Saturday, December 28, 2013

Cafe Aphra closed for the holidays

Just to let everyone know that Cafe Aphra will be closed for the holidays and will be re-opening its doors on Monday 6th January. 

From all of us here, we'd like to wish our readers and contributors a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR and say THANK YOU for making 2013 such a great one.

May 2014 be full of joy, fun, magic and, of course, writing!!

With love,
Tha Cafe Aphra Baristas

Monday, December 23, 2013

Un Petit Christmas Ditty

Alternative Title :'The Thought-Fox, Revisited by a Drunk Woman'

I sit, fingers poised above keys, shivering in my conservatory freeze
Un petit Christmas ditty, please, would end my struggles, creative pleas
And ploys.
Despite the lack of fuss or noise – the house is quiet of voice and boys
The words just do not want to come.  Unpressed, keys don’t know joy or fun
Don’t make you laugh or make you think or make you feel or make you drink.
Drink. Aha, the very thing.  Perhaps un petit verre de quelque chose
May tease out words, make them flow like harmonies across staves from treble to bass.
(SCRABBLE TO BACK OF DRINKS CUPBOARD, FOLLOWED BY DASH TO CAKE TIN IN KITCHEN, RETURN TO ORTHOPAEDIC COMPUTER CHAIR, CLIMB BACK ON)

I sit, fingers poised above keys, shivering less, crumbs on my knees
Sod the computer, let’s get a pen.  It might work better.  I’ll try again.
Unstraddle heights off computer chair.  Straighten my knees, then prepare
For inspiration - now in ink.  Damn, the taps on in the sink.
Down the hall and turn it off. Whisky and lemon for my cough
Might make me feel more like myself. The honey’s on the highest shelf.
A stool would help.  Put down the glass.  Could be dangerous. Start to laugh.

(SCRABBLE ONCE MORE IN BACK OF DRINKS CUPBOARD, REACH FOR PRINGLES BESIDE THE CEREAL, DECIDE IT’S NOT SAFE ON STOOL SO SIT ON BREAKFAST BAR)

Feel unsteady, where’s my pen? I need it for the, the , the thing again?
What’s it called? A Christmas ditty.  Stupid idea.  Pretty shitty
Thing to get people to do at this time of year when we’re all so witty. Wizzy. Busy.
I canna write and I canna think. I canna rhyme. My pens in the sink
And I’m over here on the breakfast bar. 
And now I hear my husband’s car.
The dog starts barking.  He’s in the door.
( I think I’ll hide down on the floor).
What are you doing Yvonney, he says?
I squint up pleasantly and show him my vest. My lest. My list.

Are you pissed? He gives me his hand.  I show him my list.  He can’t understand
Why the house is upside down, with bottles,Pringles, cake , lemon, honey and biros lying everywhere
 Or why Youtube forlornly performs carols to the empty orthopaedic chair.
Then he gets it.  What a man. 27 years married.  He DOES understand.
It’s the writing group Christmas task. 
What are you trying to write this year Yvonney,      he asks?
by Yvonne Stevenson-Robb

