Sunday, January 31, 2010

22:07 Prompts

Deadline 23:45



Pints of beer and warmed up shandies

SIXPENCE

Someone has died at number ninety-five

The alternatives were ghoulish

The Man from the Pru is chasing Mrs Evans



The wood vibrates

Three tanner doubles and a treble on some mares

We could marry down the Reggie, so we did

Well we knew that we were foolish

You said you did not love me, but there was the kid



1939

A Small War, Far Away

After They Leave

And a boy at fifty-two has an odd disease

And a packet of ready-salted or a pie



And Ron from seventeen is in Cardiff for debts

BLACK

Bloody Beethoven

But Robert Wakeham went to nick for twenty years

CRASH



Dad borrowed a quid from Mam, went to the Gaer

Dance like you are going to die tomorrow

Enough left for The Sporting Life and just about four pints

February, March, Late

Forced smiles on a hundred pink-faced women

20:30 Prompts

1066
Fred Murphy made a fortune on the lorries to Llanwern
Grass polished yellow
He had three daughters there, all with bastards
Her Family Tree is a Willow, I am Pine

Hiroshima
How to Be Alone
I cut your grass, took out your trash
I stood beside your bed
In His Cottage Kitchen, Just Talking, About Books

In the shed, in a corner
It has nothing to do with love
It just went on until they all began to die
It’s on ITV 19
It's the same the whole world over

Keep looking till it hurts
Last Tango in Basingstoke
Lawrence of Bulgaria
Married and not even pregnant
Men in sports jackets and open-necked shirts


My mother liked the bingo up Stow Hill
Officially, we are not brothers, but I choose to disagree
On Thursdays Mrs Murphy polished her pill
One Hundred Million Pounds
One or Two Natural Wonders of the World

Sunday 18:32

We are here to help you
SALMON
She whispers from the corners of her eyes, looks with a curled lip
Strong Plunge I Have
Ted is going to buy a cheap radio this week

Telephone Call From Istanbul
Tell the Joker he's not funny; give the Penguin the bird.
Ten Million Green Bottles.
The floor is full, may I have another room?
The House is Sad, the furniture weary

COD
The Simple Truth
The sound of padding dogs
The Thing About Birthdays
The Vacuum Run

The Zombie I met in Tesco
SNAPPER
They're all doing a brand-new dance
Trailer Park Boys
TOUGH

Vinegar soaking through
Way Down in the Hole
MAJESTY
You and your strange ways
You Can Look But You Better Not Touch

Sunday 15:17

Deadline (official start 15:30) is 16:45

I have decided to be slovenly
I think my sight is not what it was
I want to somewhere, on a long dark train, whistling
Kitchen Sync
Lovely Rita

Madness by Text
Maybe We Will Recover
Memories of My Father
Memories TV
Monica Monica Canteen Queen

i-Housemaid
My Auntie is sad because she's dying. My uncle is sad because he can't.
My little enamel table
My new hairdo and clothes have cheered me up
Next door's cat is shitting in my roses

One day I will be a skinny boy, ribs showing
One Mint Left
PING!
I have been having a pleasant day in bed, resting and reading
Please choose music, photos

PLUM
Pull Yourself Apart, Man!
Red Light
Robin
Say it's all right Joe

Sunday 13:35

Deadline 14:55

Man on a Bridge
A Plain Wood Table, A Simple Chair
A story of lunches and love
A young women in an apron dreaming of the higgler
All the Way to the Middle
An Awfully Big Adventure
An old man in a rusty wheelchair
Apart from the obvious, there is little to say
As for the hall, they've done the best they can
As the rain falls, as the rain falls
Be that as it may
Black Rain
Blue Avenue
Boots on white linen
Brown paper, about this wide
Clean Sheets and a River View
Crumple Me
Everyday, Every Way
Frog
He's BEHIND you!
I am baffled by you
I am going to start seeing a woman doctor
I Doubt it Very Much, Mrs Havisham
I feel almost smothered when I start to write

Sunday before Noon

Deadline 1305

When I am blind I will feel sunsets
I am glass; you shimmer, you are light
The history in a single grain
I am not much looking forward
I look at this scar, long, incredible. I was wide open once.
The sun in scorpio
First there is a forest, naturally trees, but the thing is forest
Maybe my sight is getting worse
Let me put it this way, there weren't six foot posters of him on student walls
Shivering, but it is internal, hands steady as a rock
I will lie down
What do you think of the hat?
They're only bombs, Mrs Tavistock, bombs don't decide
All this is is a table, these are people
Listen, beneath our breaths, listen
There were many of us, now there are few
It's hard to imagine love in Thatcham
Quietly, it must have been a weekend, they took us from the map
What kind of effigy?
All I am is at the window, all you are is not
My grey suit, my grey suit, my grey suit, my pink.

More Prompts Coming

Despite a few crises here expect promts SUNDAY

at

11:30
13:30
15:30


then break

18:30
20:30
22:30


as long as there is demand (at east one writer asking)

Sunday Morning Prompts

Apologies for the lateness. Domestic Disasters
(no that's not a prompt!)


Stand still a moment, listen carefully
When the day comes, and it will
Staples
Balancing his work, his lover, his writing
We woke up face to face like lovers
NAIL
A small dark dot, someone is waving
We are waiting for the drowned man
The endless emptiness when they are gone
Something has come to our attention

Facing backwards on the escalator
Full of professors and so-o-o-o American
An Orang-Utan, his dog
A stitch of want below the throat
In a filthy alley just below
It's small things, the unreturned email, the pauses
Belching out the Devil
This is one possible way, raise our heads, walk
If candle-flame took the light
Perhaps there is a way we can recover

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Just Before Midnight

Jut got in:

We were more or less accomplices

Old men reading newspapers

But she came to me, whispering, sucking, when she chose

Your gesture is appreciated

It is a trim accountancy

The air is poison

Hear careless children in the schoolyard, dancing on bones

It is kind of you to come

I loved my lover and I tried to love my wife

You drag out your days on your knees

Soup

I remember once, a nurse, not of my country

A face that called me deep, and echoing

The daily struggle ends in whispers

From what we have gathered we are not alone

A sadness waits here, like a tick in grass

Frankly, it would be nice to pause a while and take a drink

See death fly by confused

She loved a man who said he was a singer

They are all holier than I

What I believe is like a light across the moor

I stumble forward but the ground is treacherous

Every city has its ghetto

Of childhood, most, I remember fears

My name is Elias Jones, I have been dead these weeks

Saturday Evening Prompts

Here are two days' worth of prompts.

Use half for the 7:15 session (deadline 8:50) and the other half gor the 9 o'clock kick-off

I'll be back to post a set of prompts at 11:30

A grey curtain
Because above all things you wanted me
Begin again when the light rises
Death is never a mistake
Don't CLING
Everywhere will be home
Face
Faster and Faster. Faster!
From unmarked box to unmarked box
Fucking in the shower
I am a hungry bear, a scurrying rat
I have no voice
I see a lighthouse, sending out dark
If I knew how, I would do this delicately
I'll say it, then. No
I'm building a seven-sided cube
It is time to read out the charges
Let me take you through it again
Life spared him. The others were lucky.
Like something has started dancing on your desk
My kids are off to Auchswitz
Nine out of ten humans when asked prefer
No THIS is clutter
PIANO
Somewhere, a woman is singing
Stones scatter themselves, the wind rests then moves on
The hospital, the doctor, the squirting flower
There are soft moments, silences, village cricket, insects
There are voices, ripples on the night
There is an empty chair
There is someone, something, in the ditch
They are manning the barricades, the ditches
This is the third time this week
To be born is to expect pain
Tongue and Teeth
We are too sad to be blind
We are walking to the North end
Why not be a surgeon?
WORMS
Years ago when I was not old enough, I never thought I would be too old
Your hair is wet, your eyes

Frantic Flash Prompts 004

Deadline 10:10 Hours

============================

Please do not call me, "Nazi"

Of course I have thought about it over the years

Before we continue, may I just say

The street is empty, I smell smoke

My wife bought me a cat because I hate cats

I often wondered about other mothers

It's a small, pretty place, near Milford Haven

Probably isn't definitely

My workers work: I manage. It is that simple

KINDLY

The hand that rocked the cradle has kicked the bucket

Slum Dog Millionaire

Perhaps I should return to my apartment

How Plaster Dries

Something in the night sky, lights

Were they ever rescued?

We went kite dragging, not flying

Another storm is battering at the windows, the wind keens

Music Classses

Clothes lines flapping with white, the sound of children

She was, in the end, more or less unharmed

PINK!

Egg Night

A Small Good Thing

Frantic Flash Prompts 003

The sound of his voice

How the earth strains before it cries out

A swell, modest time

TACK

Cinema Darling, or Perhaps a murder?

