Monday, 22 April 2013

XI


Confession: I like to ask questions and understand things. 

Sometimes: It annoys people.  

Elevators: The Most Awkward Encounters

I stood in an elevator today, or, as some people call them, lifts. Anyway, whatever we want to call them, I was in one today. I pushed the button, watched the doors open, stepped in and allowed it to take me to the correct floor. Then, the doors opened and two people staggered in - a couple, of course it was a couple - and they clicked the button, stood together and waited to be taken to the correct floor. And the three of us did the ordinary things - we stood in silence, averted our eyes, our insides clenching. Occasionally, they whispered to one another - they wouldn't speak loud in such a confined space. I looked up, wishing to god that the whole experience would be over. We hit floor 4. Not mine. Not theirs. But another person came in as the doors opened. Another person who clicked the button and stood in silence, staring at their shoes, counting the minutes for when they would reach their destination. 

As I said, awkward. 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

1950s

This is what it looked like to be happy in the 1950s.


And sad.



And the solar system.


And the one of the Prime Ministers.


This is what weddings looked like in the 1950s.


This is what homosexuality looked like in the 1950s.


And war.


And peace.


2000s

This is what it looks like to be happy in the millennium. 



And sad.



And the solar system.


And one of the Prime Ministers.

File:Gordon Brown official.jpg

This is what weddings look like in the millennium. 

0810-1-new-elie-saab-wedding-dresses-spring-2013-009_we.jpg

This is what homosexuality looks like in the millennium.


marine kiss

And war.


And peace. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Something Found.

Maria Clara Eimmart, Phase of the Moon, Phases of Venus, Aspect of Jupiter, Aspect of Saturn

I was talking to a friend of mine about what degree she would have done if she hadn't done English and this got me thinking myself. I think if I hadn't chosen English as my degree I would have chosen many other things: astronomy, psychology, symbology, theology, film or art. I was in Paris a few weeks ago with my friend Dionne and she convinced me that I should do a course in art history. I may just do that. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Liar's Room


This is an experimental short story. I wrote it as a sort of reaction to the film 'Carnage' which I loved but I don't think it worked completely. In terms of stories, however, I had a very exciting idea when I was in work today. More to come...