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas dinner

“I wish he’d have told me she was vegetarian,” hissed Cynthia as she hacked at the turkey. “It’s bad enough him bringing her so soon after the divorce.” Awful pompous little man.
Nathan sighed.
“Darling- ”
“I mean, have you seen her?”
Have I ever. “Darling, remember what we said.”
“What did we say? That your brother’s a- ”
Damn sight luckier than me, that’s for sure. “I agree it would have been thoughtful if Mark had told us, but she says she’s fine with a bit of stuffing.”
Cynthia swigged at her wine. I’ll bet she is. Apparently she’s got a PhD. I wouldn’t for the life of me have thought she had a brain under all that hair.
“Well she can’t have stuffing.”
“Why not?”
“It’s got meat in it.”
“Just veg then! But do try to be nice dear, hm?” Nathan whisked her glass and the bottle away as she turned around.  
First Trudy, now Samantha. She must be a double D if she’s a day. Why does my brother get all the luck?
“Thank you so much for bringing in the wine, darling.” Cynthia swept into the dining room armed with an enormous smile and two plates. She leaned over to fill her glass. “Cheers, everyone! Do start.”
The silence was punctuated by chewing and appreciative noises.
God, this is awful. Maybe I should put on some elevator music or something. “I’m sorry Samantha- it is Samantha, isn’t it? I’m so sorry I didn’t have a veggie option for you, if I’d known earlier I would have had something ready, but...”
Here she goes.
“Don’t fuss, Cynthie! At this rate we won’t be finished in time for the Queen’s Speech!” Mark belly-laughed and winked in the direction of Cynthia’s parents.
He’s not even attractive. Must be the money.
Cynthia’s mother frowned on cue.
“I’m sure we don’t need to watch that, do we, in this day and age?”
Oh shut up mother, can’t you see he’s provoking you?
Cynthia’s father leaned over Samantha.
“The stuffing is delicious dear, have you tried it?”
Cynthia opened her mouth as her father heaped Samantha’s plate with it. Oh let her eat it.
Mark waved his hand away. “She’s fine with her veggies! Loves ‘em, don’t you?” he roared, slapping Samantha on the thigh.
Nathan pressed his lips into a smile.
I should have become a doctor too.






by Sara Roberts

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mango

I was out shopping the other day. It was cold and grey, and I’d slogged my way to the market with a heavy heart. The bus was packed as ever - I was wedged into a pack of cold, unyielding south London bodies and the air was thick with tuts and sighs, toothsucking and general disgruntlement, until it tipped us all out in front of Brixton tube.
 
So there I was, walking down Granville Arcade, past the fruit and veg, the African snails, the yam and plantain and green bananas, and all at once I was reading a sign above a pile of nice, juicy fruits that said:
 
Lady, lady, please don’t squeeze up, squeeze up me mango!
 
I felt myself shrinking, softly. It was not an unpleasant feeling – as I got smaller I got warmer, sinking comfortably into myself. My innermost core started to glow, the warmth spreading into my skin.
 
As I shrank, the feelings of London angst began to melt away. I could feel my bones relaxing and my skin smoothing out – oils starting to trickle throughout my system. All the sour feelings were turning deliciously sweet. Drip by drip, a feeling of warm contentment percolated through.
 
I wrapped my arms around myself, hugging in all those good, rich feelings, and I felt my legs being sucked up – my bottom grew larger and firmer to accommodate them. I could feel my bottom starting to glow! My heart started pumping; a steady, rhythmic beat. I could feel my blood circulating - it was turning into sweet and juicy liquid. I was so juicy I could have burst except for the firm skin holding me in. I felt fluid but secure and supremely confident sitting up there under the stallholder’s cheeky sign. I was glowing like tropical sunshine on that cold, dark London day.




 
by Becca Leathlean

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Coffee





The best days start slow. Dawn light leaking
past curtains, weakening as the year turns to face
Winter. The best days pull me behind 
two dachshunds into the world. Always a wonder,
frosted silver, dripping rain, fragrant with old leaves,
new flowers, spit snowflakes or warmed with birdsong.
The best days begin with perfect coffee, dark roast,
chocolate shaken in, one, two, a couple packets
of sweetener, cinnamon dashed, a drop of cream.
Scent of it drags the dogs and me up the stairs,

into the house. They anticipate their breakfast.
Sometimes I mix the ratio wrong. Magical potion
imbalances, and the day follows suit.
The best days catch up correspondence on my tablet in bed,
dogs laid like logs between my legs, cat in the window
daring the sun for warmth. The best days start with stories, I am
still the child who asks for a story before bed.
Stories, poetry, a necessity like air or water or food.
No other cup of coffee matters like that first one. 
It can make or break the day that weaves above the mug 
writhing ribbons of steam.

By Rachael Ilkins

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Softest Hour

My little brother didn’t cry like other babies.  He bleated, like a cleaved pig.  I clapped my palms against my ears - it never helped.