In a catholic country

INCENSE

What are we waiting for, assembled in the halls?

DANCERS

The burnt-out ends of a ragged month

FADE

A newspaper tumbles in the wind

DUST

Blinds are pulled down at dirty, yellow windows

MORE, MORE!

And she was built in pride and made for death

FUTURE

To see them flourish, fall

CANNON

We lived in trees, or waded in the shallows of the lake

FIRE

Fish are rotting in choked channels

JACOB's LADDER

Things will get raw and bleed

FIG

Everywhere stinks

GENIE

It is a small sacrifice, just my son

52 WAYS

Like old men double up and coughing

BLEARY

Death is beautiful slowed down

He is not as he is

Haggard

A constitution of Foibles

Almond Tea

The Audio File

Posting was done in a hurry. I believe some non-Apple folkses may have trouble accessing (then buy an Apple, that's a real computer).

Meanwhile I will investigate other ways of posting Audio.

Posting the Frantic Flashes

I am posting the flashes in Boot Camp in a dedicated forum. If you are not a Boot Camper and wish to see them, get a YUKU ID (yuku.com) then go HERE http://bootcampkeegan.yuku.com/forums/260 and post a message. I will fix access. (Obviously we need to keep stories out of the public domain.)

Listen to a Frantic Flash

http://www.capel-bethel.com/Site1/Blog/Entries/2010/1/30_Frantic_Flash_1.html

Friday, January 29, 2010

Frantic Flash Practice 02

You will wake soon, I will go
This will need to be checked out, then we'll see
MAYFLY
I dreamt of the perfect story
BIG BROTHER
Tell me about the future, I want to know
HARDBACK
For five days we waited
TORTOISE
A crisp, fresh page
STICK
Remember me when you are gone
THE WHOLE TRUTH
I am too well to be a poet
AUSTERITY BRITAIN
It is like, after too far in the rain, you see a light
TAPE
There is a cold field somewhere, and gold
WATCH
After, we laid in the sun and wept
Where is the boy now, what is he?
CHINK
Owl, white as light
We could build a bridge, or a castle
CHAIN
At your ear, something breathless, rising
For all the mothers in pain
Where dead feet walked
I walked with sorrow, listening to her silence and understanding

Frantic Flash Practice 01

Stories due at the very latest 23;50


We are waiting, listless, breathing shallowly
SUBSIST
A Madness of Ashes
The walls are high enough, for we are small and feeble
It's not easy to admit
There are small heroes, just as heroic
Van & Wheelchair
A pebble in her shoe
Standing Stones
Caravan
iPad, Oh I-PAD!!
Ping, something has arrived
It isn’t just the crying
You are sitting, I am sitting. One of us should speak
Boiled Egg
Old Fart’s Ticket
Books for ten pence
Fiddle! Fiddle!
And BEFORE the big bang?
The boys have been playing poker
My mother has sold my books
Sheds, Pigeons
A little bit of luck would have seen us through
Nail
From the backs of pick-up trucks
If you love me, build
Read to me by candle-light, your soft voice
Wearing an old coat
At least the roof doesn't leak
Progress
Are you happy to be in this picture?
Beef
Drifting, Salt

Friday's Frantic Flash Prompts

Women in neon passing the window
Career Path
Plain-Clothes detectives are operating in this store
Tripod
What I was about to say
In my attic
She leaves the nursery and begins to walk
There is a pause in the music
Another Toy
I will choose a child not my colour
All the ships have left, the last plane
A Silver Bracelet
So I opened the parcel
ACID
I stood once, at a window in a storm
Tomorrow or Not Eating
Electricity
SAND
And for another twenty-five pounds, a neat leather wallet

Frozen Shoulder

I Have My Lover's Heart (in the fridge)

Come Live With Me and be my fuck-buddy

Shall I compare thee to a 0-0 draw in Crewe on a wet Monday?

Here, have an onion

Bloody Men!

Flea

Catch a Falling Star and Put Him in Hello

Drink to Me, Leona

Gather a few roses and that

You waste your time and mine

When I consider how my life has whistled past

Had we but world enough, and time

There is no one like Sally

Listen, the Curfew Bell

I had a goldfish

I will have a cat named Beatrice

And when a lovely woman

The harbour is still, the sea is low and swollen

Thursday, January 28, 2010

11 Signed up. We want 111

Despite my losing web access we now have 11 people signed up for the Frantic Flash for Charity (raising money until end-February for Haiti

But 11 people is simply not enough!

Join us to flash for fun and competition and raise money for the islanders.


Alex

More Prompts, Thursday

So this is how it begins, with a tiny cry
I place my hope on the water*
RETREAT
Night will kiss your eyes
Cocoa
They are beating the homosexuals in the street
A small, powerful, deadly pellet


Another twenty prompts in the usual place at Boot Camp
or in the Facebook Group "Frantic Flash for Charity

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

22 Frantic Flash Prompts

We can, but might not, seek answers
Spare Ribs and bad wine
Telephone
My father was put on the train
Her long black hair
If I should die, think only this of me*
He sleeps
After the books, the wine-glasses, the clothing on the floor
TACK!
All men are rapists! All women are typists!
Wheelbarrow
Ted's Letters to the Gas Woman
Kindly
On the other hand, courgettes
Through bars it looks different, but it is still the sky
ANGEL
I have considered death, but it does not hold much interest
Or an acorn
There are worse jobs than whore
GLASS
Stretch-Limo From Milton Keynes
Ian Paisley's Poem

Frantic Flasher Until End-Feb for Haiti

We aim to raise money for charity at this Facebook Group

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/group.php?gid=271582653966

and at Boot Camp


PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD.



In the first instance (for a few warm up days then all of February) the charity will be Haiti.

Members pay £20 to join. This is £10 for the anthology and £10 to Haiti

After that we raise money as follows.

Every Day we post a set of prompts, at least one set in the morning and one at night, probably more.

Members get the prompts by email at the set times and can flash "immediately" in response to one or more of the prompts.

They get a maximum of 70 minutes. Miss the cut-off you're not in the pot for that time slot.

We run a competitions as follows.

Entry (per flash) is £5. Every £300 collected is split, £150 to Haiti Relief, £100 Prize, £25 second prize, £25 to a pool for the Grand Prize. While we are raising money for Haiti, there will be deductions for judges etc, no deductions at all.

SPONSORSHIP

We would like all members/entrants to raise sponsorship either for "total words written" or "number of stories" (between now and End-February (for Haiti)

100 Members would raise 1,000 in joining fees, whatever "excess" or profit is left from the anthology, and half of any entry fees, plus sponsorship

Imagine 100 Members, entering an average of ten stories in the month and managing £500 sponsorship from friends, family, businesses

010 Joining Fee
002 Profit from Anthology
025 50% donation
500 Sponsorship

537 x 100 = 53,700


Meanwhile we have had 1,000 stories, 10-20 £100 First Prizes, loads and loads of writing fun, and we finish with a grand prize and a great anthology.


CAN WE DO IT?


Absolutely YES!

We have run highly successful "Blasts", run Frantic Flashes (more than ten competitions), have a daily flash system already, and raised tens of thousands for Children in Need.


Please join us. Tell your friends.

Sponsorship for individuals will be handled by the individuals. We will only collect the joining fee and flash entry fees.

JOIN US!

Tuesday's prompts

The rest of the prompts are in Boot Camp

http://bootcampkeegan.yuku.com/topic/12305/master/1/



Here is a taster

Lines with an asterisk are a direct quote

Other things to do in a library
The photographs opened it all up
Size -2 is the new thin
I a running through feathers, choking
They set about him with a knife and fork*
The third lie down, six lies before the end
Press Button A. Press Buton A. Press Button A.
The Terminal Conditions of Miss Jean Bickerstaffe

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday 26 Prompts

26 Prompts in the usual place

http://bootcampkeegan.yuku.com/topic/12300/master/1/?page=1

Argh! I wrote twenty-five prompts and they disappeared.



01 A selection of useful pills
02 OLIVE
03 Six hours in a stranger's town
15 Numb with frost but still moving
18 Sat on a wall
19 No-one made you eat it. No-one made you
20 God is a lousy witness
26 I a old, I am old. I will wear my trousers rolled

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Prompts

Twenty-Four prompts in the usual place at Boot camp

http://bootcampkeegan.yuku.com/topic/12291/master/1/

Here is a taster



01 The lake before it rises

02 His Permanent Address

03 Going out to the island until the light

04 Mummy's Puppy Guard-Dogs

05 Burnley

06 When we talk about love

24 Iceland

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dogs without Typos

This has just been posted elsehwere in Boot Camp

It's straight of the bat, unedited, take it as it comes. IMO it's far more fun, more real and true than a carefully edited, "constructed" article where the truth is slowly edited out. (EDIT) I shall now remove typos!

