Stowaway

This piece of creative writing is for the purposes of the competition at Ad Hoc Fiction. With only 150 words and this week’s prompt word, “crate”, this competition gives its winner free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award, which boasts of a prize of £1000! Although this is not a lot of words to demonstrate any writing prowess a person may or may not have, this competition runs weekly and is a chance to interact with different writers. I hope you enjoy!


There hadn’t been a quiet day at the docks of Kellford Town for almost ten years. It was the centre of business, with people bustling about, merchants flooding in, and goods overflowing from every stall. It was a hubbub; a bursting collection of noise, colour and people.

There were women calling out, desperate to sell their flowers; beggars waiting for the inevitable clink of a dropped coin; and strong-looking men busy loading crates from one ship to another. These were well-built crates, but heavy.

Perhaps they were even heavy enough for a little extra weight to go unnoticed.

I nestled down in my crate, listening to the noise all about me. They’re too busy, I thought. They’re rushing around out there with their money and their noise, but by the time night falls and the docks finally clear, only then will they realise that their little serving boy has disappeared.

Word Count: 150.

Guess How Much I Love You

This short story is for the purposes for the competition at Creative Writing Ink.

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“This is important, Daniel,” Selene hissed, slapping her husband with the playsuit she clutched in her sweaty palms. “If it’s pink then we’re making assumptions about her future, but if it’s blue we’re doing that, too! And, you know, I was reading a report that suggested that green has military links, and–“ she stopped short to give her husband another slap.

“I know I’m going overboard,” she sighed, putting the pink playsuit back onto the pile in front of them. “I just…” she sniffed, hiding behind her curtain of thick, red hair. “I want this to be perfect… I want everything to be perfect.” Daniel smiled, putting his arms around his wife.

“Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh, I know that it’s important,” he paused, “but maybe not that important.” They smiled at each other, and Selene began to laugh, too. Daniel placed his tanned hand over his wife’s stomach. “The decisions we make now won’t stay with her for the rest of her life,” he smiled. “She’s not going to want to be a soldier because she once wore a green outfit, and she’s not going to be angry at us by conforming to stereotypes and buying,” he paused to pick up the pink playsuit once more, “a pink one”.

“I just…” Selene sighed, taking the playsuit from Daniel to look at it properly. “I want her to be happy, Daniel, and I want to do everything humanly possible to make that happen.”

“I know,” Daniel sighed too, hugging his wife tighter to him. “You want our daughter to have everything that you didn’t have.”

***

Selene stared down into her daughter’s tightly sealed eyes, shuddering with the power of her emotions. She was so tiny, so fragile, and so beautiful.

“She’s perfect,” smiled Daniel from the side of her hospital bed. Selene smiled back, but she didn’t raise her head to look at him; she couldn’t take her eyes off the fragile life form that she clutched in her arms. She was certain that, if she looked away, even for a moment, her daughter would disappear into a tiny, billion atoms, or Selene would wake up, and find that she was still alone in her dusky attic room, hugging herself to keep warm.

Suddenly the image of her daughter before her was tarnished by her memories, as her emotions hit her hard, causing her to loosen her grip on the baby. Daniel rushed forwards and caught her, but Selene barely noticed. Her head lulled back uselessly onto her pillow as images began to flash across her mind.

She was a little girl again, living alone with her mother. She’d never known her father, but her mother was always there. She cared so deeply for Selene that it seemed to break her; she worked tirelessly, barely sleeping, barely even sitting, and yet the money was never enough. Selene’s father had taken everything from her mother, and left her in so stricken a state of poverty, that, Selene now believed, her mother never expected to recover from. They rented the top floor of a block of flats; it wasn’t a complete flat, with only a kitchen and a bedroom, but it came with the attic space that Selene’s mother had attempted to furnish into a room for Selene. They lived, not content, but together, and Selene couldn’t ever remember being unhappy when she lived there.

