Friday, December 30, 2011

2012-13 Prompts

Of course you can forget. That's easy


From the thousands I remember one


You suffer; you die; there are moments of relief

That means YOU

As the light rises, as the world becomes pink


That night, for a while I was a dog

A small bullet-hole

I locked the door and went to bed


I put a cake on the coffin and waited

Sex, as I call it euphemistically


I climb most mountains one step at a time

Two Paracetamol, heavy on the antibiotics

She has cashed the cheque

You said you never saw me that way, and yet it happened

When the volcano under Basingstoke erupted

I have never learned Greek

No paint, no brushes, but I have a canvas

2012-12 Prompts

Four guys in orange jump-suits

Google "RVJ136"

Stepping on a nail

A story beginning, "I was supposed to be going to Reading"

Not exactly a fancy restaurant


I believe this is called "a baby"

A kind of sandwich

Bubbles and bubbles and bubbles


A decent pair of boots, a piece of bread

Ace of Spades

I don't mind death but I like life better

Wild Thing

Lock the doors and seal the windows


I would like to be a Silverback, but not a Panda

That first bowl

Whatever lifts us starts with the heart

I massage my wife

I dreamt last night of moving computers and swollen walls

It fits the equations

A bit of a shame the way the sky is closing in

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012-011 Prompts

He leans upon the old gate

They sing the sweetest, dearest songs

It is difficult, and thus it fascinates me

I have met many at the closing of the day

A great bird soaring

Some ancient scribe or poet

The great wings beating, then shuddering, then still

I saw her standing there

One day a child will laugh at this

Rain at one in the morning, utter, disgusting, uncaring

A sunrise comes to mind, a waking day, optimism

Many a muddy pit was once a thoroughfare

She rises, undresses, showers.

And we weep like children weep for milk

Big and dark, and darker than that

We are living, living, living, and naked.

With a wicked Jack of Hearts, the Queen of Spades

That wars might end and we became old soldiers














2012? The Agony and the Agony

My writing in the second half of 2011 just dried up.

Not absolutely, but I didn't do well except for the big novel (now 90,000 words of 150,000).

Part of that, reading old Social Services records, retyping stuff has been long-winded and "heavy" and not "flowing" or exciting. Throw in domestic difficulties and then a decision to study again (wake myself up) and the writing has suffered some.

Still running Boot Camp Keegan, a member asked for a January "Blast" to get us all hitting the 2012 ground running, so I've said yes, and we started at Xmas (a BCK Tradition) so that by January we are already into a decent jog.

I'm finding writing flashes again quite strange, writing longer shorts a distant memory, (my brain has stopped thinking in 2-5K chunks and I've become to good at the condensed piece) and until I've caught up academically, the idea of 1-2K per day on the novel is...

well it just is.

Even with money troubles, domestic troubles, a very uncertain future, and the ravages of age, I really should be managing 1K a day for at least 5 days a week. Otherwise, the simple truth is, I'm not a writer, it just happens I wrote some stuff a while ago.

Watch this space.

What I'm Reading

Karl Popper: The Open Society and its Enemies

It makes a change to read Philosophy/Politics that is actually READABLE

Two Xmas presents to myself

Kasia Boddy The American Short Story Since 1950

Charles Baxter Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction

and of course, I'm reading various philosophy books

2012-010 Prompts 29 Dec

Inside, it is iron or empty?

I can give you nothing for I have nothing

Stones hitting the moon

The Event

As sad as Jesus

Pretend a while. let us talk of pretty things

Late on a late afternoon

We will not stop trying

Between the heard, the half-heard and the silence

Whatever this is, it is not family

Planet Jumper

A Camel in the garden

We drove back and forth to the hospital

The future is hours no matter how heavy

It brought us nearer, or so I thought

We are having a good time

They have dragged the kitchen sink, dug up the flower-pots, combed carpets.

I remember you like an old soft chair

It starts in a back room of an old grey pub

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2012-008 Prompts

I heard your heartbeat


Love, that bloody armistice


Ever was, ever is and always will be


The sweet music of a small winnable war


The death of a small domestic animal


When I first saw your spaceship


Biscuit, tea-cup, saucer, tea


Not the blood-sucking bat

With the bullet wrapped in paper


I will hire a red bi-plane and write it in the sky

Keep right on to the end of the lane

And the fragrance of your earth

It might interest you, it might not

They feed him on Rosemary, Tarragon, Mint

Let me never be my father

Saturday, December 24, 2011

2012-005 Prompts

What is left to say?

Just a little party, a few friends. We won't even get drunk.

Some tunnel in Switzerland or something.

Seven Years later

Everything that could happen, will happen.

Tsunamis are not that uncommon

You weren't exactly ill but you weren't well

In the distance, a city

It was then a sparrow flew in, well a bird


So I woke up, wired-in, tubed-up to this guy


Send me flowers, like I give a fuck.


Mr & Mrs Buck-Too and their son, James


Either the best sleep ever, or something else

Hemlock and Other Cures

No strange marks, I didn't even see fever, but

In some ways it could be brilliant

Life was not so funny then, or now

See this face? That's a map of where not to go.

This was a story, kind of, the ending is happy, kind-of.

Friday, December 23, 2011

2012-004 Prompts

Walking too far in the dark

Keep Calm and Carry On


The phone was off

Or I was out of range

Philosophy Bites

Knock, knock, knocking on Heaven's Door

In this age of absurdity

Jesus and Woody Allen

I guess I'm Star-Struck

No card from Southampton

Arguably, a Grand-Son Somewhere

Add a little, stir, add a little more

Now the frost is gone, now the birds are back, now

The Moral Animal

In Between

Driving through Wales

How the world looks from out there

Monday, December 19, 2011

2012-003 Prompts

Saying goodbye to someone you love


There is a tide in the affairs of man, and taken at the flood

Mama, I killed a man

The Philosophy of Knees

Four Atheists

It's a long and winding journey, and nothing there when you arrive

A VERY small camera

Lego, Transformers, a couple of DVDs

Farewell, Farewell

The Art of Drinking Hemlock


Diamonds are Forever, but you're not

Not a terrible prospect

Sunday, December 18, 2011

2012-002 Prompts

Prompts 2012-002

Working in the Spring


Good quality markets

Things are really taking off.

Good Luck, Neil. Have a good Christmas.

A comment on the human condition

I have been on this beach before. I smell the old men's fires.


More like, ummm, a doughy-white farmhouse


Long Slow River, Heavy Sun.


Beneath the blanket something warm and beating

Like I always knew.

Cheesy Songs on the Radio.


Why I like Lamb, why I like Mint-Sauce

Wondering about my Mother



Sunday, Cold, a Long Walk with the Boys

No Jumping!

2012-001 Prompts


An interesting thought, a polite exchange

Listening to Match of the Day


When the atheist died

Various Proofs, Not all of them Sound

Buying with 1-Click

It was probably the Red Bull


Thinking, Fast & Slow

The smell of meat on the air, and something sharp

A Little More on What Matters

Why I have to go, and why I may come back

Ianto Smith and the Bucket


Hitch-Hiking Towards Heaven

Performance Data for Non-Functioning Servants


Mr Grimthorpe! Mr Grimthorpe!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday Prompts

Come On Eileen!

I am, therefore I think.

Maybe not an academic

Yes they are lovely. Yes they are fresh.


I painted it, threw him the painting.


At least 80% of the people we see

The sun in my eyes, the sun in my face


Go on ask me, "What's my favourite?"