THREE WRITERS


Three Writers are walking together and they see a small dog in the rain,
perhaps waiting patiently at a closed door, or trotting miserably down the road.

They all physically see the dog.

Writer 1 couldn't give a sh---. It's just a dog in the rain.

Writer 2 feels sorry for the dog, and vaguely thinks of a story and wonders if he can use the image...

Writer 3 feels a blow in his stomach. Something rises somewhere, a heat, the vaguest of memories.
It feels as if the dog, its predicament, the image WAS SENT TO HIM.

IT PHYSICALLY HURTS. IT ACHES.

Dorthea Brande argued that when we are "tweaked" by something like this
it's because the image, the something, the snippet of conversation, a smell,
a colour, a sunset, whatever, CONNECTS TO SOMETHING INSIDE

Something old, something deep and possibly painful, something forgotten
or suppressed... we are feeling the power in the image of the dog but it is
actually the power of the vaguely-jostled deep memory. We might write in
the now but the power is in the way back then.

We do not need to ever KNOW what the original thing was, or the pains
if they were pains, but we "revisit" the swelling darkness of it, and allow it
to work its psychic dark magic on us.


What the memory or memories is or are is hardly the point. A common error when
reading this is to imagine that we must REMEMBER, actually recall the specifics.


WE DO NOT

In fact true so-called remembrance might well spoil the swelling story.


Memories that have been forgotten or suppressed may well have been forgotten
or suppressed for a reason. Trying to go there, trying to switch on a light and
understand the SPECIFICS is almost certain to be unsuccessful.

The writer does not need to know or remember or understand the darkness,
he or she merely needs to sense it, let it wash over, let its weight and truth
and hot winds affect today.

TWO WAYS OF ACCESSING

The Slow Burn, the Fermentation


We see something, our dog in the rain, for example. It thuds in the gut or the heart
(or the soul if we are lucky.)

We MUST NOT write about it.
We MUST NOT write about it.
We MUST NOT write about it.
We MUST NOT write about it.

We MUST NOT write about it. We must WAIT. We must allow the opening to open more, the weight and smell and pressure
to be combined and the NEED to grow until it forces its way out and we can no longer resist writing.

But of course we must not rely on memory to hold the idea safe. We need to have a way
of maintaining the faint connection and revisit every day, poking it with a stick, BUT

this but is important

BUT WE MUST NOT LOOK AT IT BECAUSE OF THE SENTINELS.

We need to tickle, prod, coax, but in the most minor ways. We absolutely
MUST NOT sit and think, stare at the problem, ask ourselves questions,
go left-brained, "wrack our brains" trying to remember.

It is NOT the incident, it is the emotional response we are looking for.


Let us make up an incident that happened to us when we were barely three. The obvious suppressed memory might be physical or sexual abuse, or perhaps “you” as a child saw a man beaten badly or a father beat a mother, or a dog cruelly run down and abandoned. There are a million possibilities including irrational childhood fears that have no connection to actuality.

IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT IT IS.

This is so important and few believe me. I say again, if there is or was a specific event (such as a beating, a murder, rape, a fire, a terrible illness, stumbling in on a parent having sex with a stranger, or merely some horrendous dream) IT-DOES-NOT-MATTER. You do not EVER need to recall the specifics, or even “know” what the incident (now fuzzy) was approximately.

Let’s say there was a dog in the rain and “somehow” way back when that image was associated with something awful (any of the above)… If it was suppressed by your psychic defences (I call these the Sentinels) why ON EARTH do you suppose they would just roll over after forty years and say, “Fair cop, guv, you remembered, we give in, what happened was this…”

Do you think the Sentinels are that dumb? Do you think, nearer to the events they didn’t have to deal with the memories? They know every trick in the book. Uh-oh, she’s sniffing round, better give her a “memory”, side-track her.

The harder you look, the less likely you are to discover truth.

Psychiatrists have known this for a hundred years. You have to sneak up on the truth and trick it.

But even now I’m misleading you or your getting the wrong end of the stick. I say again, it is not necessary to dig through and find the awful treasure.

It is not THE thing but the response to the thing that matters. To write with deep power does not mean you have to dig into the horrors or joys. What we seek is the heat of dark memories, the things that make us what we have become.

In this case, remember we saw a dog in the rain. We were Writer 3. The others didn’t have any connection triggered.

We write on our white board, “Little dog in the rain” or something similar. Maybe we have a photograph, or find something that is close enough that we can re-trigger the gut-feeling. DO NOT WRITE ABOUT IT.

Instead look at the white-board, THIS dog in the rain, and “think without thinking” just FEEL the image. The soft tendrils reaching back will feel for connections, and eventually they will be made. It might take 3 days. It might take months, years.

In the same way as the dog didn’t touch Writer 1, interested Writer 2 and blew away Writer 3, so it is with books, poems, short-stories, films, plays, TV shows, news reports, adverts. Different things hit us with differing intensities, BECAUSE OF WHO WE ARE and because of our deep pasts, especially the first twenty years.

If we re-awaken (and look away from) our dog in the rain connection, slowly “down there” deep in the soul, other things begin to connect.

Maybe for me (I’m making this up) I will see this trigger-dog, the similar-but-not-the-same photograph, keep hearing Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, remember (what?) a sad advert featuring a wet dog, think of a poem by Blake, a play by Pinter, almost remember my first wife and the dog we found, combine a story a poem, a TV serial, The Railway Children, 2001, then for some reason remember “Steve” from the children’s home and how he got angry and pushed the home leader down the stairs, oh and I broke a snooker cue, and there was the day I stole the rugby money, and and and…

Whether any of these things emerge clearly or merely in their essence is neither here nor there. The point is MY connections, what connects to what will be different from YOUR connections and probably driven by different deepnesses.

All we have to do is keep prodding, very, very gently, and with our eyes closed.

At some point, words, images, feelings, maybe lines will “want to write themselves down”. DON’T.

Just as we shouldn’t dive in Day One, so we shouldn’t dive in after a one-month pregnancy unless the story is screaming to burst from us like the Alien from John Hurt’s belly.

THINK maybe (not AT ALL about the original driving force, still probably unseen) but about this sense you have, this story that keeps rising up, something about a piano, a dog, a gas-fire. What’s that sound, that tone of voice? Who is the woman? Is it her dog? (All these questions and half-answers should be RIGHT brained, vague, NOT an interrogation…)

But there’s a line that keeps coming, something like Jennifer Merridrew, unmarried, but not a maiden, hides behind her piano, her fingers still…

THERE IS NO LAW THAT SAYS YOU MUST WRITE THAT LINE DOWN NOW!!

So why did it come, where’s the dog? I dunno. But the stars are aligning for you, some wormhole through space is forming, you have found (almost found) a back way past the Sentinels. Remember they look IN THE LEFT BRAIN not the right. Put anything in that left brain, think deliberately and they are back on the case.

Maybe you write “Piano” beside the dog on your white board. Everything should be, MUST be, vague, loose, unspecific, open-ended. Go to your surgeon and ask if you can have your left brain removed.

PLAY with the words, sounds, tone, feel and start thinking ONLY of the opening lines. That opening contains the whole of the story, all the deep connections, the tendrils, the connections to the darkness. Slightly different openings will start to feel sort-of right, others righter. It’s like trying to find Radio Luxembourg on your transistor radio that you sneaked into your bedroom. Tune in. Eventually, often very suddenly you find the channel, the signal is perfect. THE OPENING WRITES ITSELF.

It takes me, sometimes, YEARS to persuade a single Boot Camper of the power of this approach. Few TRULY believe me when I say that 98% of the time the ONLY thing I know when I start a story, finally start it on the screen or page, is that opening and that I simply “know” that the whole story will fall at my feet.

Of the stories in Ballistics, of all my first-prize winners, at least 80% will have been written like this. Now ALL my stories are “written like this.”

And I a fully aware this appears to be the total opposite of the principles of flashing.

It is not. Flashing, as will be explained, is a cheap-but-effective-trick, a sneak-in-the-back-door way of APPROXIMATING all that I have just talked about.

More on Dogs in the Rain

This has just been posted in Boot Camp

It's straight of the bat, unedited, take it as it comes. IMO it's far more fun, more real and true than a carefully edited, "constructed" article where the truth is slowly edited out.

Three Writers are walking together and they see a small dog in the rain,
perhaps waiting patiently at a closed door, or trotting miserably down the road.

They all physically see the dog.

Writer 1 couldn't give a sh---. It's just a dog in the rain.