THE LIAR’S ROOM
BY THOMAS STEWART

When it’s finished there’s a moment of silence. Then comes the soft sound of curled paper. Eyes glance upwards and the teacher speaks.
            “So,” says Erica, eyes quivering over the tip of her glasses, “what does everyone think?”
            Silence again.
            “Penelope, what about you?”
            Penelope looks up. “I thought it was very good. Very good descriptive writing.”
            Erica nods. Mouth ajar. “Anything else? Anyone?”
            Alastair shuffles in his seat and edges forward. “I thought it was very good but if you look on page four there’s a large paragraph which could do with some trimming. There’s a few very long sentences.”
            “Such as?” (Erica again.)
            “Erm...well line two. It’s like five lines long.”
            “That’s true,” says Lydia, smiling, sheepishly, toying with the pen in her hand. “I get carried away and – I know I did it here with this story – just bang out really long sentences.”
            She chuckles and a few select people smile in response – Marcia and Penelope being the main ones.
            “What about you, Ben?”
            “It was very good I just thought...” Pause. “...Erm...in parts it could be very subjective.” He looks down and fumbles with the pages. “On page two for example, she says ‘blacks are bad’.”
            “Yes but that’s the character,” says Jamie, frowning.
            “Oh was it? It wasn’t in quotations.”
            “Quotations there, Lydia,” Erica chuckles.
            “Anything else?”
            Ben smiles and sighs “no” before sitting back in his seat.
            “Matthew?”
            He looks down at the page, his pen posed on the heading. Alastair looks over his shoulder and sees none of the pages have been marked. “It’s good. It’s good. There needs to be some punctuation needed but –”
            “Where?”
            The voice takes Matthew by surprise who turns in the direction.
            “I’m sorry?” he responds.
            “Where does the punctuation need to be?”
            Alastair glares at Matthew, his words shimmering forward.
            “Uh...” Matthew looks down and pulls the pages apart. “Page five, second paragraph, there’s a lot of ands and no commas. There needs to be something done there.”
            “I disagree,” Marcia says.
            “Do you?” (Matthew.)
            “Yes. I thought that added to the affect.”
            “Right.” Matthew smiles, meekly. “Subjective.” He addresses the class. “That’s what I love about the world – difference of opinion.”
            Alastair looks at Ben. The share a glance and roll their eyes.
            “And our relationship,” Marcia whispers, just loud enough for everyone to hear – which is what she wants.
            “Barf,” says Jamie but nobody hears him. He bends down to his bag and drops his head below the desk. Nobody notices again but he swigs from a flask, twists his head sharply and shoves the flask back in his bag.
            “Lydia,” says Erica, “how did you feel having it read out?”
            “I didn’t think it was as bad as I thought...”
            Ben leans forward and scribbles on his page. Alastair looks down at sees the message – “FUCKING AWFUL!” – he nods in response.
            “...It needs another draft.”
            “Indeed,” Erica agrees, “what about the content everyone? The story is essentially a stream of consciousness, a woman’s thoughts about the fact her husband ran out on her. Did we like the woman? I...I’m assuming it’s a woman.”
            “Yes.” Lydia smiles. “It’s a woman.”
            Nobody speaks. Everyone avoids eye contact.
            “Ben?”
            “Erm...as I said before I just think it was perhaps a bit edgy in places.”
            “But it was the character who said it,” Jamie says, edging for his bag again.
            Ben still stares at the table. His neck twists with annoyance. “Yes but some readers may perceive the character’s thoughts to be the writers.”
            “It’s stream of consciousness.” (Jamie.)
            “Yes, but,” continues Ben, “it’s stream of consciousness which is dangerous.”
            “What about American Psycho?” Matthew says. “I don’t think Bret Easton Ellis is that fucked up – oh! Sorry! Excuse my language.”
            Erica shrugs.
            Ben frowns. “Do you not? Can you not deny you were thinking ‘whoever wrote this is fucked up’?”
            “Perhaps but this is not about a man murdering people.”
            “No, it’s about a woman being angry that her husband left her for a black woman.”
            “Does the black have any significance?” Penelope says, leaning forward. She speaks with her quiet, delicate voice that can barely be heard.
            Lydia shrugs and smiles. “It just came to mind.”
            “Could you chop it?” Alastair offers, looking over his copy.
            “Perhaps,” Lydia replies after she gulps.
            “You’ve written a lot, Al,” Matthew says, “what else you got?”
            Alastair bits his lip but speaks. “It looks a lot but it’s just little things. I’m a madman with a pen.” Alastair chuckles to himself.
            “Like what?” Matthew asks.
            Alastair grips his pen. “Um...in some areas there’s some failed metaphors.”
            “Failed is a bit strong,” Erica blurts out.
            “Right, not failed just...they don’t come across as strong as you would want.”
            Lydia nods and makes a note.
            “What about you, Marcia? You’ve been very quiet.”
            “Sorry.” Marcia looks up and removes her glasses. Her copy is also full of notes. “I was just re-reading. I think there’s a lot of stuff going on in this piece.” She looks at Lydia, right in the eye. Directly. “I just think...I don’t know...erm...in places it lacks what you’re trying to say. Like, I understand you are writing in first person – really getting under the character’s skin – but you don’t do as accurately as you want.”
            Lydia’s shoulder rolls. She smiles. “Could you explain a bit more, please?”
            “Um...well on the third page she’s talking about how they both met and she fell in love but she says she didn’t love him entirely. By the end she says she loved him forever and her words, the way she talks in this piece she sounds quiet weak.”
            “Maybe love has made her weak,” says Jamie, his eyes rolling as he goes for the flask again.
            “Perhaps but I don’t think she’d react like that.”
            “I disagree.” Ben leans forward. “She is a strong woman but she seems to have been damaged by love –”
            “I also disagree. I don’t see how someone that strong could change so drastically. Love doesn’t do that, surely. Well,” she laughs, “it hasn’t to me.”
            Lydia shares the laugh, politely. “Sometimes it’s different.”
            Marcia touches Matthew’s hand under the table.
           