Be honest; there's always a risk

On Human Understanding

School for Scandal

I'm here to examine you. Take off your clothes


Two hip replacements, a wrist, an elbow

A little too casual

Tousle me Softly

He woke, sat up, picked up the gun again

Shoplifting 101

Creative Writing Myths

Previously Published at The Internet Writing Journal

Creative Writing Myths

By Alex Keegan

Recently, some of my Boot Campers attended a writing weekend, and at one lecture they were told "Open short stories with dialogue!" They were also told that 60% of "womag" (women's magazine) stories were dialogue and that using "said" was a huge no-no, better to use animal-type speech tags like purred and growled.

I say recently (but the steam is still coming out of my ears) but in a later discussion with some of the Boot Campers (drinking champagne in the grounds of Winchester Cathedral) I questioned, not just this as advice, but in terms of the actuality, the empirical facts.

I have seen (and was taught) "Open with a bang," "Start in media res," "Use lots of dialogue." Barely weeks ago I read these items as "cardinal virtues" on a website (after the website had been recommended on yet another website!)

The point then is two-fold. Is the advice good or bad (or restricted to one or more genres)? Or is it plain wrong, whatever genre we investigate?

Oops, there's a third point -- does "advice" of whatever veracity get carelessly extended into areas for which it was never intended? There's a problem here, and that's how repetition and embedded quotation can solidify myths into facts.

I like to visit Lundy Island, a haven of peace in the Bristol Channel, Once I remember reading, in a serious book, that "A million ships a year sail past Lundy." It was only weeks later that the number finally hit home (after I had gone to use it myself in a university lecture) and I thought, "HOW many?" Simple sums. That many ships per year meant 2,740 ships per day passing the island to dock in really, a small number of ports, some of which in their heyday could only berth 20-30 ships. The number was way, way wrong. The simplest thought should have told us that AT LEAST 114 ships an hour were sailing by 24-7. So why should the "fact" be in more than one academic book? Repetition and weak reading! In all probability someone wrote "a million ships have passed Lundy's shores" or "a million tonnes of shipping pass the island."

One mis-quotation, a few reinforcements and bingo, we have a fact.

So I have actually looked, first at short-stories, at literary shorts, at general fiction shorts, then at "womag" shorts, coffee-break stories often with simple twists in the tail. What ACTUAL percentage of stories are dialogue? What ACTUAL percentage of stories open with dialogue? How often do real, actual stories open with a big bang?

Can stories even popular, non-literary stories sell without the big-bang and dialogue openers?

So I looked at one hundred stories from womags. 28% opened with dialogue, NONE began with a big bang, about 60% opened in media res but in a very gentle, often genteel way.

As for 60% of the story should be dialogue -- Really? I found just 15 in the 100 had anything like half dialogue.

So, very simply. What those speakers said? UNTRUE.

Now what happens when we move away from (the lowest of the low) womag writing?

I looked at copies of Peninsular, Ashes, World Wide Writers: all mid-range, from light fiction to semi-serious fiction but hardly "high-lit" The figures were 16% beginning with dialogue, 2% big bang, 80% in media res and just 11% that were over half dialogue.

Looking towards more serious fiction, in Best American Short Stories, working backwards from BASS 2003 (and looking at BASS of the century) the incidence of dialogue openings is very small, under 5%. Big bang beginnings are even rarer and almost no stories were 60% dialogue. After a while I barely scanned the stories as this became so obvious.

So let's see what we have:

Begin with Dialogue Big Bang Media Res Half Dialogue

bd bb mr hd
28 00 60 15 Womag sample
16 02 80 11 General fiction sample
00 04 55 02 Literary fiction sample
15 02 65 09 overall

So, despite the admonitions of these lecturers (where do they get their numbers, the sky?) the facts are that across all fiction less than one sixth of stories open with dialogue, less than 10% of stories are over 50% dialogue (never mind their much vaunted 60%).

And what about "Open with a bang"? Well they (big bang openers) are about as common as rocking-horse droppings! When I looked for in media res openings I found things much more difficult. Often an opening would interest me and I'd put a tick in the IMR box but often, in fact, it was not "action" but language, or setting or voice which attracted me.

The 66% quoted there is probably nearer 50%, but someone else can decide. So what conclusions can we make?

First, don't trust my figures! Do your own survey, of whatever field you're interested in.

Whatever that field is I KNOW that you'll discover these three statements:

Always open with dialogue.
60% of a short story should be dialogue.
Open with a bang.

Are simply WRONG.

Even when we talk of a very formulaic market such as womags, the figures and the admonitions of "experts" simply don't tally.

The truth is an opening should interest the reader. Complicated isn't it? The opening should catch our eye, get our ear, but not crudely, not in some over the top, exaggerated way but "cleverly", subtly, even sneakily.

Dialogue can help a story zip by, can give it "air and space" but how much is the key question. It is most certainly NOT "at least 60%." It's not even 50%.

It's whatever the story requires to be right. In some stories there was no dialogue or a few bare lines. In the novel, "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" it was 99%. In many womag stories it looked to be 20-40%, in some not a lot at all.

But don't take my word for it, instead, do your research.

Better still, forget formulas and write to move people, or to to entertain, and write what feels good and wholesome to you, what would please YOU.

In the end it's the words, and the heart of the writer, not some damn bean-counters knee-jerking nonsense, or worse, someone who is passing on (through a photocopy darkly) misinformation that simply doesn't tally with the reality when you check what's on the shelf.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Prompts

Yesterday was STORY deadline in BC, but for those who want to flash, here are today's prompts (he says hopefully without a prompt in his head)

The pictures are from the chapel.


Nothing reaches here, we cannot be taught. Eat!


Consume! Consume! Consume!

Please try not to think.

Just outside Reading on the A4

Sticky Labels

Baked Apples, Vanilla Custard

Tunnels, Caverns, more tunnels

And then there are the Japanese

The man with the megaphone needs to be moved on

I drive, you sleep, the night is shiny and feral

Smell of Woodsmoke


I am going to invent wool.

Three times a night but once on Fridays


Various CW Ideas

What are you doing for the next ten years?


Canary Wharf, The SS, How Freedom Dies


It will rain, and it will rain, and it will rain, rain, rain...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Vanessa Gebbie

Vanessa's "A Coward's Tale comes out very soon.

Vanessa emailed this:

re-posted with permission.

I like the new-look blog - it is fun, and useful.

(Alex) Feedback for you on 'openings'...

Three or so years ago I had a lot of words done for the novel. I had a voice. And a mishmash of stuff, themes swirling about. Nothing really clear. A main character who I didnt know really - didnt know 'why' I was writing him. Just following my nose.

I had to take my car for a service. Big deal. So, Im waiting in the ghastly customer waiting area with a plastic coffee. Daily Mush to read. Not thinking about the novel. Frightened of it.

A propos of nothing, this line came into my head, there, in the garage. "My name is Ianto Jenkins. I am a coward." I wrote it down on the Daily Mush and tore off a bit of the front page, not to forget it.

Bingo. That was the first line of the novel - and the whole grew out of it, shaped itself, the themes made sense, and 'he' made sense.

But I also knew - the line had come from somewhere. It was 'right' but ...where had it come from?

I use your prompts a lot. I searched the blog.

Bingo again - Jan 2006, you posted among others:

"My name is Eddie. I am a coward." I never used it until c. three years later... but it stuck in there somewhere.



On Age

I am .....

but my right knee is only 8.

A question, then. In this age of transplants, are we
as old as our oldest bit,
as young as our youngest bit,
or the average of all our bits?


First talk last night at Birkbeck University and train home was 00:20, full of drunks.

Woke this morning with excruciating knee pain, but I don't remember hurting it.

Talk was Amanda Fricker arguing that "Blame is a Good Thing"

God's Day Prompts

Ideas, people, following like rigorous proofs

One Man, One Knee

I begin to scream, I am screaming, I have screamed


Lonely men without their neckties. Old men nursing halves

The permanent goodbye

Finally 41

Let us walk together through certain dirty, silent streets

Overhead on the bus

And it was once September. It was once a soft October evening

God is resting.