That fateful day came though, and Selene no longer did live there. A car crash. It was so simple a thing, so common, so seemingly trivial, and yet it ripped Selene’s mother from the world and left her alone. She sat in her attic space, having fled from the police that waited in the room below, and cried more than she had ever thought possible. That had been the worst moment of her life, and, as she was stirred back into consciousness by her nurse, and tilted her head to glimpse her daughter in Daniel’s arms, she knew that this was the best. She would do everything to make sure that her daughter lived the perfect life.

***

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Annabel sat sprawled out on the bigger of the two sofas, eyes closed and mouth open. She sang to herself, thinking about school, thinking about the weekend, and waiting for her dad to finally walk through the door.

She opened her eyes just as she heard the key turn in the lock, and raced out to meet him.

“Alright, alright, champ,” Daniel laughed, pushing her off him so that he could walk through the door. “don’t panic, I’ve got the chips.” They feasted in front of the telly that night, and Annabel got to choose the film. They laughed together, and flicked chips at one another. One time, Annabel hit Daniel right on the nose, at which point he wrestled her to the ground and tickled her all over. Then, at last, he let out those dreaded words:

“Okay, champ, time to go and get ready for bed.”

“But Dad,” Annabel complained openly.

“It’s too late already,” Daniel chortled, ruffling her hair. Annabel sighed and got up to leave, but she found herself pausing in the doorway, her back still turned to Daniel.

Annabel,” he threatened.

“What happened to my mum?” Annabel asked, turning back around to face him. His smile drooped, eyes closing for a few minutes. Annabel waited awkwardly in the doorway, afraid that she had done something terribly wrong. Daniel sighed, and then patted the patch of sofa beside him.

“Come here,” he said, and smiled again, but this wasn’t his usual smile; it was strained – broken. As Annabel came to sit beside him, he reached over to the bookcase, and pulled, from the very top shelf, which Annabel was too small to reach, a very thin book.

“This,” he began slowly, “belonged to your mother.” He handed it over to Annabel, who read aloud the words, “Guess How Much I love You”, and then turned over the page to see two inscriptions, one on top of the other. The first was addressed to a Selene, from her mother, and the second, to Annabel, from hers.

“It was given to your mother when she was a very little girl,” Daniel continued, solemnly. “It meant a great deal to her, and when you were born, she decided to give it to you.” Annabel turned dusty page after dusty page, looking at the strange illustrations of rabbits, and endearing quotes as the little rabbit’s mother explained how much she loved it.

Annabel smiled, but still did not understand.

“Where is she?” she pressed, looking back at Daniel. He rubbed his face with his palms, then leant towards Annabel, placing a tanned hand on her arm.

“When you were very, very small,” he began, “your mother was desperate to give you everything that you could possibly want. You see this house – how big it is? I couldn’t give you this, Anna, but she did. She worked so hard for you, so determined to give you everything that you deserve. She loved you so much, but–“ Daniel clenched his fists slightly, his fingers digging into Annabel’s arm. “She made herself ill, Anna.”

Anna stared at him, eyes wide.

“She died, didn’t she?” she asked, a strange sense of numbness falling over her.

“Yes, Anna, she died,” Daniel sniffed, hugging his daughter tightly to him. “But she loved you so much, just like I do, and that’s never going to go away.” He wiped his eyes and thrust the book back at her. “I want you to keep this book, and whenever you’re feeling alone, scared or miserable, I want you to read it. Your mum loved you, Anna.” He kissed his daughter on the forehead, and took her hand as he led her up to bed.

He tucked her in, turning off her bedroom light before he crawled into his own bed, sobbing silently into the darkness. Annabel lay awake for hours that night, finally getting up and turning her light back on. She reached for the book left on her bedside table, and examined each image, turning the pages with extreme care. As she, too, cried herself to sleep that night, her tears landed heavily on the book, meeting much older tear stains, that had existed long before Annabel. When she finally fell asleep, she still clutched the book tightly to her; she lay in a ball, hugging her knees to her chest, as her thick, red hair, sprawled across the sheets.

