slip to the floor and he looked over her shoulder to admire her nakedness. Come on into bed he said, it’s all over, nothing to be frightened any more. He took her hand and led her into the bedroom.

Gwen kissed Rob tentatively at first and then with a desperation that went beyond their usual passion. She clung to him as he kissed her. She moaned and wrapped her legs around him pushing herself against him, pulling his buttocks with her hands, digging her fingernails into his skin.

Rob’s face was above Gwen’s as he entered her. In that familiar moment when intense feelings of love and oneness usually overcame him he suddenly saw Gwen’s face transformed into the mask of a wild beast, lips drawn back in a snarl that bunched under the merciless eyes staring at him. The long sharp white teeth were daggers bared in a grimace of savagery that would surely rip his throat open in an instant. Rob’s eyes popped as he thrust harder and heard his own voice “I love you, I don’t care, do what you want, I’ll never stop loving you.”

He blinked and Gwen’s face had the look of sublime and far away calm it always had when they made love. The terrifying mask had gone. Rob had no doubt that he had seen it and that he had somehow passed a test by reacting as he had. Accepting his fate without bargaining, without relinquishing his love for Gwen whoever or whatever she was.

In the morning Gwen was her old self, chatting about the history of the resort and of the region they had travelled through to get there. She said nothing of the strange apparition they might have imagined in the afternoon or of the terror they felt in the night. Rob didn’t want to upset her so he kept quiet as well.

Weeks later Gwen started crying one evening. Words tumbled from her as she told Rob she was afraid of what she was inside. Rob let her talk until she ran dry then gradually tried to comfort and reassure her that he loved her.

She was not convinced. “How can you love me when you don’t know who or what I am inside?” she asked. Rob smiled sadly and shook his head. “Gwen my love, I have already seen what you are and I know one day you may bite my head off, quite literally. But loving you makes me what I am and I am yours.

 

The Embassy Ball, by Alex Chase

Our eyes met

Across a crowded room

Kindred spirits shared a spark

A single thought

Your eyes shone

Brighter than the diamonds round your neck

And then we’re off

Our twin circles

Never quite align

Mutually exclusive gatherings

At the Embassy Shrove Tuesday Ball

As lackeys and toadies

Each more demanding than the last

Beg for favours

“Not me, it’s for a friend”.

I found out who you were

Married

Children

A duchess, in another life

The endless social swirl

Spins us ever further.

Apart we drift.

I saw you later on that night

But you were occupied

In quartering a crepe

Lemon and sugar

Simple tastes for one so glamorous

The music plays

I hesitate

“Ask her to dance”

A voice behind me says

I turn but no one’s there

Perhaps an angel

I turn again

Too late

You and your partner

Spin

Twin dervishes

Never pausing for breath

Much less a chance for other men

To tear you from his grip.

And then the evening’s done

The serving staff

Return to tidy up

The debris of the night’s soiree

And back to work

Though sore of head and heart.

What’s this?

Another function to attend

Perhaps this time

We can communicate

In words

And not just looks.

But then I read

Divorce

Society was not for you

And so the country girl went home

To her cows

And sheep.

And stable lads.

The life less gilded.

And I was left

Once more alone

Amid the spires and steeples

Of the urban wilderness

And so I go

Through endless parties

Conferences

And balls

Until I reach the end of term

And finally

Recalled to home

I look

At that great sea of toil and strife

And shines out just this

One moment full of happiness and bliss.

 

I’m So Lucky to be Alive, by Cuca Vega

‘I’m not a pancake!’ I kept repeating again and again to Jimmy, Joey and Tommy.

They wouldn’t believe me.

‘Seriously, I’m just a kind of flat donut, that’s all.’

Jimmy has been a rye bread all his life and the wisdom that comes from such a nutritious way of being prompt him to reflect. ‘Rather a flat donut, then?’

I jumped at the opportunity. ‘Yes! yes! A very flat donut without any jam inside.’

Joey wasn’t convinced and nodded his disbelieve to Tommy.