On the streets of America, on the streets of America

Am I not of interest now?

Let us go then, you and I

There is a time for murder, there is a time to die

Let us undecide, and be slow about it


Sit down and I will cook burnt toast and serve cold tea

My counterpane is soft as silk

And I have known their faces. I have seen them all

(SINGING) We've got to get right back to where we started from

To Eat a Peach

Standing until we drown

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Family" life?

One Family member up at 0500 with work to do before the day starts, two family members in car at 0700, lift to station to commute one to school. Two family members in car at 0730, lift to station for commute to University 50 miles away. Later one family member drives 15 miles both ways for business meeting, will return to walk dogs, do work, then drive to station, leave car for the two early droppees, hide key as no duplicate taken... so one can squeeze in hair appointment, while one squeezes in gym work. Meanwhile fourth family member has driven to town to park, train for 50-mile commute to second university. Third family member to travel to a third university to evening-teach; will meet fourth family member in London at 21:45, no train until 2305... home station at 23:40, then drive home, arriving midnight. On various trains, all, no doubt, working with lap-tops or iPads, answering mobile calls etc.

Thursday. Repeat?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wednesday Prompts (Posted Early)

Long Distance Scrabble

Daddy Poo

Sensations of the potato kind

He comes nearer, she comes nearer, nearer

Tonight, bugger the calories


Sorry, my battery died

Shut up, Bitch!

The following morning Tavistock resigned


I wanted to say, "Have you eaten, are you OK?"


Yes, I did, and then I started crying


The bald heft of the bayonet entering


I do that, she shouted stupidly from the kitchen

Kill! Kill!

Beneath the wooden floor

Basically Dad, you're a hermaphrodite


After we had burned down the school


He was twelve years old, perhaps thirteen

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tuesday Prompts

Prompts going up tonight as I may have an early start.

Fear passes from man to man


The omnibus out of control


The feel of a shiny shilling


How it was before you left us


I am stronger now, the weather is more forgiving


Angela and Heather, thinking


They are obscene, but men for all that

I am ready


And then she turned to me

Just the one drink, but wanted more


She walked behind, breathing a little heavily

Tonight, Trixie will

The night watchman asleep by his TV

Love me like I'm the last number on the lottery

The violet dark

You should leave us know, without a serious regret

Philosophy Overload

Capel Cader Idris, Llwyngwril, Gwynedd


The work at Birkbeck comes thick and fast and I discovered last night that I have a 2,000-word essay to produce TODAY, an essay for which I haven't even done the reading yet.

And I work HARD.

Scary stuff, but hopefully rewarding (in the end),

I Sold a Photo!!

Thrilled to announce that I've had one of my photographs bought.

This one..

My daughter and I once trekked the South Bank (of the River Thames in London), taking various pictures (some of which appear on this blog).

We came to the Tate Modern Art Gallery (an old power-station converted) and there was an exhibit in a lit window, an orange/red background with yellow tubular lights.

Passers-by came to watch and I realised they were beautifully silhouetted against the bright colour. So I set up my tripod and shot various unknown individuals.

This photo (I call her Madonna) was lucky as the subject turned slightly side on and I got her face, beautifully, fortuitously, lit

Monday 10th Prompts

How blood surrenders

Not because we were, but because no-one knew we weren't

All roads lead to the end

The cold, faithless calm of a hospital corridor

I am warming myself at a fire

Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers

And then again, it's just a birthday

Patches of dried blood, dessicated screaming

Is that cushion uncomfortable enough?

I am not drowning, but I am not well

We are blinded by our own light, deafened by silence

Swollen lip

The tree opens, the child is eaten

I was not there but I heard the explosion

I was about to ring but changed my mind

Just drinks

Sunday, October 09, 2011


I think it was Marquez who said he took 50% of his thinking/writing time getting the opening right and the rest would then follow. That included his novels.

I agree it's worth knowing your start is THE start, because it contains (IMO) the essence of the theme, the tone, the weight, the musicality such that what follows, even while unknown, is predetermined.

We are looking at some openings in Boot Camp right now. Here's one by Alice Munro.

So much here!

Georgia once took a creative-writing course, and what the instructor told her was: Too many things. too many things going on at the same time; also too many people. Think, he told her. What is the important thing? What do you want us to pay attention to? Think.

Eventually she wrote a story that was about her grandfather killing chickens, and the instructor seemed pleased with it. Georgia herself thought that it was a fake. She made a long list of all the things that had been left out and handed it in as an appendix to the story. The instructor said that she expected too much, of herself and of the process, and that she was wearing him out.

The course was not a total loss, because Georgia and the instructor ended up living together. They still live together, in Ontario, on a farm. They sell raspberries, and run a small publishing business. When Georgia can get the money together, she goes to Vancouver, to visit her sons. This fall Saturday she has taken the ferry across to Victoria, where she used to live. She did this on an impulse that she really doesn't trust, and by mid afternoon, when she walks up the driveway of the splendid stone house where she used to visit Maya, she had already been taken over some fairly shaky ground.


Look at this bit and consider how YOU might have written it.

Think, he told her. What is the important thing? What do you want us to pay attention to? Think.

I love the imperial full-stop after the first THINK.

Sunday Prompts

I am held prisoner by your skin


Things can be too still, the woods


I have a prosthetic soul


I thought, a dog barking, something fallen, broken


She carried a spotless white glove


I am standing where I stood before


An old lover, a glass of wine, crisps


Steam hisses, smells rise, people scurry


The red stripes are blood, the rest peppermint


I exist. I need to live.


"I think, therefore I am." >> "I remember thinking. Therefore I am me."

Not Just Somerset


I sink into your helplessness, dying

He was brown, but a new brown, a brown brown, different.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Saturday 8th October Prompts

Twenty or So Ideas

Somewhere to put my etchings

Thank You very much. We'll be off then.

Photo by Alex Pearson-Jones

Maxing the Cards

The Wife of the Carpenter Who Dies at Sea

Watch With Mother

Pictures at an Unattended Exhibition

Leaving California

Why they're not talking to me

Mrs Green & Mr White

How to write sex scenes 101

Picture Me Resplendent

A Simple, Fundamental, Error

A story featuring a billiard ball, a chicken, a candle, a clown

Not far from a bird hide, a canal, a golf-course

Prisoner 99

An essay Concerning Human Understanding

Hair Matters; Hair Manners

Mother, Questions

No More Than a Roll of the Dice, the toss of a coin

A Story beginning: "I intend for all this to be true; for it to be honest..."


A story ending. And so I must go, quietly, with my head low, through shadows.

Seventh Quark & Steve Jobs

I picked up a newspaper yesterday and found an article on Steve Jobs' Apple (by the philosopher Julian Baggini)

I was struck, in particular, by one quote:

"Take the old adage that the consumer is king. In some ways this is as true for Apple as it is for anyone else. Apple stands or falls on the basis of whether people will buy its stuff. But Jobs' success was built firmly on the idea that, in another sense, you should NOT give consumers what they want because they don't know what they want.

No-one thought they wanted the first desktop Mac, iPod, iPhone or iPad before they existed. Jobs repeatedly created things that people came to want more than anything else only by NOT trying to give them what they already wanted.

This challenges the idea that consumer culture inevitably means pandering to the conventional, to the lowest common denominator. Markets are not necessarily conservative: truly great innovations can become popular.

I was struck by this, and some of it "rang bells".

Then I remembered my own editorial for the first issue of Seventh Quark Literary Magazine, where I wrote:

Running a literary magazine is not about giving readers what they want.
It's about showing them what's possible.

If I can find the original text, I'll post the whole article.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Prompts Choose Us!

Picture by Alex Pearson-Jones

Here is the list again.