Ben comes forward in his chair and looks at Lydia. “I think you need to go through it and consider who your audience is.”
            “Audience?” she says.
            “Yeah, like what are you trying to say.”
            “I thought that was obvious,” Lydia responds, “she is angry her husband left her.”
            “Yeah but some of the stuff she comes out with –”
            “Like what?”
            “Like...” He finds the page. “...I gave myself to him and he tore me a part. We don’t hear his side of the story –”
            “It’s not a court of law, mate,” Jamie mumbles, the vodka evidently hitting him. “She’s pissed that her husband left her.”
            “Yes but she’s going a tad too far with her anger, don’t you think?”
            “No,” Lydia says, laughing again, “that’s what people do.”
            “Crazy people,” Ben says. He makes a wheezing sound and looks in Alastair’s direction. The wheeze is more of a giggle.
            “And what does that mean?” Lydia’s voice cuts through the room.
            Silence.
            Eyes glare at one another.
           
“From my experience,” intervenes Matthew, “I would say this needs another draft as it doesn’t really tell you completely what she wants because I think the writer doesn’t know completely what to say –”
            “It means,” Ben says, “that there’s a lot of bitter ‘I hate love’ stuff coming out of people these days.”
            Lydia shrugs. “That’s life.”

“What do you mean ‘your experience’?” Alastair snarls.
            Matthew turns. “What?”
            “You said ‘from your experience’. What do you mean? You have never work-shopped anything.”
            “Maybe not but I write.”
            “Exactly. But you can’t understand what it’s like to have your stuff looked at by everyone.”
            “Writers need thick skin,” Matthew says, shrugging.
           
“People do hate love now,” barks Lydia, “that is the way of life; you can’t always have a happy ending.”
            “I know that,” replies Ben. “Alastair never writes happy endings but there’s happy and depressing. That’s the line.”

“Alastair’s right. You’ve never work-shopped anything.” Marcia speaks with a frown. “I haven’t read anything of yours. Why have I never noticed this before?”
            “I don’t like sharing it,” Matthew says, simply.
            “But I’m your girlfriend.”
            “Most people write the truth in their stories,” suggests Penelope, out of nowhere. All eyes swirl to the quiet girl in the corner.
            “Do you write stuff you don’t want me to read?” asks Marcia.
            “No.”
            Alastair’s eyes widen with disbelief.
            “I write some weird stuff in my stories,” Jamie says.
            “We know,” snaps Ben, “we have to listen to it.”
            “Don’t get pissy at him,” Lydia says, “we hear your attempts at novels every week.”

“Do you write stuff about us?” Marcia lets go off his hand.
            “No. No.”
            “I saw you begin writing something about love. Was it about your unhappiness or something?”
            “Of course not.”
            Alastair leans forward. “Lots of writers write about their lives in their fiction.”
            Matthew spins around to face him. “Shut your mouth, Alastair!”

“My attempts at novels? What does that even mean?”
            “Attempts,” Lydia snaps, “you never actually succeed.”
            “None of us have! We’re students you fool!”
            “Yes, but –”
            “What? I haven’t written snippets of things for a year, is that what you mean?”
            “Snippets?”
            “Yeah. It’s harder to write something complete than a big moan that lasts ten pages!”

“I’m just saying,” Alastair says, “you’re evidently shy about your writing because it’s personal.”
            “Oh and you would know all about personal?”

“A moan? You said it was good before!”
            “I never said it was good,” Ben snaps.