‘Look.’ I said. ‘Have a try. Just take a little piece of me and tell me I’m not a donut but a pancake.’

Tommy liked the idea and being a mini chocolate roll it was easy to move my way and have a taste.

‘What do you say Tommy?’ the square, sliced white bread Joey shouted from his shelf.

‘Uhmmm… I think Fenny is right; he does taste more “donuty” than pancake-like.’

Jimmy was satisfied and with that he decided: ‘Right then, you can be spared during breakfast time but you are gone in the afternoon tea.’

There!

That was all I wanted – a few more hours of glorious, vibrant life.

I was so happy I could have jiggled if I was not so flat. I did manage to ‘slop-slop’ my edges to show my delight.

It was already 5.30 in the morning. We were all freshly baked and ready for the day ahead. Jimmy and Joye would be eaten up first at breakfast time. Tommy and I, it was certain now, would be gobbled up during the afternoon tea.

Life is great!

I can sit here and savour another 12 hours or so of perfect joy.

I am so lucky to be alive.

 

Nothing Keeps, by Stephen Pellow

Every evening it’s the same. Home from work and it’s been a long day, I know, but there’s never a plan. No organisation. No structure. One by one each and every cupboard is opened and I peer inside to see if there is something – anything – that takes my fancy. Something different. We can’t keep having the same stuff week in, week out. Times are hard and the budget is tight, yes, but a bit of variety wouldn’t hurt.

Right, let’s start again from the beginning. I was looking but not seeing before perhaps. There has to be something more here. Could this be something promising? Store in a cool, dry place. That hasn’t really been an option. Cool is a phrase rarely attributed to this place. The expiry date has long passed. Nothing lasts forever no matter how many preservatives you inject into it. Never say forever. Nothing keeps.

And this? This has been here longer than I have and would probably kill me given half the opportunity. Can’t bin it really though, can I? It’s not part of the diet anymore… shouldn’t really need any physical reminder. In the bin it goes.

Something from somewhere I can’t even pronounce. There wasn’t any harm in experimenting, I suppose, but nothing good came of it either.

Well this is may be worth further investigation. A tin with no labels. Keeps things interesting. But after this long you need labels. Even if you ultimately aren’t going to enjoy what’s inside the can and especially if what’s inside has expired after leaving it so long. Without putting a label on it. Don’t even. Just sweep it off the shelf and straight into the bin. If it’s not good enough for me, I don’t want anyone else having it either.

Maybe check the fridge.

Ah, fruit. Strawberries no less. Their seeds are on the outside. They’re exposed to everything. I’d rather be the seeds of its neighbour in here, the tomato. Cushy and protected inside, shielded from the elements. From feeling.

I fear I may end up popcorn. It’s like I’ve been this little hard kernel. Small and insignificant, in a bag with hundreds of others just like me. Then I have my moment. I finally reach temperature. Maybe I even get there first and I pop and suddenly I’m twice or three times my size, and oh, so sweet. But then so is everyone else. They have their moments too and we are all the same again. The playing field levelled. Most likely I’m the one piece of popcorn that’s stuck to the bottom of the bag, going stale, or ends up on the floor and gets eaten by the dog. Worse still, I remain a kernel. I never had my moment. I never popped.

Or an egg yolk. It would be better to be one of those. A yolk rests within the membrane of the egg, that itself surrounded by a shell. But not a hard shell. It is fragile. It can be cracked all too easily, spilling the gold and the white out and mixing with milk and flour to make a perfect batter.

These cupboards depress me. Pancakes for tea again and then I really must go shopping. Never any bloody food in this house.

 

The Greatest Possession, by Becky Bye

He sat and stared fixedly at the woman talking in front of him, watching the red curves of her lips warp into different positions. He heard sounds, but the words wafted over him like a dream.

Sit still. DON’T panic.

He shifted his position slightly, feigning interest as best he could, crossing his left leg over his right knee, then swapping them over.

He felt his foot begin tapping uncontrollably and he focussed all of his energy onto it, willing it to stop. He linked his hands on his lap and squeezed until his knuckles bleached white. He bit his lip until he could taste metal.