“… a son… to carry on our name… and toss the ball around.”  Our walls were thin.  “…tea parties and dolls… not my thing.”  And dad’s voice carried. 

“We love you so much honey,” ma stroked my arm while she lied, “that’s why we want another.”

I cried into my pillow and dreamt I was a boy.

Pa moved my cups and saucers to the den and made Danny a bed in my garden playhouse.  Come nap time, ma laid him in it, shut the doors – midnight blue – and tiptoed backwards.  As she inched by, she’d press a chubby finger to her lips, tousle my hair and scratch Burke’s floppy ears.  

“Shhhh - it’s the soft hour,” she’d say.  Her winks made me warm.

I never used my tea set again.

It was a crisp autumn morn.  Upstairs, the vacuum hummed and sucked but below, Danny’s shrieks rang out like a bludgeoned porpoise - and split the soft hour.

Our daschund panted when he heard biscuits jostling in their tin; he loved the pink, liver-flavored ones.  I taunted ol’ Burke before I lobbed the treat in my playhouse and pulled open the dark blue doors. 

“Fetch.”

His tail smacked against the plastic walls.  My lil’ brother choked then stilled. His silence proved louder than his screams.

I ran.

 


“… and has your dog attacked before ma’am?”  The deputy was unexpectedly short - I was disappointed by that.   

“Never.”  Ma sounded weary - that scared me more.  From the stairwell, I could only see her when she paced past the threshold between the kitchen and the hallway.  Her heels clacked against the tiles.

Danny had only been dead three days.    

“… then how… I mean… if the doors were…?”

Ma turned her back to the deputy - stood stone in the archway as he droned on, “… but he had him by the throat ma’am.  Must’a jerked him pretty hard… crushed neck and all… ”

Her eyes darted to and fro; then angled up the stairs, docked in mine and slowly widened.  I bowed my head.

“Ma’am?” 



I didn’t go to Danny’s funeral - ma said I didn’t have to.  Pa left when I was nine. 

“It’s ‘cause I killed Danny?”   

Ma arched her back and tugged at the hem of her house-dress.  “Don’t be silly dear,” her eyes like a fish, “you never hurt your brother.” 

“But I did… ”

Ma struck me - for the first and only time. 



Each fall, we take our boy to see his gramma. She’s buried next to Danny beneath a canopy of Balsam firs.   

Someday I may tell them.  But for now, I lay a rose upon each grave… and race my son to the car.





by Chad V. Broughman

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Yagua

Apolonia the midwife took me to a hovel
roofed with yagua, the base of the palm frond.
A squat woman nodded Yes,
I could meet her children.

They lay splayed on long benches:
one deaf-mute,
another blind and crippled,
the last spinning a coconut.

His head bobbed up and down,
his smile never changing
as he watched the coconut wobble to a stop,
then spun it again on endless repeat.

I tried to speak to him.
“These are the fruits of this tree,”
said Apolonia, tugging me gently away.
“You mistake movement for intelligence.”

“You might as well talk to a palm,”
Apolonia shook her graying head.
“Its fronds wave in the same wind
whether you’re speaking or silent.”