“What does that even mean?”
            “It means,” says Matthew, “your stories are more fucked up than Jamie’s.”
            “Who said my name?” Jamie says.
            Matthew’s lip curls. “Are you drunk?”

“So you disliked it,” Lydia says. “Why didn’t you just say that?”
            “Politeness. We all do it. We all say it’s good when it’s not.”

“I can’t believe you write about me,” Marcia growls. “Is it bad stuff?”
            Matthew looks at her.

“Why are you drunk?” Penelope speaks, softly.
            Jamie shrugs. “Problems, ini?”
            “That makes no sense.”

“So why exactly was it not good?”
            “It was a moan!” Ben shouts. “It wasn’t even well written!”

“For your information Matthew,” Alastair says, “fucked up stuff works.”
            “But if it doesn’t...you’re just fucked up and nobody pays you for it.”
            “What is your problem?” Alastair spits.
            “I don’t know. What’s yours?”

“My problem is we’re not as perfect as I once thought,” Marcia says out of nowhere.
            Matthew looks at her again. “Marcia –”

“Not well written? That is rich coming from you –”

“- It’s just private, that’s all –”
            “Private, yeah right –”
            “- It is! I –”

“Rich coming from me? Give me an examp –”

“You’re a very cold person, you know that, Matthew?”
            “Look what you’ve done now, Alastair!”
            “I’ve done? I don’t see how this is my –”

“I can give you a ton of examples. That opening chapter about the man and the dog –”

“Of course it’s your fault –”

“Jamie, you have a problem. Why would you get pissed in a class? It’s –”

“That was well received by Erica. She said you understand the man and the –”

“It’s not my fault. Just share your shitty writing with your girlfriend –”

Suddenly the bell rings and the lesson is over. The teacher has stopped speaking. The room falls to silence and everyone’s eyes drop to the ground. 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

..

What They Should Really Teach Us In School


“I've been making a list of the things they don't teach you at school. They don't teach you how to love somebody. They don't teach you how to be famous. They don't teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don't teach you how to walk away from someone you don't love any longer. They don't teach you how to know what's going on in someone else's mind. They don't teach you what to say to someone who's dying. They don't teach you anything worth knowing.”



I was having a conversation the other day with my friend Beth and we started talking about things they should teach you in school. When some kids at the age of fifteen don't know their two times table teachers are going on about algebra, this is one thing but the rest are the kind of things life throws at us but we're not prepared for. School, with its cold, grey walls and numerous bullies and wicked teachers, are the years we prepare, right?

1. How to Deal with Money - Gaiman's right, they don't teach you about money, most importantly being poor. Students - and I know this from experience - are usually poor, mainly because a lot of us are bad with money and think we can go out five nights of the week (a tenner for pre-drinks, thirty for going out, not including taxis) so they should teach you about managing money, being smart, not whimsical.

2. How to Drive - I don't know why driving is now a money-making business. It annoys me. Here's why: public transport is disgustingly expensive and public transport, they say, is there to encourage people not to drive and cause accidents. So either public transport should be free and driving shouldn't or vise-versa. However, public transport will never be free. Driving is a handy-skill. I don't know how to drive and I wish I did so they should teach us how to drive free of charge and teach us about road safety, yes it sounds boring but if you plant that seed at a young age I'm sure it will work.

3. How to Clean - You watch your mother do it and maybe your parents should teach you this but how the hell do you clean? I cleaned my house today and it still doesn't look like the way my mother would do it. It seems simply. Spray, wipe but it never looks as sparkly clean as your mother's work, eh? Maybe this one should be called 'learn how to be a mother'. 

4. Sex - They should teach you about sex. Not in a peado way and not in an awkward 'I'm a teacher' kind of way. My sex education consisted of "yes you're going to have pubes, yes your penis will grow, one day you will start sweating and form BO." It was more an awkward healthy lecture than sex. They don't tell you how the hell you put a condom on without it hurting, or that the first you have sex it's gonna hurt like hell or that maybe, somewhere in the world, men may want to have sex with men and women have sex with women. I went to a Catholic school and I'm not saying all of the teachers were homophobic but the idea that people of the same gender would have sex was completely bypassed. Well, then again, so were a lot of things in the sex classes. 