Writer 2 feels sorry for the dog, and vaguely thinks of a story and wonders if he can use the image...

Writer 3 feels a blow in his stomach. Something rises somewhere, a heat, the vaguest of memories.
It feels as if the dog, its predicament, the image WAS SENT TO HIM. IT PHYSICAL HURST. IT ACHES.

Dorthea Brande argued that when we are "tweaked" by something like this
it's because the image, the something, the snippet of conversation, a smell,
a colour, a sunset, whatever, CONNECTS TO SOMETHING INSIDE

Something old, something deep and possibly painful, something forgotten
or suppressed... we are feeling the power in the image of the dog but it is
actually the power of the vaguely jostled deep memory. We might write in
the now but the power is in the way back then.

We do not need to every KNOW what the original thing was, or the pains
if they were pains, but we "revisit" the swelling darkness of it, and allow it
to work it's psychic dark magic on us.


What the memory or memories is or are is hardly the point. A common error when
reading this is to imagine that we must REMEMBER, actually recall the specifics.


WE DO NOT

In fact true so-called remembrance might well spoil the swelling story.


Memories that have been forgotten or suppressed may well have been forgotten
or suppressed for a reason. Trying to go there, trying to switch on a light and
understand the SPECIFICS is almost certain to be unsuccessful.

The writer does not need to know or remember or understand the darkness,
he or she merely needs to sense it, let it wash over, let its weight and truth
and hot winds affect today.

TWO WAYS OF ACCESSING

We see something, our dog in the rain, for example. It thuds in the gut or the heart
(or the soul if we are lucky.)

We MUST NOT write about it.
We MUST NOT write about it.
We MUST NOT write about it.
We MUST NOT write about it.

We MUST NOT write about it. We must WAIT. We must allow the opening to open more, the weight and smell and pressure
to be combined and the NEED to grow until it forces its way out and we can no longer resist writing.

But of course we must not rely on memory to hold the idea safe. We need to have a way
of maintaining the faint connection and revisit every day, poking it with a stick, BUT

this but is important

BUT WE MUST NOT LOOK AT IT BECAUSE OF THE SENTINELS.

We need to tickle, prod, coax, but in the most minor ways. We absolutely
MUST NOT sit and think, stare at the problem, ask ourselves questions,
go left-brained, "wrack our brains" trying to remember.

It is NOT the incident, it is the emotional response we are looking for.


Let us make up an incident that happened to us when we were barely three. The obvious suppressed memory might be physical or sexual abuse, or perhaps “you” as a child saw a man beaten badly or a father beat a mother, or a dog cruelly run down and abandoned. There are a million possibilities including irrational childhood fears that have no connection to actuality.

IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT IT IS.

This is so important and few believe me. I say again, if there is or was a specific event (such as a beating, a murder, rape, a fire, a terrible illness, stumbling in on a parent having sex with a stranger, or merely some horrendous dream) IT-DOES-NOT-MATTER. You do not EVER need to recall the specifics, or even “know” what the incident (now fuzzy) was approximately.

Let’s say there was a dog in the rain and “somehow” way back when that image was associated with something awful (any of the above)… If it was suppressed by your psychic defences (I call these the Sentinels) why ON EARTH do you suppose they would just roll over after forty years and say, “Fair cop, guv, you remembered, we give in, what happened was this…”

Do you think the Sentinels are that dumb? Do you think, nearer to the events they didn’t have to deal with the memories? They know every trick in the book. Uh-oh, she’s sniffing round, better give her a “memory”, side-track her. The harder you look, the less likely you are to discover truth.

Psychiatrists have known this for a hundred years. You have to sneak up on the truth and trick it.

But even now I’m misleading you or your getting the wrong end of the stick. I say again, it is not necessary to dig through and find the awful treasure.

It is not THE thing but the response to the thing that matters. To write with deep power does not mean you have to dig into the horrors or joys. What we seek is the heat of dark memories, the things that make us what we have become.

In this case, remember we saw a dog in the rain. We were Writer 3. The others didn’t have any connection triggered.

We write on our white board, “Little dog in the rain” or something similar. Maybe we have a photograph, or find something that is close enough that we can re-trigger the gut-feeling. DO NOT WRITE ABOUT IT.

Instead look at the white-board, THIS dog in the rain, and “think without thinking” just FEEL the image. The soft tendrils reaching back will feel for connections, and eventually they will be made. It might take 3 days. It might take months, years.

In the same way as the dog didn’t touch Writer 1, interested Writer 2 and blew away Writer 3, so it is with books, poems, short-stories, films, plays, TV shows, news reports, adverts. Different things hit us with differing intensities, BECAUSE OF WHO WE ARE and because of our deep pasts, especially the first twenty years.

If we re-awaken (and look away from) our dog in the rain connection, slowly “down there” deep in the soul, other things begin to connect.

Maybe for me (I’m making this up) I will see this trigger-dog, the similar-but-not-the-same photograph, keep hearing Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, remember (what?) a sad advert featuring a wet dog, think of a poem by Blake, a play by Pinter, almost remember my first wife and the dog we found, combine a story a poem, a TV serial, The Railway Children, 2001, then for some reason remember “Steve” fro the children’s home and how he got angry and pushed the home leader down the stairs, oh and I broke a snooker cue, and there was the day I stole the rugby money, and and and…

Whether any of these things emerge clearly or merely in their essence is neither here nor there. The point is MY connections, what connects to what will be different fro YOUR connections and probably driven by different deepnesses.

All we have to do is keep prodding, very, very gently, and with our eyes closed.

At some point, words, images, feelings, maybe lines will “want to write themselves down”. DON’T.

Just as we shouldn’t dive in Day One, so we shouldn’t dive in after a one-month pregnancy unless the story is screaming to burst from us like the Alien from John Hurt’s belly.

THINK maybe (not AT ALL about the original driving force, still probably unseen) but about this sense you have, this story that keeps rising up, something about a piano, a dog, a gas-fire. What’s that sound, that tone of voice? Who is the woman? Is it her dog? (All these questions and half-answers should be RIGHT brained, vague, NOT an interrogation…)

But there’s a line that keeps coming, something like Jennifer Merridrew, unmarried, but not a maiden, hides behind her piano, her fingers still…

THERE IS NO LAW THAT SAYS YOU MUST WRITE THAT LINE DOWN NOW!! So why did it come, where’s the dog? I dunno. But the stars are aligning for you, some wormhole through space is forming, you have found (almost found) a back way past the Sentinels. Remember they look IN THE LEFT BRAIN not the right. Put anything in that left brain, think deliberately and they are back on the case.

Maybe you write “Piano” beside the dog on your white board. Everything should be, MUST be, vague, loose, unspecific, open-ended. Go to your surgeon and ask if you can have your left brain removed.

PLAY with the words, sounds, tone, feel and start thinking ONLY of the opening lines. That opening contains the whole of the story, all the deep connections, the tendrils, the connections to the darkness. Slightly different openings will start to feel sort-of right, others righter. It’s like trying to find Radio Luxembourg on your transistor radio that you sneaked into your bedroom. Tune in. Eventually, often very suddenly you find the channel, the signal is perfect. THE OPENING WRITES ITSELF.

It takes me, sometimes, YEARS to persuade a single Boot Camper of the power of this approach. Few TRULY believe me when I say that 98% of the time the ONLY thing I know when I start a story, finally start it on the screen or page, is that opening and that I simply “know” that the whole story will fall at my feet.

Of the stories in Ballistics, of all my first-prize winners, at least 80% will have been written like this. Now ALL my stories are “written like this.”

And I a fully aware this appears to be the total opposite of the principles of flashing.

It is not. Flashing, as will be explained, is a cheap-but-effective-trick, a sneak-in-the-back-door way of APPROXIMATING all that I have just talked about.

6 + 18 Prompts for Saturday

01 iGod
02 An apple, glistening with water
03 We were all made for the plough and arrow
04 God found him drinking cider
05 And I must love

24 I am lying, somewhere in this, but truthful too.

The rest are at Boot Camp Keegan

Friday, January 22, 2010

Part of a Discussion in Boot Camp




THERE ARE THREE BASIC WAYS OF APPROACHING A STORY

1

Get an idea. Grab at it. Start writing.
This almost always results in a story which wasn't really what you wanted.

Or you, from the idea, plan, decide, manipulate, force.
This almost always results in a story which wasn't really what you wanted
and even if you end up with the story you THINK was what you wanted, it isn't.

And if it IS the story you wanted, it won't have soul or surprise
and it will look left-brained, plotted, manufactured, without heart

2

Get an idea (or feeling) save it, let it ferment and
connect, don't write it until it forces itself up out of you.
This is using the unconscious, the YOU of you. Who and what you are.