Jan Steckel

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Dinner at the Saturnines


“I received a message from a Mister Stamford, informing me that Menac’s to go to his school.” Count Saturnine took a long slurp of his soup. It stuck to his upper lip and dribbled down his chin. Barnaby Featherspoon stared at him before reaching over with his napkin to dab it clean.
“For heavens’ sake,” the Count batted Featherspoon’s hand away. Menac sniggered. His mother slapped him across the back of his head.
“Who is this Stamford?” she asked.
            “Damned if I know.”
            “Damned anyway, I expect.”
            “What was that, my dear?”
            “Nothing, my husband.”
            “Turns out he’s on the Grand Council. Upshot is, Menac’s going there.”
            “I want to stay here,” Menac said.
            “Speak when you are spoken to,” his mother snapped.
            “The boy can speak, wife. Don’t smother him like you always do. Ignore her, Menac. She’s like all women, stupid and vain.”
            “The only reason you aren’t the most stupid, vain person in this room is because that thing is sat next to you,” the Countess hissed, jabbing her knife at Barnaby.
            Mr Featherspoon gasped.
            “Ignore her, Barnaby. Anyway, Menac’s going...”
            “I don’t want to!”
            “You’ll do as you’re told boy!” The Count sprayed soup from his mouth. “You can’t stay coddled up here. Let’s see if they can’t beat a bit of gumption into you.”
            “I have gumption!”
            “You’re a weak, snivelling little shit. We provide everything you require, yet you mope and whinge. They won’t tolerate whingers there, I tell you. They’ll beat you to a damn pulp.”
            Menac’s mother nodded. “You’ll have to be clever, learn how to charm Imperial advisers.”
            “I daresay your mother can give you first-hand tips on charming Imperial advisers.”
            “Your father could give you chapter and verse on diminishing one’s fortunes through inappropriate connections.”
            “As if you had any idea of Georgie’s position at Court!” Mr Featherspoon spat.
            “I’ve an idea it’s much the same as yours,” she snapped.
            “I am clever. I don’t whinge!” Menac shouted.
            “Go to your room. The sooner you’re out of this house, the sooner I can murder your blessed father!” His mother threw a silver vase at the Count, complete with flowers and water. It landed on his dinner plate.
            “Oh you’d like that. You’d turn this house into one big, gaudy ballroom. I’m going to the colonies. I’d rather bake in the heat or drown in a monsoon than spend another hour with you.”
            “You know Imperial advisers think you’re a preening monkey?”
            The Count stood, throwing back his chair. The Countess leapt from hers, wrenched a carving knife from a servant who was preparing to carve a goose and threw it. It flew, point first, into the rug. The Count slapped his wife’s face. She fell next to the fireplace, picked up a poker and whacked him between the legs. The Count went down cursing. Barnaby ran around, screeching, and snatched a handful of her hair. Menac crawled under the table and slipped from the room.


by Audrey Miles

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

3 - 2- 1



And so we've arrived at the final countdown. The last few days of November are waiting.

How's it gone? Here in New England it is the evening of the 26th. The supermarkets are crammed with turkeys, and every conversation focuses on how far people intend to travel for Thanksgiving. My mind rests upon how this month has gone for everyone. Did you make the progress that you hoped for? Did you conjure the words, or edit the words, or polish the words to the extent that you planned at the start of the month?

And the thing I wonder about most, as we visit this little cafe that sits in the cloud, is how our target-setting and aspirations have affected our writing practice.

I will be the first to confess that I have struggled. Those first few days when I found time to write for an hour and work on my opening chapter were soon lost: I was preparing for my GRE examination, drafting my applications for university admission, chasing down pieces of paper which evidenced the marks and levels of my previous education. To be honest, it could have been anything. It was a series of those moments when real life interrupts one's writing - familiar to all of us, I am sure.

In the middle of the month, I felt as though I had fallen off the bandwagon and I watched with envy as emails arrived explaining how well it was going for other writers. But I scrambled and floundered and snatched at words, doing my best to reestablish a kind of writing practice.

And I found it. My first chapter - my goal for this month - has not been fully written, but it has segued into a short story which has taken me in directions I had not expected. And my commitment to my writing practice has resulted in:

  • a concretization of some of the major characters in my book;
  • a short story set in Vermont about social disengagement, the recession, and gun ownership;
  • a personal statement and the collation of a manuscript for my university application;
  • and a renewed sense that as a writer I am not alone. 
The last of these is the most precious. I can visualize Linda Dawn writing at her desk in Toronto; I can hear Sara's voice offering guidance from her home in Spain; I can imagine Dale working in Cardiff and Jan finding her pen in California and so many other members of our community who are scattered across the globe and who come together in this place because of their interest in writing. 

I hope that you'll feel able to comment on how it's gone: to drop me an email, to comment on this post, or send a message via our Facebook page. Our successes - that determination to snatch some time, to find some words, to write - is worthy of celebration. Despite all that November has thrown at us, we're still writing, we're still wanting to write, we are still writers. 