Sit. Still.

The woman behind the desk was handing out a sheet of paper to him. He smiled, reaching out a trembling hand to take it from her and peered down at the paper. It fluttered in his grasp and he squinted, trying to stop the words from bleeding into one on the page.

Focus. You’re absolutely fine.

He realised that the woman had stopped talking and he looked up at her quickly, nodding his head and making noises in the affirmative, hoping that it was the right response. She stretched out her hands in front of her, the painted nails shiny on the pockmarked desk top.

He swallowed hard and placed the paper onto the desk as the woman resumed talking. He scratched his chin, though it didn’t itch.

Deep breaths.

He uncrossed his legs and shifted slightly on the chair, rubbing his palms down his thighs to remove some of the moisture that he could feel seeping through his pores.

Nothing is going to happen, just pay attention.

After a moment, the woman stood up, straightening out her pencil skirt over her thighs and extending her hand.

“Well, that will be all, thank you, we’ll be in touch.”

As their palms met, he felt the woman’s hand tense within his clammy fingers and she hastily withdrew her arm.  His lips trembled at the corners as he contorted them into something of a smile.

As he left the room his ears buzzed, his legs and feet clumsy as he tripped out of the woman’s office and into the hallway. The clinical smell of office equipment made him feel sick and he bustled outside.

The coolness of the air outside calmed him and he inhaled deeply. He sighed, knowing that they wouldn’t be in touch.

Messed that up didn’t you.

Panic attack 1, interview 0.

 

 

The Accidental Novelist

I always thought that writing a novel would be impossible, that my ideas could never be big or grand enough to become anything more than rather elaborate short (or not quite so short) stories. That said, I suddenly find myself facing my laptop, on which sits a total of 60,000 words on a single project, and whilst I am loathe to admit it, I guess that does in fact constitute a novel…and not even a finished one at that! I am roughly 5 months into a project that stole my fascination almost a year ago and not that I can say it has been easy up until this point, I can surprise myself by saying that it has actually been really fun. I just hope that it will continue to be so right up until the final edit.

Of course, I have hit stumbling blocks and bumped into various walls in order to get to this point, but unlike with previous projects, I have been able to find ways around these hurdles and to keep myself focussed on the most important point – just keep writing. Since this project began, I have not had a single day off of writing. Even if it means hastily scribbling down 50 words over my bowl of shredded wheat in the morning, some words are better than no words and it is this perseverance which I think has helped me get to where I am now. I still have a long way to go, but I do have a beginning, an ending, and quite a lot of middle, though there stretches before me a good few months of editing, re-writing and inevitably, cutting.

One of the most irritating things which has halted my progress is finding the balance between research and writing. Owing to the fact that my novel is a historical fiction, it means that much of what I have written needs to be researched fully, in order for it to be authentic. I have been aware of the dangers of doing too much research and putting myself off and have settled on a happy medium of simply getting the words down on paper, and just researching critical points as I come to them. The rest of the holes I can fill in later (she says optimistically…)

It is incredibly satisfying watching characters develop and their personalities emerge over the course of a novel that cannot quite be fully alluded to in anything shorter, and fully immersing myself in a world that I have become deeply fascinated by. I would say that my fascination has become a borderline obsession and the research that I have done has been really exciting and interesting, even if not all of it will find its way onto my page.

Hand in hand with the research and excitement however looms the shade of paranoia, and the fear that actually, my idea has already been done before. It seems that everywhere I look, I notice one of my characters appear in something else on television/in a film/in another book, and I worry that particular interpretation is better than mine. Thankfully, my incredibly supportive writers group have been able to silence my demons and have encouraged me to just keep writing and insist that my own interpretation of these historical people and events will naturally be unique to anyone else’s anyway.

I can only hope that I finish my first draft with as much enthusiasm as I have held for my project thus far (and that it won’t take me another 60,000 words to get to the end!)