3

Use prompts and the pressure of time, no-time-to-think
so that the left-brain processes cannot be unleashed. The psyche
has to resort to primitive connections and these (approximately)
will be the deep stuff, the stuff you are.



Flashing from prompts is a way of accessing deep connections "at will" almost.

It's not the same as wallowing, nurturing, fermenting stories (sometimes for over a year)
but it DOES often catch the unexpected and the true rising up from within.

Friday's Prompts

24 Prompts again today over at BC

HERE

http://bootcampkeegan.yuku.com/forums/252





06 Granny showed us a gun, another gun

07 I don't see cats any more, or drizzle

08 There is bald and angry bald

09 Not About Her Father

10 On Sundays they did not speak and the hall-clock boomed like a coming animal

11 On being a flea. Gotcha!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Openings




Over in Boot Camp the New Year (started January 18th!) is ramping up.

This week (and probably next week) we are discussing openings to short-stories (and novels) the first 2-3 flashes have been posted, and Sunday is our first Story Deadline (8PM)

At the moment, part of BC is viewable by the public. Come over, drop in, ask questions.


Alex

Thursday Prompts

Flash Prompts in the Usual Place

http://bootcampkeegan.yuku.com/forums/252

and here are a few of them



I love you, even though I don't know how

Does my soul look small in this?

Human detritus, five year's soap

I have looked at a lot of photographs

The gas-fire sizzles, I hear a milk-float light ip


another twenty at http://bootcampkeegan.yuku.com/forums/252

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wednesday Prompts

There are 24 prompts in Boot Camp

HERE: http://bootcampkeegan.yuku.com/topic/12265/master/1/

Here are a few of them to whet your appetite

01 I live on remembered taste

02 More than once I have been opened up

03 The abortionist's packed lunch

20 I am considering Africa again.

21 Here is a small gift

22 We say we thought it would never stop but we knew it would stop. It always does.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Boot Camp "Set Books"

For 2010


Ballistics by Alex Keegan

The Pen/O.Henry Prize Stories 2009
Best American Short Stories (BASS) 2009
BASS of the Century


Raymond Carver

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
AND
Beginners

or buy Carver: Collected Stories (Library of America)


SHORT-CIRCUIT: A Guide to the Art of the Short Story

(Ed Vanessa Gebbie) SALT BOOKS

Tuseday's Prompts

There are 24 Prompts on show at Boot Camp

HERE: http://bootcampkeegan.yuku.com/topic/12261/master/1/

They begin

01 They have found a body of a girl on the towpath

02 I breathe you

03 There are certain obscure things that must be loved

04 Han-in-Hand

05 Your long legs crossed, soft, brown

Monday, January 18, 2010

Prompts, Monday 18th

Any direct quotes will be followed by an asterisk




As I age I remember small, beautiful, things

Once a snake

Or on the other hand, Harlech

No man is an island, entire of itself *

Sometimes the numbers overwhelm us.

Consider, a fox

An apple, after rain

The machines are rusting. One day they will wonder what they were.

I must continue

Kings and fucking bishops

After this last snow I love the way the earth returns

This was his village

And I must love

Three fifties in his belt, but he is still dead

I choose the serious corner

I have good openings, but the end is always bad

I'm leaving, on a jet-plane*

The squirrel, and you can shoot them and be paid

Floating

I thought, this year, I would plant potatoes

Small pellets of lead

Two Rediffusion engineers playing chess in a greasy-spoon

Cauliflower

Lie to me, but in a nice way

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Prompts

It wouldn't be true to say I wasn't there, but I wasn't there

Requiem

There are places that breathe, that whisper

Not Required on Voyage

The river isn't listening

Street shouts, the housemaids roused

I was on such a train

Consider grass

Meeting at the Bottle-Bank

I am glad I'm not a fish, a fish, a fucking fish

The tenements glisten under slow Welsh rain

The sword is handier in a fight than the pen

It was about a second

I have decided to be English

From the train into London, mud huts with corners

The Circle most definitely isn't

They are closing the gun factories. Less jobs and more people. Madness!

She sits in a blue-grey smog. She could be beautiful

Bookshop

I was not at Waterloo

Last night I dreamt about my first wife

If you want to get there, don't start from here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday Prompts

Broken Mirror

It was just the time is all

I see the sun flashing on their shields below

Tread softly...

The Policeman's Parrot

Big Spider, Yellow, Swelling

It is all too much with us, with me

Some bastard stole my plums

People wearing lights

As if there is no sky, no sky

At the end of this sentence, at the end of this story

Pebbles

I know the truth but it is grey

Ousel

Wild men who grabbed at life and lived!

Gorilla, Chain-Saw, Poetry

Slugs and Snails. Basically Slander.

RUST

That shit book by that Irish fraud

Waving? Sort of.

Dirty British Coaster

I'll be there as soon as I can

Monday, January 11, 2010

21 More Prompts

True North

Walking slowly towards the end of the pier

Night Shift

Man, Child, Pigeon

We turned back. Anyone would

Or I could live in a village

There are things that make us close. They are not all light.

One or two safety tips

Angels are waiting in the tree line

It feels like afternoon

If there was a blip. Blip.

I want more sky, more blue, and the world higher.

Cinnamon

Beneath the Wheels

Dead Eye Dick

You forget what it was like. It was not like this.

The best steak ever.

I asked the customers to sing.

The tracks, red lights and unrelenting white

A parcel from Tibet; emptiness to cherish

I loved you once, sort-of, in my way.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Another BCer Novel

I received this email yesterday.

Great News.

At the last count that makes about three dozen published books by BCers and ex-BCers


Dear Alex,

I was a boot camper for a short period of time about eight years ago. Your straighforward feedback, honest and thorough, pushed me to become a better writer very fast. It also helped me to learn to accept criticism in a productive manner--I don't sulk much.

I left the bootcamp about seven years ago when my first daughter was born, and took a break from writing. Four years ago I started writing seriously again. It felt like I never stopped--everything I learned was still there.

I write flash fiction and short stories. The flash 'Snowrise' was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and also won the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award to an Emerging Artist in literature.

I just learned that my novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, was accepted for publication by Invisible Publishing (Canada). The novel is set in the Canadian arctic, and the protagonist is a Russian woman. No, it is not autobiographical, though I'm Russian and I lived in Iqaluit for three years. The pubication is slotted for the spring of 2011.

I wanted to share this good news with you. Because of you I didn't waste years as a hopeful beginner, struggling with the craft. I moved forward fast, feeling I gained a firm base in the fundamentals of creative writing.

Thanks for everything,

Ania

Two More ex-Boot Campers doing well

The recently-announced final 12 for the Scott Prize (Salt Publishing) includes two ex-Boot Campers. Congrats to Joel Willans and Alexandra Fox

Prompts. Saturday 9th Jan

Nothing more beautiful

The water doesn't care

God

As each one of us lowered our eyes

I woke to the sound of horses clopping past

Slowly, aching with morning, the train pulls away

CART

Tin Bath, Sky Dish

The future may be bright, or not

BALSA

I knew a girl once, but not her name

You'll have to dig deep to find me, but I am there

How the world disappeared, and came back

I Remember, I Remember

Snow. It could be the end

The steam, smoke, grit, all swirling

At the gates, they come because they come

Home Town? Hardly.

Alleys, Gunnels

Some women marry houses

We all have to wear the same colour suits

Everyone dies. Why is over there any different?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Answering my Own Post

I have found

2008 Caroline JBWB Winter Prize
2008 Colin Writers Forum
2008 Nancy Children in Need
2007 Tom Mary Gornall
2007 Tom Grace Dieu
2007 Caroline Blaenau Gwent
2007 Cally BBC Sedbergh
2007 Cally Lancet
2007 Tom Pier Pressure (SS)
2007 RVJ Pier Pressure (Poetry)
2007 DP-J Momaya
2007 Lexie HISAAC
2007 Cally Eclectica-CiN
2007 Fleur Guardian-Virgin

First Prizes totaling $5,310

There are others to account for, especially 2009s


Embarrassed? Me?

Boot Camp 2008 and 2009 Did You Win a Prize?

I have the data for First Prizes up to the end of 2007 but in my haste to clean out BC I have managed to zap the Prize and Hits data for 2008 & 2009

If you were in BC at the time and won any prizes, please contact me so I can rebuild the database. I have at least 15 First Prizes to account for.

Another Boot Camper Hits the Big Time

Just bought January 2010's "Writers' Forum" and the cover is former Boot Camper Cally Taylor.

Inside are details of her book "Heaven Can Wait" (Orion) and an article by Cally called "The Long and the Short of It" where Cally details why WRITING SHORT STORIES taught her how to write a crisp novel.