5. How to Save a Life - No, not the song, although it is a great song. No, I'm talking about how they should teach you general CPR. I learnt it when I opted to do a life saving course but I'm not very comfortable about doing it now, I remember bits but nothing major. If someone dropped down in front of me and I needed to give them CPR I would probably crack a rib or something. Start with that in school and then we can opt to be re-taught.

6. How to Read Bills - Last year I was the head tenant in my house, a position I happily gave up - or more said I would never do again - when I moved into this house. I had never read a bill in my life nor had I ever paid one. 'Direct debit', what? So I muddled through and ended up paying a huge motherfucking load of money at the end of the year when I was skint and broke and eating noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Vital.

7. How to Cook - Yes, we had cooking lessons in school but we learnt how to make a cheese...thing and angel delight (yes they taught us how to poor some shit from a bag and mix it and then my poor parents had to eat it and pretend they enjoyed), they taught us how to make crumble and jam. When will we ever want to make crumble? Teach us how to make food we can actually eat and survive on. How long does chicken really take? It browns very quickly when you fry it but is it ready to eat without me dying? Teach us how to make Spaghetti Bolognaise and fajitas and normal things. I made crumble many times ever since that lesson not because I wanted but because I had no idea how to make anything else.

8. Another Language - English is spoken by a lot of people. However, a lot of my friends - me included - want to learn another language. We feel ignorant that we don't know one, ignorant that if I walked into a supermarket in France and attempted to speak French they would immediately switch to English, watching me struggle. We should struggle through the limited French we know but enough to get us by, then the option to be fluent in it should be offered. For me, in school it was compulsory to be taught Welsh, all I remember of it is how to say "can I go to the toilet please" only because if we didn't say it in Welsh the teacher would look over their desk and not allow us to go until we got it right, a wicked "you may pee yourself but I don't care" grin on their faces. 

9. How to Get a Job and Keep a Job - I've had three part-time jobs and in each of them I was taught Healthy and Safety, if I had been taught about this in school it could have saved me a lot of time and a lot of forms I had to read and sign. I got my first job because my best friend's mum was the manager, my second through a friend and my current job through another friend. Yes my CV helped but I had no clue how to go about getting a job. Teach me where to look, how to look and how to be prepared for an interview. Now I know but only because I had help.

10. How to Really Love Books - OK, it's not really something you can teach but it's something I think should be enforced. I don't really have a quarm with the way I was brought up in terms of books mainly because I grew up loving them and I completely understand why not everyone loves books, it's natural to not like them just the same way as I don't like football but I guess what I'm saying is we should be taught about all books. Teachers can't obviously teach several different books to several different people just because those people prefer the books but I guess what University has taught me is that everyone's taste is different and that should be thought about. When I read Of Mice and Men I hated it, it wasn't for me. And when I don't like something, I don't do it very well. When I read Macbeth and The Tell-Tale Heart I loved it and wrote two very good essays on it so I guess books should be more enforced to the different tastes of the students. Teach us that. 

There are more, just as Gaiman said - how to love, how to deal with un-love, how to deal with death or depression or the feeling of emptiness but I don't think you can teach that nor can you prepare someone for it. The list, however, may be things you are taught in life but I think they are things we can be taught and prepare for. 

Friday, 5 April 2013

My Favourite Books and Why

When I'm bored in work I usually ask the people I work with questions. One question I'm always apprehensive about asking - for fear of the 'I don't ready' answer - is what's your favourite book. Favourite books change, of course they do, for any constant reader you will discover new and powerful books. So, with that thought, I am aware a long time ago - for the dedicated blog fan, I'm sure you are out there - I am aware I did a my favourite books list but here's a new one, some old favourites but new additions. 