Writing to White Noise

A little over a week ago a few members of our illustrious group of Storyslingers met up at the local public house with the intention of hammering out some words on our respective stories in a relaxed atmosphere, surrounded by like-minded and creatively inspiring support.

I’ve never been one to write on command, it’s always had to be when the mood and inspiration have taken hold of me, but I didn’t go there with a lack of ideas. I had things I knew I could write, that I had to write, and yet nothing was happening. It was frustrating to be sat there, nursing my orange juice and lemonade and staring at the open Word document on my laptop all the while my fellow ‘slingers tapping away at their keyboards and talking of a 1000 words noted.

So what was happening that was preventing me from writing? I believe it was the pub itself, and the distraction it was providing. For me, it was the wrong type of background noise.

When I write, as infrequent as that may sometimes be, and I am producing a serious volume of output there is always some background noise. Some people make playlists of particularly inspiring pieces of music, or songs that are acting as a soundtrack to the stories they are writing.

I remember reading an interview with the late and great Iain M. Banks where he said he had once written with a James Bond movie on in the background because he was so familiar with it he didn’t have to pay it such attention. It became like a white noise that filled the air as he wrote but didn’t distract him.  While I would never dream of comparing myself to him, I feel very much the same way – only for me it’s not James Bond movies (as much as I am accustomed to them as well) but television. Most comedies, American sitcoms, either on DVD where there are up to 8 episodes on a disc or whatever is on Comedy Central during the day. Heavily edited episodes of Two and a Half Men usually.

For me it’s not about getting inspiration from these shows as I write, but about the ease and familiarity they provide that allow me to write without the feeling of frustration that I had felt at the pub.

So what is your white noise when you are writing, or do you like to be distracted and tested when you do?

Storyslingers is getting Social

Amidst all the group activities and new blogging faces, we’ve forgotten to mention our social networking venues–places you can find us on the web to connect or comment, or just keep up with what we’re up to (we’re a busy lot, us Storyslingers).

Storyslingers on Facebook – Our FB group has been going for a while now, and we regularly post links and info about up-coming events and news, including links to our published works. Feel free to join the group.

Storyslingers on Twitter – This is a relatively new account, so there isn’t quite as much stuff up there yet, but we will be using it regularly to link to cool writing things around Dorset and news about the group. Anyone can (and should) follow!

And of course our blog, which you are reading right now (just in case you didn’t, y’know, know).

We’re always happy to talk to people about writing or about our group, all you have to do is poke us. And if you’d like to connect on any of these services, go right ahead!

The creativity thieves

There are several bad habits or factors we can develop in life that can block one’s creativity. Apparently there are eight, but many of them are so similar and can be dealt with in the same way that I feel the authors of those lists were just looking to make them more easily digestible. Thankfully when you are part of a group like Storyslingers where you are surrounded by informed, understanding and supportive people you don’t have to concern yourself with outside discouragement (ignore everyone else) and you can gain a deal of confidence in yourself and what you are capable of.  So that’s two factors down, but there are a few things left however that we can all struggle with.

One of the first things I have always seen when looking up advice for breaking out of the creative rut is to separate the creating from the editing, or the evaluating, and to not fall into the trap of starting to edit yourself while you are still nourishing and nurturing your ideas. Doing this too soon and too often may stop you discovering a really good concept before it’s developed fully.
Which leads nicely to fear, I think. Having a fear of making mistakes, of failure, could stop you before you’ve even begun. Having a fear of needing to make sense of those ideas, having everything squared away and all the loose ends tied up, can be harmful to. Life doesn’t make sense, it’s uncomfortable and untidy at times so don’t dismiss an idea if it works but you don’t know why. Chaos can be your friend!
Analysis paralysis is another term I often come across when searching for guidance. While researching is important and necessary you can become stuck over-thinking facts and situations that, like gorging on a vast meal, you become stuffed and are unable to act on anything.
For me personally writing has always been my creative outlet, with no real ambition to take it further than to please myself, but I did go through an extended period of time when I just didn’t feel creative at all. What we are today is a result of everything that has come before and everything we have experienced in our lives good or bad has informed us as writers, as creators, and as human beings. I found myself in a place where I just couldn’t do it anymore because of very negative experiences, and sometimes the only thing you need to get yourself out of that rut is time.
Finally, following anyone’s (including “expert’s”) advice blindly is unwise. Listen to your intuition – everyone’s journey is different, which includes your own.