Soldier of the Queen

My BASS 2009 hasn't arrived, but I have my OHenry Prize Collection and the opening story (chosen as the best by two of the three judges) is "An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen"




An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen

I'm going to ask the Queen. I'm going to tell her what I know and ask her what is true, and if she winks at me, well, there will be trouble. This is me, Seamus Todd, born in 1955, ordinary soldier of the Queen and very little else, and this is my testament, which is honest, true, and factual .If I haven't seen it with my own eyes, then I have left it out. There's more than enough cheap talk and I don't want to add to it.



Once again, no big-bang, not even a little bang.

But a very good story that was published in The Paris Review and now OHenry.

Twenty Prompts: WRITE Something!

01 Once again, this time for Zelda

02 In dreams I do not know where I am, who I am

03 I'd been in London ten months

04 I will start with the visible, imagine the rest

05 Anti-Clockwise

06 Sometimes I think I can feel you but it's just warm air moving

07 Ghee

08 Thames Beach, above us glasses

09 Time will show it: I told you so

10 Let aeroplanes circle, droning, moaning

11 The handsome cyclist, but his back is dark with mud

12 My daughter is drawing with pink crayon. She asks for red: the blood.

13 Burning the cards

14 Village, yes; City yes; Towns, oh God!

15 I used to have this amazing bath, this amazing bath

16 Without a doubt, there is a way to lose.

17 The men have left. The silences are louder

18 Far off a light glows

19 I could learn guitar, talk rather than sing

20 I think I am hearing the songs. I hear wood creaking

Some TILTS, not Bangs

More on TILT

It’s easy to say, start gently and tilt your reader, engage the reader with language and probability. But how can I show it works?

What follows are the openings of the stories in my collection “Ballistics”. A dozen First-Prize winners, two more Bridport Second-Prizes, many of the stories reprinted often, many reprinted in anthologies. I would argue that only Ballistics itself even comes close to a big-bang opener.

The stories are posted here in the sequence they are in the book, except for Ballistics and Postcards from BalloonLand.


Miguel Who Cuts Down Trees.


When I was a little boy, I had a wooden truck. One day the truck began to move by itself. It went around the yard and then it came back to me. I went to sleep. When I woke it was just a wooden truck.

When I was fourteen I was flying a kite. I saw an angel alongside my kite. She was very beautiful. I found I could make the angel move by pulling the string of my kite, but then I fell asleep and when I woke my kite was broken and trampled with mud.

$600 First Prize




The Smell of Almond Polish

Paddington, London, 1954

Bridie Collins steps down from the train, waits for the crowd to wrap her up. She looks above her; pigeons scattering under the great glass roof. Someone bumps her shoulder, rushes on. In the half-light she shivers, picks up her cardboard case and walks towards the ticket collector.
On the train, from Wales, Bridie had listened to the clattering songs in the track. "Did she do right? Well, did she do right? What could she have done? What should she have done? Was it right, was it right, was it right?"


$600 First Prize



Mother, Questions

Mother, can I ask, with you and Dad, my father, how did it happen, how was it? Were you frightened, excited, was he strong, was he clumsy?

You told me once, before you died, you said, "We walked out for almost a year and then, one day, on a bridge over the canal at Alt-y-ryn, he asked if he could kiss me." You said you laughed, couldn't help it. He ran home.

So Mum, how did you get from there to being my mother? How did that shy young man learn to make love? Was he your first, Mum? Nellie said to me once, (she was drunk on gins), she said you had a beau everyone wanted, but he was "a bit of a lad, a heart-breaker", wouldn't take no for an answer.

Joint First Prize, Cadenza.




GREEN GLASS

When you say it, finally say it, when you tell her you're leaving, when you finally realise that loving her isn't enough, not if she can bring you so much pain, your anger is so great you crush the wine glass you're holding. You watch as splinters embed in your hand, as a long, wicked shard of dark green glass hooks into the flesh of your thumb, your Mount of Venus, and you watch the blood from your palm, your arm, flow magically red to the floor.
The blood is everywhere, the rug, the drapes, but she laughs at your crucified hand, your slashed wrist. She says, "My, honey, so much drama for such a pathetic little man. Rush yourself to the hospital, why don't you?"


First Prize






L for LAURA: L for LOVE

Ay for orses, remember that? A for orses, B for mutton? C fer yerself, D fer payment? Not sure I could remember it all. I'm not even sure if that's right, A-B-C-D.

A is really for Alice, B for Billy Smith she ran off with. C is for Clown, me for not noticing. D is for Diane my second, after we had to wait all those years until I was officially deserted.

You know what I remember? It wasn't jealousy. It wasn't shock or shame or humiliation. As soon as Alice was gone I realised I'd never really loved her, anyway. No, what I remember was realising that the world was a lot shittier than it looks on Christmas Cards (she went Christmas Eve) and all of a sudden nothing was just simple any more, or innocent.

First Prize, Southport





Old Man Watching Football After Sunday Lunch


I’m an old man watching football after Sunday lunch. Earlier we went to The Sun in the Wood. I had Cold Turkey, Mary had Roast Lamb, her mother looked like mutton dressed up, with mint-sauce. There we were, lording it, our Sunday-best, our table reserved as usual in the annexe, four bottles of Chateau Neuf du Pape opened and breathing, waiting for us when we arrived. El Perfecto!

My grandson plays soccer. (The manager is a clown). It’s a crap day, wet, wind, and I have to remind myself I’m a volunteer, here to watch my boy. When he pulls on that red shirt I realise he is the most important thing to me.

First Prize, Pencil, Bantry





The Point-Two


My brother's habit is bloody annoying. He’s Friar Tuck and I’m running as Maid Marion and we are only four miles into the London Marathon and the swish-swish-swish-fucking-swish is driving me crazy.
“Fer Christ’s sake, Colin, I TOLD you. Go as The Sheriff of Fucking Nottingham, we’ll never catch Robin Hood and Little John now and that’s me and you down fifty quid each.”
“Ah fuck off, brother,” Colin says (he always says it like that, brother heavy on the emphasis). Then he reminds me the London is his seventeenth marathon and Robin and Little John have gone off far too fast.



First Prize, Lichfield.




OBELISK


The first time he had seen her she was the writer – he didn’t know – of a story he’d already chosen as winner in a competition. He was aware of her but not seeing her – was her hair pulled back? Was there grey in it? Did she wear light-framed spectacles? He wasn’t seeing her because one of the students in the class was a nightmare, a conference classic, a bitter wannabe who couldn’t write, would never write – you need a soul to write – but could talk forever about conspiracies and rip-offs, and all those editors – no doubt including himself – who couldn’t understand.
He began by trying to be nice, but this monster was eating class time, moved to sarcasm – wasted, completely wasted – eventually had to call foul, suggest a meeting at another time, the class needed to get in some work.
Later, coffee, biscuits, the winner – her pseudonym was Obelisk – leaned in close, not for intimacy but for group-sustaining politeness (but she just had to say this), and he, not for intimacy either, but the feeling was intimate, dropped an ear closer.


$600 First, judged by Hilary Mantel
Connections Magazine




Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet & Watch.

Late February, 1991. Friday.

Friday afternoon, very cold, and Thomas Smith, sales manager, leaves his London offices for home. Tom has left a little early. Once a week he allows himself the chance to beat the crush of commuters travelling from Waterloo to the South Coast. He knows that the 15:30 train to Weymouth will be at worst three-quarters full, and that the one after that won't have an empty seat. Tom hates to board anything later. He knows that any train after 15:45 will be little better than a cattle-truck.
As Tom walks across Waterloo Bridge he rehearses a new joke, one he heard today at lunch. The wind off the Thames is vicious but Tom's eyes shine and he walks on. In December he had his first million-pound month and tomorrow his sales force are coming to a party to celebrate. That's why Tom wants to remember the joke. He chants the punch-line almost like a mantra. Tom is 33.

$600 First, Peninsular Magazine





The next story, “The Last Love Letter of Berwyn Price” actually opens with an almanac entry (about as far from a big-bang start as it’s possible to get.)


Price, Berwyn Philip. b. 11:2:21, d 12:2:97.

Wing and full-back, (occasionally scrum-half). Played, Aberavon (267), Barbarians (3), Wales (42). "BP", Known for his blistering pace, scored 27 tries for Wales, most notably the two tries in injury time in "BPs Triumph" the 1947 21-20 win over England at Twickenham. Also representative honours, Wales 100/220 yards. Empire Games Gold Medal, 1948 (100yds) Son of Philip Price, Swansea & Aberavon, one Welsh cap.