Looking for Spinoza
Forced Smiles on a Hundred Pink-Faced Women
Paper Crowns
Loo Seat in Disguise
We must go to the mountains and wait
Traffic Lights, Red
Drowning the occasional Witch
Albert's Amazing Idea
The Rise and Fall of Fergal Smith
Before there were neighbours
He makes them uncomfortable, so he will be killed
Bleaney's Room
Every Mountain has its Valley
Sherry Trifle
Barcelona, Eritrea, a Small Place in Germany, Melbourne
Death as a trivial interruption
Simple Simon Says
The Ladybird Introduction to Introductions
Magic and other Inconveniences
Afghanistan Holiday
The Students are revolting

Flashing is a peculiar activity. It freaks some people. When I first tried to write flashes I “froze” but soon found that writing-without-caring was very liberating.

When I teach “How to Find the Story” (NOT flashing, but longer stories) I tell students NOT to write too early. When an idea comes, don’t “dive in”. Instead, it is best to ferment it, to let it simmer and stew and go bad, rancid, with all sorts of deep, gut-level rotten connections.

An idea is often not THE idea but an echo or a trigger, a conscious embellishment that “relates to” the real-story-within. If we “dive in” we may write something but it won’t have the power of that-thing-which-lurks-deep. To find the deep thing takes TIME and all we should do is remember “enough” and “loosely”. We must not write too much down (that concretises facts) or be so vague that we forget the initiating idea.

The idea is to have REAL HINTS, good CUES, but poetic, oblique, sensitizing, edgy, tilting phrases, words that affect your balance, set things off, but in a general, “mood” or sensibility way, rather than direct, shape, restrict us, or make us go left-brained.

The theory then goes… by “refusing to write” the fermentation effect continues linking the KEY, the KERNEL, the grit in the oyster, the itch, with “other stuff that relates”. That other stuff might be snippets of songs, adverts, conversations, stories, films, plays, whatever. But note this, those things-which-stick-to-the-kernel will stick because “somehow” they fit, they are correctly sticky. They “go with” that burn, itch, drive from the deep. WHETHER OR NOT YOU EVER REMEMBER OR ARTICULATE THE ACTUAL DRIVING IDEA OR MOMENT.

But that is for STORIES.

Flashing takes the “unconscious principle” and inverts it. When we write a story we STEW it in order to use the deep unconscious to make unique, “driven” connections. It can take an hour, but usually takes days, months, maybe a year.

Flashing takes the idea that we have these “depths’ and FORCES connections in a quick “speed-dating” way. Instead of ignoring an idea ‘early charms’ and stewing it, waiting for the real idea, we deliberate RUN AT the story and grab, grab, grab “without thought” in a way that the prompts themselves (directly or indirectly) are “chosen without thought” and thus are the-best-for-us.

What this means is this. If I read a list of prompts and CONSCIOUSLY mull them over and think, Hmmmm, Spinoza; I could write about a philosopher who has a grey cat… Traffic Lights, Red… hey what if traffic lights everywhere went red and it was a very serious offence to go through red, and…

This ISN’T flashing. This is THINKING about what might be cute. This is boring, obvious and left-brained beginner-stuff. The magic connections, possible connections are KILLED by thinking. Once you begin to think the prompts are pretty much meaningless. They are just “Write about a man called Spinoza” (and bore me…)

We have to be random, drunky, sleepy, high, uncaring, frivolous, de-logical, poetic, free-wheeling. IF we are these things, and if we keep “singing” then the prompts choose us.

The Prompts Choose Us!

What does that mean?

Well, as Dorothea Brande once said, when two writers see the same thing or incident, one might have a strong response when the other doesn’t give a damn.

Brande believes that when we get a strong reaction it’s because some essence of the thing or situation CONNECTS TO something raw and deeply-held.

An Example.

I’m walking with “John” and we see a tiny white dog, dripping wet, waiting at a red door, miserable, but stoic, patient. We can hear, somewhere, an old song, “Volare” and it sounds like it’s vinyl. We smell onions.

Now, to be fair, the above is “engineered”, but say I respond viscerally to all these things. The actual NOT REMEMBERED reason “the hot connector” is that I once had a little white dog, but the paedophile who dragged me into his terraced house left Spot outside… He loved Italian songs…


Too often people think the “point” of all this is to remember the secret to “find” specifically that repressed memory, the actuality, the deep “why”.


It doesn’t matter whether you have a real and actual memory, or a false memory, or some other response, or ANYTHING.

What you are searching for is THE PRESSURE ITSELF. You are seeking that-which-burns, but not IT, not the exact nature or fact or memory that CAUSES or caused the burn. You just want the burn-pressure itself, the drive, the itch, the “swelling”, the secret link or links that make YOU respond to X and Y and Z when someone else couldn’t care less.

So, with stories, we gently stir, feeling around in the river-bed for that-which-squirms, and keep coming back until things have combined.

With flashes, instead, we go-silly, and hope that “something” in the flashes, or combinations will “connect”.

Because we stay-loose, hang-loose, chill, “don’t-care”, relax, “stay drunk”, the hope is that we can make connections non-deliberately, without using left-brain. Hence I say the prompt or prompts choose us.

Snippets of poetry are powerful as prompts because they, in themselves, “contain multitudes”. They are not bald or limited. The lines are magnetic, moving, full of possibility as opposed to concrete, rigid.
All the above, of course, is the ideal. A lot depends on the openness and excitability or connectivity of the particular list of prompts. Some lists simply don’t turn us on, others cause a POW! Connection.

It’s never “ideal” but regular flashing teaches us to trust the unconscious.

Ballistics (my short-story collection) has a few stories that came from flash prompts.

L for Laura; L for Love
The Fucking Point-Two
Happy as Larry
An Old man Watching Football After Sunday Lunch

Four of these five stories are First-Prize winners of STORY competitions. “Larry” is 5,000 words, a story I’m proud of. Flashing works.

On Prompts

Photo by Alex Pearson-Jones

As I don’t have a story or flash waiting to “burst into life” I thought I might run through where this morning’s prompts came from, then maybe “play with them” and see what happens.

Looking for Spinoza

I’m studying Philosophy at the moment and recently began reading a great book by Antonio Damasio. So I’ve bought two more by him and the book is on my TBR pile.

Forced Smiles on a Hundred Pink-Faced Women

A line from a poem I wrote a mere forty years ago. (It just popped up!)

Paper Crowns

An old prompt used by Boot Camper Dave Prescott to energise his prize-winning story for Children in Need 2005

Loo Seat in Disguise

Another prompt from C-in-Need. Story by Henry Peplow.

We must go to the mountains and wait.

A random. I just felt the list needed a longer, slower, more reflective line. Yes, there’s method to this madness.

Traffic Lights, Red

Red Traffic Lights was a C-in-N story by Boot Camper Penny Aldred

Drowning the Occasional Witch

I have NO idea where that came from!

Albert's Amazing Idea

Or That

The Rise and Fall of Fergal Smith

I was thinking of the instrumental by The Shadows = The Rise & Fall of Flingle Bunt.


I break up lists with short-sharp OBJECTS to try and break thought-trains.

Before there were neighbours

I had written “Melbourne”, thought “Neighbours” (the TV programme) and then wrote the above

He makes them uncomfortable, so he will be killed

Socrates, brilliant though he was, pissed off too many people and they made him take Hemlock. Blame my doing philosophy! I try to universalise prompts. Eg. Socrates is not part of the prompt.

Bleaney's Room

A vague memory of an old poem T S Eliot?

Every Mountain has its Valley

Another vague thought, or I read it in a philosophy text yesterday. Something like “every mountain has a valley”? Yeah, like Ayre’s Rock…

Sherry Trifle

Random list-breaker.