The 2012 Story Slam Video (belated!)

I don’t think we’ve posted the short teaser video of our 2012 summer Story Slam, helpfully put together by Robbie Cumming. It features our readers, our fabulous judges, and The Wrongo Bongo Band. Check it out below, or follow this link to the YouTube page if the video doesn’t show up.


Thank you to Robbie for compiling this, to SAC for hosting us, and to Richard Thomas for filming the slam all evening. And a special thank you to everyone who came and supported us.

Kicking off a new year

Another short message to wish everyone a very (belated) Happy New Year! Let’s make 2013 a year packed with creativity, energy and fun.

As always, if you have any writing-related news or announcements, feel free to email them to us at any point (our email addresses are on the ‘About’ page) or drop a comment on one of our posts here on the blog. Any new people who’ve been considering coming along to our group, now is a good time! New year: fresh start. 🙂

The next Storyslingers meeting will be Tuesday 15th January, 6:30pm – 8:30pm, Proctor Room, Shaftesbury Arts Centre. It will be a regular meeting, with the usual combination of readings, discussions and exercises. And tea & coffee, of course! Hope to see some of you there.

Xmas Wishes

Just wanted to wish everyone at Storyslingers and everyone following this blog a very Happy Christmas! We’ve had such a fantastic year; hopefully in early 2013 we’ll do a quick round-up post highlighting some of the exciting things Storyslingers has done in the last twelve months.

Until then, we hope you have a wonderful time, whatever you’re up to and whether you celebrate Xmas or not. We’ll see you in the New Year!

Storyslingers Festive Party, Dec 18th 2012

Another wonderful Storyslingers holiday party! There were minced pies, delicious cupcakes, popcorn and drinks, as well as a selection of games. We played the Dictionary Game which was a lot of fun, so I thought it worth posting the rules here for anyone unfamiliar. It’s a lot like the British TV show Call My Bluff, and is great fun if you’re looking for a party game at any time of year. (I’m stealing most of this from Muriel, who helpfully explained the rules to Storyslingers.)

DICTIONARY: The aim of the game is to deceive others about the meaning of a strange word while resisting their efforts to deceive you. You will need a dictionary and non-distinctive scrap(s) of paper.

One player, the Dictionary Holder, chooses an obscure word unfamiliar to all. Example: “Pleymon”.

In secret, each player then has to concoct a definition of the word and write it down. The Dictionary Holder writes the real definition, then collects all the definitions in a hat/pot. The Dictionary Holder then reads out all the definitions in a random order:

PLEYMON: a pale yellow star in the constellation Scorpio; the neck part of a suit of armour; a musical instrument from the Pyrenees; the fatty deposit in the second stomach of a cow; an ancestor of the porcupine; a gorge formed by melt water from a glacier.

Then players are to guess which one is the real definition. Bear in mind, thinking aloud is opportunity for mild gamesmanship.

Players then cast a vote each and announce it to the Dictionary Holder. You may not vote for yourself. Really wacky answers may get votes for sheer chutzpah.

Finally, the Dictionary Holder announces the correct definition. You score a point for a correct guess. You also score a point for each person who voted for your (false) definition. The Dictionary Holder scores a point for each player who didn’t guess the right answer.

Then the dictionary is passed to the next player, who becomes the Dictionary Holder. Rinse and repeat.

(Note: “Pleymon” is a made-up word, so all definitions above are nonsense!)

We ended up playing this in a mix of individuals and small teams, which I think made it funnier as some of the discussions were absurd (and of course, at times a little naughty).


We also played some festive Dada. Here’s one I captured on my phone:



A massive thank you to everyone who came along, bringing food and drink and making it an excellent evening!