Book Review: “Wuthering Heights”

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With its complicated themes and layered narrative, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is renowned for being one of the leading novels of the gothic genre. It is undeniably a fascinating read, if only due to the numerous character and plot interpretations that can be had from it.

However, you should not take this book on if you’re not prepared to be fully committed to the storyline. Lockwood, a seemingly unnecessary character, is, in many ways, merely a device for the story to be told through, and yet the first few chapters resolve primarily on his impressions of the Wuthering Heights building and its inhabitants. Arguably, this gives depth and a better understanding of the isolation that Heathcliff and his family experience, but, in many ways, the gripping story of Wuthering Heights doesn’t really begin until after Cathy’s death, and the relationships within the next generation become steadily more intriguing. One thing must be made clear, though; this is not a love story. It is not a cheerful, upbeat novel in which readers have no choice but to expect a happy ending.

Wuthering Heights is a brutal insight to the class divisions and xenophobia of the Victorian Era, its narrative intrinsically linked to themes of envy, betrayal and revenge. Some critics would even go as far to say that the famous couple, Cathy and Heathcliff, never really had a mutual love between them; perhaps Heathcliff’s insanity produced an entire relationship for his deprived mind to obsess over; perhaps our impressions of the perfect, untainted love between them are, in reality, completely deluded.

Story Starters: A Collection

My biggest problem as a writer has always been sticking to one story after I create the initial opening; it’s too tempting to move onto something new and more exciting! Here’s three story starters, varying in length, that I’ve, at some point, abandoned.

1) This opening story sentence is for the purposes of the writing competition at: Writer’s Digest, with the brief of a maximum word count at 25 words, and the picture prompt seen below.

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A snowy owl swooped low above the forest, invisible against the white trees, and ignorant, for little did it know of the danger lurking there.

2) The flames roared high above them, great waves of smoke towering higher still. They choked and coughed as they ran, ducking and diving around the broken infrastructure that now surrounded them. Time was running out; they were already scorched and burned in more places than they knew, the agony of their wounds occasionally causing them to contort their steps as they raced onwards. Great chunks of wall and ceiling were crashing around them, too, wires dropping down into the fiery mass and sparks exploding from every direction. The reality was that they had entered hell itself, and every runner accepted that fact with a bleak resolution. There was no turning back, and, chances were, there was no escape. Hell had become the endless corridor of fire that they now faced, and they were all too aware of it.

3) The sirens were louder than they should have been. Even before her body crumpled and collapsed onto the pavement, they were there with us, ringing in our minds and pounding in our hearts. Craig was bent over her, muttering to himself and beating the ground with his fist. Little Pete was at his side as usual, waiting for the directions that would never come again. I didn’t need to crouch over her as they did, though, because I knew. In reality, I think we all knew, even before we’d hit her; we’d known even before she’d been lit up in front of my car headlights and Craig had fought to avoid her. There was no use checking her pulse or breathing rate. There was no point, because Kelly Holmes was dead, and we’d killed her. We were murderers.

“We should run,” Craig breathed, turning to face us in the half-dark. “The sirens don’t mean anything. They could be hours away yet.”

“I agree,” Little Pete piped up instantly, not even allowing a breath between Craig’s suggestion and his own sycophantic plea for attention. I shrugged, but I doubted that they could see the slight movement in the darkness. I wasn’t going to run. I didn’t want to run. I was a murderer. I had to stay and face the police, no matter how devastating that would be.

“Dan,” Craig persisted, ignoring Little Pete. “We need to go, now.” I swallowed hard, feeling braver in every new cry of the sirens.

“Then go,” I whispered, looking not at Craig and Little Pete, but at Kelly. She was beautiful even now, her long, dark hair a mess about her shoulders and back, and her slender, ghostly form almost shining in the light from the surrounding street lamps. I’d known her since she was little, from when we’d played together in my back garden. She was dead now. She would never breathe again, never laugh, never smile. She was simply gone.