Barcelona, Eritrea, a Small Place in Germany, Melbourne

A response/reflection from the various places my colleagues hailed from yesterday. I try to write the phrasing in a musical, thought-prompting way.

Death as a trivial interruption


Simple Simon Says

“Simon Says” was an old BC prompt that produced a decent story.

The Ladybird Introduction to Introductions.

No idea, really, although yesterday I mentioned I always start learning with the Noddiest intro I can find.

Magic and other Inconveniences

No IDEA but note it’s the extension that adds “frisson”. Magic alone is a bit flat and would probably produce predictable work.

Afghanistan Holiday

I head Afghanistan mentioned on the radio.

The Students are revolting

Just an old, weak joke.


A guy called Peach on the radio…

I have to say that these prompts fill me with NOTHING, unless it’s simple GLOOM. The idea that a story lurks here seems, right at this moment, quite remote.

Next Blog-Post will talk more on these things....

A Small Good Thing (2)

Capel Cader Idris.

How very small is this world!

Yesterday at Birkbeck University (London) we had a gap in lectures and adjourned to the student bar.

The small group had individuals from Barcelona, Eritrea, Australia, Germany, Brazil, Poland, and WALES.

Talking to "Ivan" ("I am from Barthelona") it turned out he had been to Llwyngwril in North Wales, where I legally reside in Capel Cader idris! Ivan had traveled on the little coastal railway (we actually have a station), so he could walk places like this:

As Llwyngwril is so tiny, I was amazed.

We talked writing and Ivan is a huge fan of RAYMOND CARVER and, in particular, Carver's "A Small Good Thing"

It would be nice to discuss that story here.

Any takers?

Once in Boot Camp we talked live for three hours and were still on the first page!

How do you feel about the way Gordon Lish OVER-edited Carver's work? How much better are Ray's stories when they "relax" a l;ittle bit?

A Small Good Thing (1)

On my first day at Birkbeck I left my £152 Kindle in a lecture room.

I reported it missing and was told I had "no chance" of it being handed in.

To say I was sick and depressed doesn't get close.

At a lecture 2 days later (where the whole group attended) I stood up and announced my loss and told everybody "I'm Alex".

The reasoning was that IF somebody had it, they now knew the owner.

I've just heard. It's turned up!

THAT's a small good thing.

Friday October 7th, Another Prompt Set

Looking for Spinoza

Forced Smiles on a Hundred Pink-Faced Women

Paper Crowns

Loo Seat in Disguise

We must go to the mountains and wait

Traffic Lights, Red

Drowning the occasional Witch

Albert's Amazing Idea

The Rise and Fall of Fergal Smith


Before there were neighbours

He makes them uncomfortable, so he will be killed

Bleaney's Room

Every Mountain has its Valley

Sherry Trifle

Barcelona, Eritrea, a Small Place in Germany, Melbourne

Death as a trivial interruption

Simple Simon Says

The Ladybird Introduction to Introductions

Magic and other Inconveniences

Afghanistan Holiday

The Students are revolting


Thursday, October 06, 2011

On Writing

This Article "Finding the Seventh Quark" was in the inaugural issue of 7Q.

I'm posting the original word document and don't have time to check for typos, so please excuse if there are any small errors.

Finding the Seventh Quark

Yes, this is about writing: what is love?

What is love? Is it, as the sociobiologists say, an illusion, a construct, what we call sexual selection, how our genes find other genes, to make genes? Is it the love of Romeo and Juliet? Is there love in what we dismiss as puppy love, is it love that twists and distorts and makes a man kill? Is it love that tells us, “Turn off the life support”, is it love that takes a woman to smother an old man, or, says a mother, is it what she feels when she first holds a bloody newborn child, when it first suckles?

Is love of your God, love? Does love involve the desire to hold, to possess, to keep from others and can it create hate? Or is love that thing they say, when they say, “If you love her let her go”?

Shall we call in men in white coats to measure love? Perhaps it’s only pheromones, height ratios, genetic compatibility, or gene machines that seek other gene machines to compensate for vulnerabilities. Or, when you realise nobody can ever define love, ever explain love, do you simply say to me, “I don’t exactly know what it is, but I can give you examples.”

So now we write a story. We don’t tell people what love is. We don’t tell them, what we think about love. We say, “Watch.”

Watch Romeo, Juliet, see Sophie make her choice, see Anna Karenina lie down in front of a train, look at Madame Bovary. Enter into the mind, the world of a loving husband who smothers his pain-wracked wife, and can’t you see how that’s not so different from Old Chief Broom when he knew he had to kill the lobotomised McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The point is, about love, we know it when we see it, but when we look at it, it shimmers, it moves, it runs away, it’s shy. And when we chase after love it disappears. It doesn’t want to be categorised. It doesn’t like definitions. It is just me, it says, you can’t define me, I am the indefinable.

So you give examples.

You apologise to love. You say, I’m sorry. Yes, you are special, enigmatic. Yes, no mortal should have the temerity to examine you. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

So you go write a story.

You write a story where Jack needs Jill. Jack needs Jill so much he knows, without Jill he will die. But Jill wants a man called John, and Jack, because he feels such an intense emotion, this thing we have called love, Jack’s for Jill, Jack, heavily, brings John to Jill.

John and Jill live happily ever after. Jack dies.

Or there’s this guy.

When he was alive, he never made a move on his beautiful librarian, but now he’s dead, and while he’s being taught to fly by his foul-mouthed angel-trainer he begins to understand about fair hearts and fair lady. And his beautiful, sheltered, shuttered librarian, so missing out on love, has gone to another country. She has found marriage, not love, and now she lies there, beside a bitter, dark man.

Our guy is about to enter Heaven, or he can enter the dark, bitter man, and soften his librarian’s life. Our guy can give up his eternity. He will not have his librarian (he missed his chance, alive), but he can do this, this, just to make her life a little better because there is an ache in him, some ‘thing’, some unfulfilled thing. All he can do is give, and hope it is enough.

Flannery O’Connor once said she wrote to find out what she thought. I have always railed against that notion. I believe often we know, we know, we know, but we just don’t know how to say it. Or it is the unsayable, like at the depths of nuclear physics where things are so other that it all seems comic, or spiritual, and the names that fly around like singing electrons (and when they told us that it was weird enough) are mere hints. But they tell us, that down there – (in me, in you, in everything) there really are these things, quarks. Oh, yes, we are assured, up quarks, down quarks, top quarks and bottom quarks, and charm quarks and strange quarks.

What has this to do with writing? What has this to do with love? Should I explain or should I tell you a story so you will understand?

I’ll tell you more than one story, because I believe Flannery O’Connor said it badly and, because of that, beginning writers think they can just write and “see what happens” and it will all work out in the end.

Hang on for the next bit, because it’s about feelings, and incomplete things, oddities, non sequiturs, failures to round out, accidents of non-explanation, failures to hit the button, the nail, on its beautiful, sweet, satisfying head.

Once I was using Google for some research – why I don’t remember – and I read about a US Navy tragedy in Barcelona harbour, two ships colliding and many drowned. If I Googled now I could give you names and dates, but I will not. That world, those meanings are out there, waiting for a unique you to find them as you will, as you must. All those things, those many things, all with meanings, and every combination unique.

What struck me? This: At the conclusion of the port visit a very touching moment occurred as the ship was leaving the pier and heading for sea. An older Spanish woman, dressed traditionally in black with her head covered, quietly appeared on the pier and, one by one, slowly tossed red roses into the harbour water, one for each of our lost shipmates.

I don’t know what this means.
I feel something. It aches. But I don’t know what it means.