Mrs Bethan Price, if you're reading this, then it looks like I must have managed it, after all. I went and over-did it and popped my clogs, just like you and Doctor Llewellyn said I would. So bugger me, I'm dead, well what do you know? I'm sorry love, but if that's what happened, then it happened. I'll bet I died happy, though. Was it at the Arms Park? I bet all I could see when the moment finally came was red and white and green. I bet I could smell the lads and the mud, see the flags and hear Bread of Heaven!


Berwyn was $2,000 second place (4,500 entries)
in The UK's Bridport Prize





Another, another “Welsh one” is "The Bastard William Williams"


I am the bastard William Williams, late of The Universal Pit, Senghennydd, then the pit at Abertridwr, and latterly the cellars of The Commercial Hotel, as pot man. Now that the dust have slowed me I am easy to find. I am still lived next door to the English Congregational Church, Commercial Road, Senghennydd. I venture from my place only for the English Cong, and in summer, if I am lucky, a visit from a relation.
Until the coaldust on my chest confined me to my front room I have been known as a hearty man. My years is matched exact to the century and for the most part it have been a good life, wholesome. I think though, with what have passed, I shall not like to be here when the clock strike two thousand.



"William" was also placed second ($2,000) in The Bridport Prize




“William Tell” (eventually named “The Quarry”) won Momaya under a pseudonym. This one (best be fair and honest) was rejected by Writers Forum as having too slow a start. However, I disagreed, and so, obviously, did the judges at Momaya.

This opening was a boy describing how to build a home-made crossbow. It's "factual" but contains metaphors, character and a lot of foreshadowing of the story.



This is how you make your crossbow. A piece of three-by-two pine you got from a building site, cut it up. Make a crucifix, two nails at the centre, other-wise the cross-piece moves. You’re gonna have to buy the thick rubber, but no problem. Get over the wall at the back of Feraro’s Chip Shop, steal a few pop-bottles, take them back in the morning for the deposits. Smile.
Nail the rubber along the cross-piece. Don’t put the nail through the rubber. If you do it splits. Use a couple of nails each end, bang them in either side of the rubber, so far, then smash them over the rubber till it squishes down. You have to do two nails at least, otherwise it can come out. That’s what happened to Colin Hicks and that’s why he’s got a glass eye.


Result? Another First Prize.





Next in the sequence is “Postcards From Balloonland” but I will move that one to the end, along with the story “Ballistics” with an explanation, then.




Tomatoes, Flamingos, Lemmings,
& Other Interesting Facts.

I always think, you know, it’s like being on stage. You have to look your best. You come in from the wings and there’s your audience and straight away, you’re in the spotlight, you can’t hide, and every night you have to perform, no matter what. You’ve been short-changed on the maintenance again and the kids need new shoes, maybe it’s time of the month and you’re feeling lousy, but you have to do it, you do, look good for the punters. It’s yer job.
I nearly went stripping once, but at the last minute, I bottled out. I thought that being behind a bar would be easier. I’ve been here for two years, one month, a week and a half; five quid an hour, tips and a conveyor belt of blokes. I think I should’ve gone stripping.


"Tomatoes" was Editor's Choice in The Fish Prize, a competition I went on to judge, many years later. It has been reprinted many times all over the world and an extended version was on BBC Radio Four.



The following story, also known as "Ernie the Egg" appeared in three versions, a 2K, a 3K and 3.3K, earning its keep. The longest version was inches away from being my biggest, most-important publication at the time, in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly Magazine (US).

It was chosen to be the inaugural story for Atlantic Monthly Unbound, earned a further $250 and offers from US publishers. Does it start with a big bang?



Meredith Toop Evans and His Butty, Ernest Jones


In the villages all down this valley, from Senghennydd down to Caerphilly, they call me Ernie the Egg.

I do not mind this, but for the record, I am Ernest Jones, poultry farmer, son of Robert Jones, Deacon, and they are my hens that run amok on the hill above the town. You may eat whosoever's pigs you wish, but it is my eggs that you shall have on your plate if you sup anywhere in the valley from Park Hamlet right through Abertridwr. My eggs is on the plates for most the best part of Caerphilly, too, though I know of some Cardiff eggs there.
Yes, I am rich, and the boys in the villages, and the old men, make jokes about me. Yes, Ernie the Egg I am, and with a few bob, and sought after by the Revenue, too, but I am wealthy by fortunate accidents and hard work, and with the help of God, and because of a great and ordinary man, Meredith Toop Evans, collier, and because I am shot in the neck in the Great War and because I am a failed scholar.
The hens have been my livelihood but this have not always been so. Once I was to be a teacher, then a collier, then dead underground, then dead from a bullet in the Great War. That I am not any of these things is an odd thing for me, peculiar altogether, but facts is facts, which is why I will relate my story.




The closing story in my collection Ballistics begins:

Happy as Larry



Larry wakes at 03:50, takes a piss, and with his shoes in his hands, goes out through the glassed front door leaving the stale jam-and-cream sponge, and the remains of Mary’s tea, stone cold. She had insisted, insisted on staying up to talk. Larry had taken to coercive or death-inducing mental incantations to make himself alone:

“It’s-time-to-go-to-bed-you-cow. It’s-time-to-go-to-bed.


It’s-time-to-go-to-bed-you-cow, so knock it on the head.”


But Larry is away now, Larry is en route Larry is dans le car, tout le suite and he wants to get away vitely. He is leaving the Kremlin. It isn’t even light yet, only the flabby yellow of two streetlamps but the sodium glow’s enough for padding Larry Peters to tread gently to the car, get in, lock the door, start up, reverse, and slink away. But as soon as he exits the cul-de-sac, once he is uncatchable, unshoutafterable, he puts his foot down. He flies.

In minutes, a country road, silver, dark birds lifting from hedgerows. Then another, better road, then the A303, and under a light, her, thumbing.





The title story of Ballistics is one of the few which might be argued to have a big-bang opening. Certainly there is instant drama referred to:



Ballistics

A set of car keys, fat as a grenade, is arching towards your eyeball. The tip of one key, v-shaped will precisely pierce the dark core of your eye. You're not yet two years old but this won't protect you. You are not old enough to understand that these keys, thrown in anger, began their journey a year before you were born, that maybe, a psychiatrist will say, they began even further back when a mother left a father, or further back than this, when a mining foreman, bitter, too bad for drink, strapped his wayward son.
You don't yet know the word key, but you know car and you know picnic. This is where you are now, out in the soft English countryside, and the sun shines, and down there is a clear river and over there moo-cows, and you have a mummy and a daddy. One day you will marry a much older man, a man with a criminal record for violence, who shaves his head brutishly short, who has his country's emblem tattooed on his chest, but nothing, nothing of this exists yet, not even this next moment, the long seconds when you look into the air, to the brightness. It's blue, and the black bird fills your view and then something happens.





However, the accident is referred to almost in passing and we move away quickly into the essence of the story. That is family, heredity, destiny and the way life and other lives shape us against our will. Remove the single fact of that first sentence and it’s another slow, titling start.



I moved Ballistics and Balloonland to the end of this discussion. Ballistics could be argued to be “big-bang” but Postcards suffered in early drafts for being too subtle.

It opened with three “innocuous” postcards from family members crossing the Atlantic. That was how I wanted it but in the hurly-burly of the market they could be read as trivial and pointless. The story bombed a few times before I added the two lines just after the title.



There are things we should say, things we should not.
And there are things we want to say but have never learned how.


The purpose of those two lines was to “salt” the start, to tell the editor or judge, “Yes, there’s something here, this is important.” After that the story sold and earned me about $1,500. It’s been reprinted many times


Postcards from BalloonLand

There are things we should say, things we should not.
And there are things we want to say but have never learned how.


Dear Dawn.
We’re in DisneyLand! Dad promised us that if it was the last thing he ever did we were going to go to America and go to Florida and go to Orlando and go to Disney and stop in the Contemporary Resort. It’s very hot. The grass is funny. There are hundreds of dead good things in the shops.
Love Rachel.

Hi Robert!
The Frog wants to go to the Magic Kingdom tomorrow and do all the girlie rides. Dad says we have to wait until Friday to go to EPCOT. The Contemporary Resort Hotel is brilliant! There’s a monorail goes right through the building! It took nine hours to get here. We saw Concorde! Dad had a headache when we landed. Mam said it was because of the flight. Gotta go. Bet you wish you were here!
Love Ben.
Dear Millie,
I hope you and Dad are well. The flight was far better than I expected. There was so much for me to do that I forgot to be frightened! Peter was very tired, Rachel led him round everywhere by the hand. They bought me perfume. I told Peter off for spending but he just laughed and said, ‘What’s money?’ The kids played Scrabble most of the flight. Peter fell asleep in my lap.
Your loving daughter, Margaret.