“Dan, they’ll get you!” Craig whispered, his voice slightly incredulous. I could not look at my best friend, though. He wasn’t like me. He wasn’t feeling this like I was. He felt only fear, whereas I felt only loss, grief and a furious, biting sense of self-hatred. I had done this. “Dan, you know what that means!” Craig persisted, shaking my shoulder now.

“If you want to run, run,” I snapped, looking at Craig at last. “Save yourself. You better hurry up, though. It’s been too long already.” Craig stepped back slightly, confusion edging its way into his fear clouded mind. He looked at Little Pete then, suddenly lost and vulnerable. Pete looked back, and suddenly they were no longer leader and disciple, but two scared boys: criminals.

Without another word, they took off, running in the opposite direction from the houses and sirens beyond them. There were fields not too far off, and after that, the forest. If they made it that far, they were safe. It was said that fugitives and criminals caked the trees themselves, living amongst the branches and leaves on the earthy floor. I used to have nightmares about the place, but for Craig and Little Pete, it had just become the last hope. Maybe, just maybe, they would be okay.

I looked back at Kelly then, and my heart shuddered to a halt, too.

Lean into Me

This piece of creative writing is for the purposes of the competition at Ad Hoc Fiction. With only 150 words and this week’s prompt word, “lean”, this competition gives its winner free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award, which boasts of a prize of £1000! 

An avalanche of emotion ripped apart my soul and threatened to throw me from the Earth’s orbit. I rocked and fell forwards, landing face down in the dirt where no one could see me. They tried to pull me up again, but it was no use.

I didn’t want to see them, I didn’t want to hear their voices, because they didn’t look like her and they didn’t sound like her. No one ever would again, because she was gone and I was alone.

Then soft hands were about my shoulders, gentle, but firm. They pulled me up and hugged me close, a gentle whisper telling me not to open my eyes.

“Lean into me,” she whispered, and, as I was reborn into my childish state, I clasped onto my mother with both hands, sobbing into her chest. I was alone, but I was home.

“The Odyssey”: Poem Review

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The Odyssey is one of the greatest tales of all time, renowned for its influences over other works, its critical commentary of the human condition, and, more importantly, its story.

Unlike Homer’s earlier work, The IliadThe Odyssey is a complex poem with numerous embedded narrators and a non-linear storyline, its protagonist and hero, Odysseus, reflecting on many of his adventures, such as with the famous Cyclops, Polyphemus, and mysterious witch, Circe, after they have already happened. The Odyssey is clearly then a more adventurous work compared to The Iliad, which, in twenty-four books, depicts a passing of only forty days. The later text describes the passing of ten years, Odysseus travelling all over the known world and bringing culture and mystery to the work. More significantly, perhaps, The Iliad features mainly prominent heroes, such as the likes of Hector and Achilles. Whilst The Odyssey does this, too, it also depicts multiple women with developed characters, and even gives a perspective of the world from the eyes of a beggar. In considering the nature of humanity, then, The Odyssey is a clear view of the world of Ancient Greece, considering its beliefs, customs, and every level of its society.

Many readers of The Odyssey struggle with it, perhaps because of its unusual features, such as constant repetition and the use of epithets; these, however, were devices used by the poet when the story was told in its oral form, as it predates the existence of the Greek alphabet. The presence of the “human” gods in the poem may also be cause for confusion, as they constantly interfere with the actions of the mortals around them. However, though these factors may, initially, seem off putting, cultural differences will always be apparent in unfamiliar texts, whether they originated in modern France or historical Ghana. Really, it is worth accepting these differences and embracing the unfamiliar culture, in order to properly process the incredible tale of The Odyssey, for it truly is one worth reading.