Now tell me, do you really believe “I don’t know what it means”? If I was in a court of law, and I was asked, on penalty of imprisonment, “Mr Keegan, what do those roses mean, why an older Spanish woman, why is she dressed in black, why is her head covered, why roses, why slowly, why one by one?” could I drag out a plausible answer, could I get off the hook?

Of course I could. I’d give the court enough to satisfy them. I’d get away with it. I’d churn something out that “sort of” fits the facts. The judge would say, “Thank-you, Mr Keegan,” and the prosecuting counsel would be frustrated because they would know this is not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it’s a fashioned, reasonable, everyday explanation.

But I did not bare my soul. I only pretended some superficial truth that my heart said, “Lie!” because I didn’t want to go to prison.

I did not answer honestly. I told a kind of truth but I knew it wasn’t the truth. It wasn’t explaining my ache, my deep “something” ache, my indefinable fat fist of spiritual understanding, my glimpse of God, my search for what life is about. That image is so strong, it smoulders in me. It calls to me, and still I haven’t written fiction to re-examine it, to find what I think.
There I’ve said it. I’ve said what Flannery O’Connor said, and I disagree with. I write to discover what I think. I write to discover what I feel.

And this is where Flannery and I part company. I believe I know what I think. I just don’t know how to express it. I don’t have the tools, or the mathematical formulae, or the wondrous machines to reveal that there are quarks, and not only that, six types of quark ending charm and strange. I don’t have the mind that can deal with the idea that we, human beings, are almost totally space that we are emptiness, blackness, actual nothingnesses across which darts energy.

I know what my Spanish lady means. I can see her, feel what she is doing, sense the pain (and the beauty). It’s just that when I look straight at it my life gets in the way. Funerals, cremations, roses for love, chrysanthemums, lilies, organ music, a friend’s suicide, a train-wreck, there a million things trying to trick me, trying to make me lie in court just to keep out of jail, when what I should say is, “Your honour, I know, but cannot say. Please lock me up.”

Then, when they lock me up I will hit a guard. They will throw me in a dark cell, a dirty cell. And I will close my eyes and sense this woman, feel that which is her force, the emotion those roses contain. Not the trite, simple and symbolic, the easy, the cliché. We’ve seen the Hollywood movies, we know the clichés, we’ve heard the stirring music. If that was all that scene meant to me I would have seen it, logged it, filed it away and carried on with my life, but it was more. That is why I keep going back to my Barcelona and trying to understand.

And the way to understand is to find the story.

You cannot look directly at a quark, not an up quark, not a down quark. You cannot look at a top or bottom quark; or a strange quark; or a charm quark.

But we know quarks exist. We know them because they cause things to happen. We discover stars and planets, not because we can see them but because they affect other stars and planets. An imperfect orbit here, a meteor arrives late there, because it has been affected.

We know there is a thing, love, because we see it’s symptoms. We see orbits altered. We know somewhere, some entity exists, but it’s invisible. So we experiment. What happens if a man passes by that woman, will she affect him? Oh yes! She contains it! He contains it! Or ‘it’ resides between them, or it is magically created from the nothingness between them.

Here is something I cannot prove. Call it my seventh quark. Deep in me, deep in my heart, underneath my soul, timid, shy, elusive, so fragile that it will cease existing if I look directly at it, is a light. This tiny light, this pulse, this thing is exactly what my Spanish lady means to me.

Quite literally, I believe she calls to me, “Make me whole, let others see what I am. I came to you, you specifically, you exactly, you uniquely, and you understand. Give me a voice, give me light, let me out.”

To write what I know would be a story that mattered (at least to me) I have to see this light that cannot be looked at. I have to discover the light, its meaning by not looking at it, by writing about the orbits it minutely affects, and the nearest orbit is me, my thoughts, how I think.

Do you understand that I will rise from this table, go grab a coffee, eat some toast, make a phone call, beep an email? I have a life. And that life is mere function. It is not angelic. This is angelic. I seek, I hope to find.

But when I stand up, if I let go this heat, I enter a lesser state, a far more ordinary state, a let’s-get-by, don’t-be-silly, earn-a-few-dollars, go-get-the-mail, use the bathroom, phone the agent, muddle-through state. That’s a state far away from the seventh, unknown quark, the six imagined quarks, electrons and nuclei (remember them?) flesh, bone, a moving animal, me.

It’s down in the spirit where truth is. The question is how do I get there and stay there long enough to understand?

I mention the machine-me, the living, functioning, goes-to-the-bathroom me because he is who I have to remove to write. I have to turn off that me, and I have to become something else, someone else, and slowly disassociate from my mechanics, the plain, the knee-jerk, the automatic, the stereotype and the stock, the cliché, the obvious.

I have to do this. If I do not I will write what I expect, what people expect, the glib, the superficial, the beach-read, mere entertainment, gone faster than it is read, meaningless.

Better to sit on that beach and ponder a grain of sand.

So how can I find my Spanish woman?

I find her by being in her orbit, by circling, by being close, by allowing her to affect me, by singing and listening to the notes.

I said here are things I cannot prove. I cannot. But I can show people the results. Show how, merely by “allowing”, by moving into a state, I turn away from the mechanical, obvious me and begin to find the receptive me, the planet light enough to be affected in its orbit.

I chant, I sing, I play with sound, with feeling, with language. This is the hardest part of my writing to explain. I write ‘in and around’ the feeling, always, always, always the opening. I believe in finding the voice that is the story’s voice, like Marquez.

But I believe, if I allow it, that voice is shaped, directed, magnetised, steered, resonated-with, orbit-affected by, not merely my Spanish woman (she mans the foyer), but by what she means.

If I am brutal, if I am a planet so big, those fine gravities are lost. I must be small, a quark, soft and influencible. I must write with soft hands. I must drop into a zone of effortless not-looking. I must, via language, sounds, feel, words and not drugs, enter a state where things are fluid, echo, resonate.

My unproven, but near-absolute belief is that if I can enter some near-transcendental state and allow my writing to “just happen” (feeling, feeling, sound, atmosphere, and never, not even remotely plot), my opening will answer the call from the light, the falling roses.

I feel around, trying to tune in, letting fall the words, the visions, the viewpoints, tone, tense, colour and smell of the opening. Some jar, some feel wrong, some feel better, some feel good. Understand I don’t mean “good” in a literary sense, not “good writing”. I mean good, this is closing in on the feeling, the essence, the conduit.

What conduit? A direct line (never look along it) to what the Spanish woman means.

I must be crude for a moment. It’s as if my lady stands there listening to me, waiting for me to speak in the right way, for me to be simpatico.

If I was to start with a horrid, crude, aggressive, abrasive voice, she would turn her head away. She wants me to be seductive, so she will, in her turn, whisper to me.

I already have an instinct. I know approximately how I should speak, and of what. But it is by “tuning in” to the message (all feeling) that I find the one (and only one) opening that aches so perfectly I simply know it is the one, the sent one, from the light, of the muse, with the music.

There is no explanation here. There is nothing in the opening that explains. If anything the sound and feel, the hum, the music, the colour and tone may feel like they are taking me on a journey away from my woman.

Nevertheless is feels so right, so right. I know I am being affected. I know that the light, the roses, the woman, the meaning, is a gravity and these words resonate, they feel so right, because every time I try to change one the boats rocks, the current below me is less smooth-flowing, less definite.

The opening answers the light.

The light reflects the opening.

Now, provided I am light-footed, treading softly, because I walk on dreams, the next paragraph comes as it must, as it should, as it can do no other. It follows.

And the next, the next, the next. The waterfall tumbles, but it is only going one place, and all the time it’s ache, the ache building, getting closer and closer to a woman in a black dress.

Remember she calls to me, affects my orbit. It is the tonal feel, the music and colour of the work that carries the meaning. I choose, by now, words which fit and are not dissonant, Every word, every sound, and every accumulating phrase brings me closer to understanding, until, just before the end I realise I have been narrowing, narrowing, falling ever-inward to the moment of truth.