He was Peter. Soft red curly hair, blue, bright eyes, thirty-three; married to Margaret, father to Benjamin, to Rachel and to three-year old Tobias. He read their postcards again. Rachel’s card was a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger in front of a blue-grey castle. The holiday was costing a fortune but he knew he had never spent money more wisely. Before they left, he told Margaret that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip and not to worry about the expense. It was all taken care of, he said. The look on the kids’ faces when he told them was sheer joy.


==========================================================

Pick up BASS (Best American Short Stories) or The OHenry Prize Collection, or the latest "Pushcart" and actually READ the openings.

What percentage are "big-bang"? I doubt if 1 in 20 is a BBO.


Why then, are there clowns out there in print and on the internet ADVOCATING starting with a bang?

I know that 99.9% of stories arriving on my desk and starting with a bang will be poor quality, almost certainly by beginners.


Alex

How to Open WITHOUT a Bang

For the first week of 2010 I thought I'd open with openings.

This is an ancient article of mine that appeared in The New Writer and on-line at The Internet Writer's Journal (and other places)

Feel free to respond and ask questions, see if we can't get an interesting debate going.

Just remember that I do NOT publish anonymous responses.


How to Open WITHOUT a Bang


Grab your reader with an opening! Right? Have a man walk in with a gun, set the bomb ticking, the lovers begin to undress? Oh, how many stories I've seen with a slam-bang start like that, and oh, how many have immediately gone to a flash-back, admitted the dream or simply fizzled, spluttered and dribbled slowly away.

The nuclear bomb opening I see as the medallion man of literature, more flash than substance, more likely to lead to disappointment than satisfaction. It's the confident whisper, the self-assured promise I look for, the paragraph which quietly says, "I don't need bells and whistles. Listen, listen." And the story may be so quiet that I have to lean forward. I am tilted into the body of the work, disconcerted, or intrigued by setting, attracted by character or seduced, simply seduced, by the sounds and shapes and meaning of the words.

Saturday afternoon and Dai Griffiths sits with his finger-polished roll-up tin. He is patient, fixated, listening. His tongue protrudes slightly as he makes his careful, half dog-end tobacco, half Old Holburn, delicate, thin cigarettes. It is raining outside the pub and along the valley side snake-terraced roofs glisten. The afternoon light closes.


I want to know. And that's all it takes. Make the reader want to know more.

Rather than use the verb "grab", I like to suggest "tilt". I want to push my readers just a little, not slam them so hard they resist me, but persuade them that this road is interesting, one of ultimate promise. My job (first) is to ensure they reach (and want to read) the second paragraph, that the second begets the third and that the whole of the first page is strong enough to quiet the TV, block out the conversation on the train, or more importantly, wake up that tired editor, that jaded judge.

It was now lunch-time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining-tent pretending that nothing had happened.

"Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?" Macomber asked.


A famous opening from a famous story, Hemingway's The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. What's fascinating about this opening is that, yes, the tilt is there - if someone says "pretending that nothing had happened" you betcha I want to find out what did happen - but look what Hemingway chose not to start with. The story has to flash back (eventually) to an incident of high drama when Macomber panicked faced by real danger. Surely, surely, with such a gift we should start with the dramatic action?

But Hemingway had the drama still to come -- so we await it. He didn't start with something climactic -- after a climax is anti-climax - but promised us at least one. The work shows self-confidence, the ability to present seemingly innocuous events well, but in such a disarming, confident way we simply feel the power to come. But there's more to this opening. It was chosen to guide the reader into what the story was really about, not big-game hunting and cowardice or bravery, but what these things meant to the sexual relationships of the three main characters. By starting with the "ordinary" drinks scene, Hemingway was able to steer us, the readers towards the core of the story. We get to see and feel the coldness and unhappiness of Macomber and his wife -- exacerbated by Macomber's lack of physical courage -- and it's through courage that Macomber eventually gains self-respect and a fleeting but glorious happiness.

So yes, an opening must promise us a diverting story, but also it should be right for the story, not just a good opener but the best, the most apt opener. When we take time to "find" our opener, to find the exact character, setting, tone of voice and point of view, when we wait and let the opener float until it begins to resonate as solid and true, then, often the story falls in front of us like dominoes, sentence after sentence begetting sentence, driven by the feel, the force, the organic predictability contained within the start.

He wondered what the sex would be like. She thought it would be good. When she asked him, "Do you think it will be good, Harry?" he knew it would be great. But that was later.

Sometimes we just know from the opener...



When I began writing I leaped on ideas, rushed to grab a pen or typewriter, and started. More often than not I crash-landed, and even when I did finish things they sucked and didn't sell. Now I've learned a little patience, an ounce of forethought, a few minutes of consideration and now, rather than dive into a story, I'm more likely to climb into a bath, a half-bottle of wine close by, and wallow, body and mind. My story idea may well be weeks, months, even a year old. It has been fermenting in my unconscious, a particularly unsavoury and mixed up place. I went there once, right next to The Old Man and the Sea was Three Blind Mice, a picture of an old girlfriend, the guitar riff from Pulp Fiction and... the rest is censored. But somewhere in the mess there is a story -- at least I hope there is -- and I want to coax it out. If I shout, it will run away, if I do nothing it will sit there, but if I just make little coaxing noises, show I'm friendly out pops an opening, a tone, my protagonist, complete with accent and attitude.

I lie.

The opening almost comes. Here is where I have another glass of wine and top up the hot water. I've learned that if the opening really comes to me, if the character pushes through the fog and steps into my world, if he is ready to live, really ready, not a good one but the one, then I just know, little bells ring, presses run, music plays, the opening resonates, buzzes, sings. The almost openings flutter in an out but the opening doesn't. It comes with a life, a history, a destiny. Truly, getting the exact feel is more than half the story.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez said, "One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily." Absolutely, Gabriel! "In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book." Yes! Yes! "The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be." Smack on! "That's why writing a book of short stories is much more difficult than writing a novel. Every time you write a short story, you have to begin all over again." (Excellent, he should go far).

Yes an opening should interest, tilt us forward, but an opening does far more; it sets the agenda, it makes not just promises to us, but suggests to us how we should react, what mood we are likely to find here, how best we might take on the upcoming dream.



Tom is watching a movie with his mistress when something in the story-line touches him, and breaks through his well-constructed fa├žade. His defenses breached, he thinks of his son and his small daughter. He begins to cry soundlessly. When his mistress realises her lover is upset, she tries to be kind, but her kindness makes the guilt worse and Tom snaps at her. She doesn't understand.



Once there were many prairie dogs and they decided their kingdom was fine and suited the prairie dog way of life. Some prairie dogs were large, some very small, but most of the prairie-dogs were middle-sized and their bark, more a yap, was conservative.




Two openings, but the contract with the reader is different.



I hope my openings are directive. I want them to intrigue and seduce but I want them to channel the story as a whole, to create in the reader a sense of a joint adventure, one of a type. If I'm trying to be funny, I need the reader to be thinking light music, not Beethoven's Fifth. If I want "serious", I don't want him whistling The Birdie Song. Like Gabriel Marquez, my openings take time but they contain the organic nature of the story as a whole, the theme, the tone, where I'm coming from, where I want the reader to go.


Look at the opening to Catch-22.


It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him. Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn't quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn't become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this being just short of jaundice all the time confused them.

We get the main character, the tone, the craziness, the feel, immediately.


Or Cuckoo, mine.


Cold Monday morning, six o'clock. November. Brighton sea-front had to be grey, windswept and damp. It was, but as far as Caz Flood was concerned, it was the only place, the perfect place to be. Yesterday she had been a beat copper, a woodentop, today she was a DC, a detective constable, and nothing, but absolutely nothing, could stop her now.


Or Brighton again, Graham Greene.


Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell he didn't belong - belong to the early summer sun, the cool Whitsun wind off the sea, the holiday crowd.


Or Raymond Chandler.

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.


Oh, I wish!!

Friday, January 01, 2010

23 New Year's Day Prompts

The first of many, this set. Please let me know if you write a flash, story or poem today.

Join up for the Weekly Frantic Flash (starts next weekend)


23 PROMPTS

Does the road wind uphill?

MINE

This is where we met

I have a rendezvous with Life

Consider the cat, the worm

I have walked this way before but it all surprises me

At least it wasn’t your fault

Nothing is required

We hear the wail of mothers

1,620 Minutes

All the traffic lights are red

Paper Crowns

Doubt drifts down among us

I heard it was Kerry

Mrs Murchison and the Man from Vienna

It’s a kind of blue but more green, really

Gerry Adams loves this one.

The river widens, deepens but then it is mud

I was seeking the answer, to do with butterflies

To do with pork, something about pork

The hands of other people and I am lifted up

Friends, fellow travelers, no need for pity

When you are away, I turn down your pictures