1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy -  When I first read this book, I hated it. I thought it was boring and the whole no speech marks thing was not something I was comfortable with. But recently I was writing an essay on Raymond Carver's 'The Ducks' and comparing it to The Road and saw its sheer brilliance. The way McCarthy strings sentences together, the brutality, the honesty, it was all there, I just missed it. 

2. Lord of the Flies, William Golding - This is an old favourite. Everyone I mention this book to either says they love it or they hate it - the majority of the haters, it's interesting to note, were forced to read this book at school and I, having been forced to read Of Mice and Men understand that hatred. I own four copies of this book - yes, I'm a nerd - but I love it. It's poetic and tragic. And, it inspired me to write my short story The Broken Fly which was published in this years edition of Daps.

3. Little Children, Tom Perrotta - Perrotta is the kind of telling writer I love. I hate myself for having watched the film Little Children before I read the book but the book was so much better. Spectacular even. 

4. The Child Thief, Brom - I was obsessed with fantasy when I was a kid and I think I kind of grew out of it - not saying that you have to be young or immature to love fantasy. But that love did stay a little and this is why I admire Brom. The Child Thief is his best yet, his latest novel is on order. 

5. The Works of Raymond Carver, Raymond Carver - Carver is just a genius with short stories. I've learnt a lot from reading his work. His style seems easy, almost lazy, but there is so much more to what's on the page. 

6. Collected Love Poems, Brian Patten - This is a new addition to the list. I bought this book on a whim, not really liking poetry but finding it bearable. I always found poetry a bit 'wishy-washy' as my mother would say, it just didn't do anything for me, move me even, until I read Patten's work. These poems are the best poems I have ever read just for their complete honesty about relationships and love. Don't be fooled by the title, some of these stories are not about happy love. 

7. The End of Mr. Y, Scarlett Thomas - An old favourite. I read this book the same time I read The Raw Shark Texts so I kind of associate the two. What I love most about this book is its first half where Ariel discovers the book and is doing her PhD. It makes me want to read and write and do a PhD. 

8. The Red Tree, Shaun Tan - I don't know how I found this book but I'm glad I did. Tan is the honest voice for children everywhere. And, what's even better, it works for adults too. 

9. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte - I left this one until the end because its a book that I discovered in my second year of University and immediately fell in love with it - ironic that I fell in love with a book which is about a love that will never work. Heatchliff and Cathy crop into my every day life, into my own work and my own idea of what work should be. Gotta love Bronte. 

10. Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates - Once again, I watched the film before I read the book and I hate myself for it because Yates is one of my favourite writers. Poetic and yet tragic. You will be torn between who you favor, who you hate, April or Frank. I will always be an April fan. 

Daps 2013

There's this thing in my University, it's called Daps. It's the annual Creative Writing anthology that nobody ever knows anything about. But through the years it has become much more loud - submit! come to the launch! etc etc. This year I was co-Head Editor along my good friend Hannah Barry. Daps assembles a board in which we sit around and talk about the submissions we get through and decide which make it into the final volume (below.) 

This year my short story The Broken Fly and poem The Wolf's Secret were published. My friend, Hannah, had her poem Knife Sleep and short story Moments published. Sam, my roommate, had his story Just Friends published. Last year, my other roommate, Dom, had his poem A Prayer for Oscar Wilde published. For us, as wanna-be, young writers its nice to see your name in print, in a book that you put a lot of work into as well as your own writing. 

A little selling tool - Daps is avaliable to buy and will continue next year, pioneering creativity. 

(The Final version) 

(Our poster)

(The Editorial Board 2013
Florence, Kirsty, Roberta, Sam, Verity, Dom, me, Hannah & Emma)

(The Editorial Board and the Writers)

(Co-Head Editors, me and Hannah, rocking our speeches. What am I saying? I have no idea. What is Hannah thinking? 'I wonder if he's noticed his fly is open mwhaha.)