Does this truth have to be a complete articulation of such precision that we can write it on a board like a scientist writes his formula? No!

I started with an ache that held a meaning. The ache and the meaning affected my orbit. I became a very small planet and by sailing, allowing, my orbit became the one that was required. Then I merely allowed a story, never plotting, always feeling and allowing people, sound, life to simply enter.

And if I have not imposed, who did impose? If I have not imposed, what cause the words, these words?

Roses, falling, one by one.

I know this is difficult, but like we tell stories about people to understand love, so it is that we tell stories about stories to understand art.

Here is a story about a story.

I was teaching, and a student, (in Boot Camp she was known as "Peanuts") a lady with grown boys talked about a news report. She had read about a fishing-boat, a trawler which had sunk, losing all hands. Those lives were five fishermen and a carpenter.

Five fishermen’s widows wanted to leave the trawler in the deep. Because that is what they did. That was what felt right. Their men had always belonged to the sea. It was how it was.

The carpenter’s wife was not a fisherman’s wife. She needed her husband’s body. She believed she needed the body, a coffin, a grave, the earth.

She asked for the trawler to be raised.

Now, my student said, there’s some terrible ache here, but I can’t get hold of it. It is a fish, it escapes me.

We talked. We asked each other questions. We asked these imagined wives questions. We would have talked to the sea if it would have answered.

We could feel an answer somewhere, sense a meaning somewhere. And when interrogated, we decided it was “something about the difference between being a carpenter’s wife and a fisherman’s wife, something about fatalism, stoicism, primitive ideas about Neptune or Poseidon, the sea, the cold grey depths. But no, no, no, the meaning would not come, the story would not come.

Then write the opening, I said. Nothing more, nothing explained. Just write these women, watching, as the trawler is raised. What is happening? Who stands where, who feels what? What is the tone, the colour, the music?

I imagined something like: The cranes are ready, they slap down into the green sea and I watch. Soon they will begin to raise the “Dark Moon” and bring out our men. On my left is Martha, widow of a fisherman, the first mate. I am the widow of the captain. On my right is the woman whose husband was a carpenter who drowned with the others.

What came to me, for me was the fact that the carpenter was different, his wife different. They were separate. They did not belong. The fishermen’s widows understood the needs of the carpenter’s wife, so they allowed the boat to be raised. But the carpenter’s wife, the widow, was not one of them.

This is not the opening, merely a simple one of mine, but what the writer’s opening began to do is reveal the crux, the otherness, the separatedness of the carpenter’s wife.

Before the student had started we had got close to the feelings, but any true articulation had been impossible. Now the opening, the voice (far better than the above) had the smell of the answer, the tone required, and the specifics of separateness.

Now all the student needed to do was describe the lifting, inter-cut the dilemma and retain (but never describe) the sense of separation, of difference.

And it worked. The boat is raised. Close to tears now and they bring out the first body, wearing orange oilskins. It is the captain, the narrator’s dead husband. He is laid on the deck.

Then another body. It is the carpenter, a different coloured oilskin, all the fishermen wore orange. The carpenter’s wife says thank-you.

I am not imposing meaning. The student writer is not imposing meaning. We simply feel something but report facts.

It is at this point that the student writes that now they will put the captain’s body back into the trawler, so that he may be drowned again, that he may be given back to the sea.

This might well have finished things, the carpenter still a carpenter, his wife a carpenter’s widow, but, because the writer is following the voice, the feeling, the meaning of the meaning that she cannot touch, spontaneously she wrote that the carpenter’s wife asks for her husband to go back into the coffin-ship.

This was not plotted. This was not planned. What happened for the writer was that the almost-articulatable “meaning” had swollen up through the words and a simple action had revealed what she had been feeling all along.

The carpenter’s wife gives back the carpenter to the sea. Now the carpenter is one with fishermen. The carpenter’s widow is now a fisherman’s widow. There is a closure, a fullness. Nothing is explained, it is all contained within. We have described love by showing it happen, shown understanding by seeing someone understand. The light that will not focus shines all through the work, illuminating, moving, shaping the whole.

Even now, asked to write ten words answering, “What is the theme of this story?” the student is uncomfortable. She should say, “Read the story, the theme is there. That is enough for me.”

I cannot explain love, but I can write stories where people fall in love. I cannot explain, quite, where stories come from, but I can tell stories about stories coming together. I do not want to know exactly what I feel. I just want to feel something I have never felt before.

I want to ache, to feel those roses, falling, one, by one, by one, into the sea.

3,775 words

Philosophy! Philosophy Report 2011-001

2011 was the last year of even vaguely-sane university fees, so a few months ago, as my marriage had disappeared down the Swanee, I decided to sign up "for something", something to give me a focus for the next three years.

I first managed to re-instate my Open University "cred" (I'd not sat a few exams and was "restricted") and duly paid out the £700 UK Pounds for a 60-Point unit (one sixth of a degree) starting October 1st.

By joining then (and I must do a 60-Pointer next year too) I get all or most of the OU degree in £700 chunks rather than the new "bargain" price of £2,500 (COUGH!).

MEANWHILE I managed to get on to a full-time bricks and mortar degree at Birkbeck (London). Big decision time. Should I drop the OU? If I did I'd never be allowed back on an OU course. If something went wrong at Birkbeck, I was stuffed.

So I'm signed up on TWO University courses running concurrently!!!

One small plus is that (this year) both courses are in Philosophy. Next year I can do Economics or Politics with the OU, and "sort of" do a PPE Degree (Politics, Philosophy & Economics).

Today in London will be my third "proper" day. Too early to genuinely comment, but yesterday's lecturers were good and one crazy, skinny Scotsman was superb.

Travel is, at the moment, a bit of a drag, but at some point I expect to move to Reading, just 25 minutes from London, and 15 minutes bus-ride from the college.

On an enjoyment scale of 1-10, I was thinking 3-4 at Induction, rose to 5 Day One, 7 yesterday.

Will report anon.


I’m reading about him now, watching old videos on You-Tube, listening to great music, remembering the awe, the way the world was so open then, and everything bigger, more possible, more new.

I heard last night, in the early hours. He was just fifty-six, impossibly young. Now, smelling toast and coffee, noting that I still beat on, I wonder about him, the him walking away from it, the him returning, the him in suit and dickie-bow, the him in jeans and black T, the older him, the deeper, richer him, the cancered him, the man but the man containing all those other men.

It was so damned cute that little computer, and it talked. It loved its Dad, how could it not?

My son sits in the front room. The television rattles, he has a lap-top on his thigh, a phone blipping tweets, something or other playing in one ear. A hundred miles away a man with a beard talks to him about Business and Finance and my son pretends to listen. This is called being at University. How long is three years, and where will it be? My son just eats it up. He expects this and he expects the next thing; there will always be things and next things and better things. This is how the world is.
For my son.

This morning, because it's morning, because the sun is up, he can slide into a small blue car, be at his shiny gymnasium in minutes, sharpen up, thicken. He already has, no doubt with that something or other in his ear, with messages flying, sticking, accumulating. His life comes dripping in, dropping in. Rise, light up say nothing, just wait. Things will always come.

I am trying to remember when it was the active way. First, survive. We ate fish, we ate meat. We hid from the rain. We held heavy books. We wrote things down. There were mothers and fathers and dark corners and pain.

But for those after us, like my son, things will always come. There is no need for an emergency kit. They will turn up the volume for that something in their ear, the song overwhelming. There will be nothing to worry about. They have seen it all before, heard it all before. And tomorrow, if nothing intervenes, we will repeat.