What I found most interesting when reading the poem, was the nature of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife. Ancient Greece was a place of the typical patriarchy, where the man ruled the woman and she existed only to serve him. What seems curious, then, is that the “cunning Odysseus” is matched only by the “cunning” of Penelope. To prevent herself from having to remarry in her husband’s ten year absence, she tricks her many suitors, telling them that she will only choose her new husband once she has finished weaving a shroud upon her loom. However, “cunning” Penelope returns to the weaving each night, unpicking her stitches to delay having to choose one of the suitors to marry. This is a clear sign of the intelligence of Penelope, but what is still more interesting, is the question of when she truly recognises her husband.

When Odysseus finally returns to Ithaca from his many “wanderings”, the goddess, Athene, disguises him, changing his appearance into one of a beggar. This is in order to aid him in the destruction of Penelope’s suitors and the reclaiming of his household. However, the beggar Odysseus speaks to Penelope from book XIX of The Odyssey, and what struck me, is that, whilst the true “reunion” between Odysseus and Penelope officially takes place in book XXIII, the “cunning” Penelope may have been far more informed than this would suggest. After speaking with the beggar, she goes from swearing to never marry again, to hosting a competition to decide who the lucky suitor would be. If she truly did not know of her husband’s return, why would she have such a change of heart? And why would the contest play on Odysseus’ greatest strength, that being the bow and arrow? It makes more sense if she knew that he was home, but could not reveal this fact, so as not to ruin his plan to destroy the suitors.

Whatever the case, this argument proves the greatest strength of The Odyssey: its interpretations. With such an ancient story, there have been hundreds of different theories and ideas questioning its every aspect, and there is so much to wonder about. Really, the magic of The Odyssey is then in its reception, just as much as it is in its existence.

Regardless of how deeply you read into the poem’s narrative, this is a story that I feel everyone should be made aware of. It has influenced every book we know today, whether this was done consciously, or not. It is an epic, and a story to take throughout your life.

“The Inferior”: Book Review

 

“The Inferior” is based in a fictional world, which, arguably, could be futuristic. It highlights the main attributes of humanity, perhaps questioning our own society, and yet I consider it light reading that is addictive and pleasurable. Stopmouth, the protagonist hero and main character of the novel, faces humanity’s responses to a desperate situation. His brother, Wallbreaker, betrays Stopmouth on a very personal level, and Stopmouth is left questioning everything that he has ever known. This then leads him to a journey to another land, free from the apocalyptic scene of Stopmouth’s world.

I was intrigued by the way that the author, Guilín, succeeded in portraying murderers and cannibals in a good light, because Stopmouth and his people were forced into eating whatever they could to survive, attacking creatures and beasts to gain their “flesh”, and even devouring their own dead, because survival was everything. Later on in the novel, we discover that this suffering was all for the “entertainment” of those watching them from above, and this brings to mind the potential futuristic feel to the novel; game shows and television programs satisfy our need for entertainment now, but in the future, as children’s games get more and more morbid and dramatic, we could thirst for something more powerful. This coincides with Suzanne Collin’s “The Hunger Games”, where she considers similar ideas.

The power of “The Inferior” is the passion that Stopmouth fights with, even though he is inexperienced, and encounters love and innocence for the first time through his later wife, Indrani. He, along with his people, are brutalised by a society that they didn’t even know existed, and yet they are still human. Instant emotions of pity are evoked for Stopmouth, a boy who had to cope with a stammer for his entire life, and yet dared to believe there was another way to live.

Guilín takes his readers on an exciting journey as Stopmouth’s courage grows, and he goes from being the chief’s scared brother to the leader of his own tribe, who would find a way for humanity to change and adapt; to survive, no matter what the cost.

Personally, I’d recommend reading “The Inferior”, although it must be appreciated that some of the descriptions of the other creature’s in Guilín’s world lack serious description in parts. The novel is well written, though, and easy to read. Personally, I loved it, even as a vegetarian who is repulsed by the idea of “flesh”. It’s because of the potential reality of this world at some point, through the desperation of humanity, and its constant need to survive that I find this novel particularly interesting, and recommend reading it if only to pick up on some of these ideas.