08:38 Thursday October 6th. Prompts

OK, so a list of writing prompts is not exactly unusual for me, but as well as my oft-posted prompts, a new thing for me. I shall attempt to write a piece, too, (using the prompts) and then post it!

I'll try to add a photo or two every day.

Think of them as prompts. Really tho, I'm posting cos I like the picture!

That was a lucky shot taken at The Emirates Stadium (Arsenal). Half-time and I look round and see these two guys leaning over with the big screen behind them. The shot is "natural" (unprocessed, no Photoshop) but most other photographers argue that it IS Photo-shopped!

Today's Prompts

01 Just Fifty-Six

02 The Smell of Burning Toast, Coffee

03 Emergency Kit

04 Does Anyone know where we parked the car?

05 Victoria & Albert

06 Kindle Hire £152 per half-day

07 She sits quietly on the burning sofa

08 Light the Lamp, say nothing, just wait.

09 The Weight of the Average Cream-Cake

10 First, Survive.

11 I have seen this all before, heard this before.

12 Tomorrow, if nothing intervenes

13 Swamps, Leeches, Snakes and Stuff. It's still the way home.

14 This morning, because it's morning, because the sun is up

15 The Picture Below

16 We eat fish, we eat meat. We eat.

17 TASK: Pick the wildest, heaviest tune you know (eg some Metal/Rock) play it on repeat, as loud as is legal, then write a flash without stopping. Let the song overwhelm you.

18 The boy in the front room

19 How long is three years, and where will it be?

20 Girl with funny accent

21 My Mother's Lips

22 Two Little Ducks, Sweaty Armpits

23 ArseBook

24 I am compelled to pick you up, and pick you up.

A New Start

I have neglected this blog somewhat - lots of life-getting-in-the-way excuses. Mine has gone pear-shaped in the last two years.

Anyway, here I am, back, lots going on and today I set in motion the next 373 days.

It's my numpty-numpth birthday a week tomorrow and so I figured (I often start on a birthday rather than, say, January 1st) I would go for a specific amount of new writing in that "year" and at the same time blog about the other stuff in my life, Open University and a full-time Philosophy Degree at Birkbeck.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Prompts 08:30 Saturday 10th

Reading about Mero

Watford: North Stand

At Night the Dead come down to the river

Filling in the Diary

A very small bird, but still a bird


What we need most we cannot learn

Gold Cloth

How to we hold on to our soul?


Now that you're here, when are you leaving?

A Tenth Anniversary

The Sun Breaks Through


Good Morning, Mrs Tavistock

The red dog roams the hospital corridors

You could come over on Sunday?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Thurs/Fri Midnight Prompts

Everyone knows, of course they do

A little bit of change

Taliban 1 Our Lot 0

At the end of the day, all things being equal


I go back to the garden, the dark garden

Looks like you took a wrong turn

You asked for a man. You got me.

My mother could not look at me

We have grown accustomed. This is how we are.

From my navel, heading south


Darkness slides in, the bar lights flicker


Not far from here, in an old, crusty apartment

The true function of love

Green beans, carrots, nuts and bolts


You forgot how to love me, but not the other stuff

Prompts 0700 Thursday 8th

Mission to Zimbabwe

Archbishop's daunting trip is worthwhile

No longer cuckoo

The party is united behind me

The Mistress

Fingers on Buzzers

Spectacles, Testicles, Wallet & Watch

Why Teacher loves Thomas

Miguel Who Cuts Down Trees

Four children, fifteen years older


90% Downloaded

The charms of the female patient

Slide to Unlock

20 Possible fathers

What's between the covers, stays between the covers

The consolations of philosophy


Lindsey for Dinner tonight

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Try it!

The number of participants grows.

Feel free to come to Boot Camp Keegan and join us for the rest of September's Flash Blast.

It's free. It's fun. It will expand your writing horizons

Tuesday 6th 1100

The Good Hostage Handbook

Angels and the Theory of Knowledge

The Art of Being Good

In Various Scenes Unobserved

The small rocks at the base of mountains


There is a little thrill in killing


She sucked his life from him


The spade rusts

On the banks of the Twyi

Come, child, see the sun as it moves to sleep


Your arrival, and I must leave

Allegedly, it's logic


We try but the rhythm is disturbed, the floor ripped open

The occasional Chinese

I stink, therefore I am.


Translating it back to Welsh

Betty, hush a while, for I have in me a...

Tuesday 6th 0710

And so here I am, trying not to listen too hard

A Bad Back

Meet me at Baker Street

up Three Pounds

Reading Jean Paul Sartre


In my chains, tonight I am singing


Between the Philosopher and a Hard Place


A Cold Wind comes through


He said, smiling, "Bleed on to the page..."

Joining Birkbeck

Like a little boy playing marbles

A Really Good Idea!

At a quarter-to-ten, they sat down to dinner


Murder: the Basics

The Smell of Baking Bread

My Beloved Jailer

When it is not what it will be, or should it be

Monday, September 05, 2011

Prompts Monday 5th 10:40

I am deceiving you

I stood like a God

It is hard to pretend the women are not there

A crocodile, waiting

Come in, friend

Finally, I can feel it. It is turning


We know nothing of days like those, nothing

They are my mothers

Her belly long and flat


What is it, this beauty?

Look at the sky!

The heifer nuzzling the fence

and even if I could I would not

Wheeling and wheeling above the carrion

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sunday 4th Prompts

It's not how good you are

Logic: A Graphic Guide

Call from Australia

Death of a Nation


That changed the world

Year Zero

Killing the Children of Iraq

Truth & Lies

It's how good you want to be

Chaucer's Pouch

A Sort of Theory of Knowledge

Being Good

Eight MILLION Abortions and Counting...


Crowded by Ghosts


Piping in the Valley

I have girdled the earth, I have felt the sun

Friday, September 02, 2011

Friday Prompts

(There are more prompts at Boot Camp)

Bad Luck Bed & Breakfast

Marco Polo Jelly

I hear the men singing

and Tonic

Bertrand reckoned differently

This is your week


The Nation's favourite suicide

Cagoule in the wind

I have to be up at five

The weight of Academia

Oh father, my father, my father

The Ice-Cream Van

Bread Pudding

How my daps smelt then


And so, bed?

Yes, I have a bus pass. So?

Her we go round the mulberry bush

It's all a matter of perspective

McGinty's Cottage

Thursday, September 01, 2011

September Blast Prompts 003

I stumbled down the stairs towards the singing

Raw Mango

It felt like the world was too large

The Generals

My suit does not fit, nor do I.

Not Losing

The broken window, light bleeding on the floor


Of white islands, cold, clear sea

I once was six, without troubles


Cattle trucks clanking slowly. Afternoon Heat


There was a fat man there, with a whistle and a hat

So easily doth love depart, so sudden.

Ten Green Bottles

An aeroplane, lights winking, red-green, red-green-red.


All that morning, all that afternoon, barely breathing


The black maid singing by the line


Watch Autumn, it does not come, it rises through

A face, and in her eyes, stars

They may not mean to but they do.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

September Blast Early Prompts II

I am out most of Thursday so here is a second set of prompts to cover.

01 Suggested Preparatory Reading

02 I like being outdoors.

03 The quiet life of the night-time computer

04 Shoulder to shoulder, the unemployed...

05 All Saints

06 They say you're proud but you are simply quiet

07 On the wind, is it?

08 Wonder Boys

09 The Book of Magic

10 A story beginning: "I am not lying, but I can't be sure."

11 Penicillin

12 The Art of the Generous exit

13 Sign Here

14 I think it's beetroot

15 Do you fear living?

16 She is writing something in the sand

17 Lundy

18 A Dead Professor, probably male

19 Or Chastity

20 Why I shop at the P O.

21 Cruising

22 Do not go gentle

23 Let me die a young man's death

24 Two Dozen Roses