Enjoy the rest of the month (and, if the mood takes you, eat turkey). 

 


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Space Between the Words




The Space Between the Words


Now you have gone into that space
Beyond language

You have gone into the pauses in our conversation
The time beyond time and time within time

You are in those moments when we sit in the audience
Waiting for the curtain to rise

And the end when the curtain has closed
And the actors have taken their bows

You are within the pauses of the bird’s song
When we strain to hear the next note

In the water between the fish
In the traveller’s silence within a foreign language

You are in the air that fills the sky
In the moments after the sunset

You are between night and day
Spirit next to soul

You are in the space between the words
The moment before the artist picks up her brush

By Vicky Letterman

Thursday, November 21, 2013

One Moon, One Star

  
There is just one star in the sky when she pulls herself out of the water. Glancing up, the moon hides against blue-black infinity, shows itself, then hides again. Bursts of cloud weave, dance, disguising chunks of the moon’s white surface nibbled into scalloped edges. The green and white sea flexes it’s power, playful, deadly, siren-dangerous, as always. The tide begins to turn. She must be careful. The sea can take you back if it wants to. She can’t go yet. Not yet.
The salt tastes delicious around her mouth. She scents the silt and seaweed remembering green, purple and darkest blue from her water world. Warm wind washes over and around her and welcomes her at last to the land. She is exhausted but cannot rest; her time here is measured by the tide. There should be enough, just. Yes, there should be enough. This is not her first time.
She turns her back to the sea and the single star, shining softly down on her, and makes her way, slowly, up the sand. Now the crashing water starts to subside. She barely notices and continues to force her way up the beach, purpose intact.
A lifetime later, a constellation of small sticky pearl-green shells huddle, glistening, in the moonlight. One thump at a time, they are covered by warm white sand, as the moon’s edges are stolen into a different shape. The thumps continue until half then all her investment is covered, leaving only tell-tale mounds of effort.
She turns back and makes her way to the water’s edge. She looks up, disorientated because now hundreds of stars stud the sky. She remembers the point where the single star was fixed and turns, finally, in the right direction. She notices, for the first time, others dragging themselves back to the water scratching parallel lines behind them. They, too, are ready to be taken by the tide. She turns towards the clouded moon and silently slips away.


 by Yvonne Stevenson-Robb

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lullaby for a Winter Evening



Lie down and let me tell you about snow
about geometry and silence
two parts cold to one part marvel
let me tell you of the twofold
mystery of its nature
how a single flake
dissolves at once
how two flakes linger
when they gather
whitely on the ground

Lie down and give your face to snow
drifting down like petals
in a spring orchard
taste it on your tongue
a fleeting kiss of ice

Lie down and listen to the wind
wind through the apple trees
twisting the bare twigs
into complex runes
against a curtained sky
spelling out a recipe
for snow

Sally Zakariya

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In Sickness and In Health


His feet repulse her. It’s her own fault. She threw a pair of socks at him telling him to put them on and keep them on. He just took it to heart. The socks, one folded into the other, were odd. One yellow. One black. He’d not taken them off. Not for days.
       He’s lying on his side now, away from her. She reaches out to his back. It’s freezing. She squeezes her eyes, waiting to hear him not breathing. Ten, nine, eight. How long should she wait. Seven, six. The bedside clock quietly matches the seconds. It’s years since the alarm went off but the ticking is soothing. Breaks the silence. He used to rise before her. Brought the tea. Left the house at eight.
      He snorts - a mix of breath and snore. He moves his foot back, brushing her calf. She stares at the ceiling, moving her legs to the edge of the bed. Stretching one foot from under the quilt she wriggles her toes. Long wisps of grey hair spread out on the pillow. He needs a haircut. And his bloody feet. Toenails. The heating’s come on. He’s still sleeping. She gets up.
       The steam from the kettle mists up the window, there’s no way of knowing what kind of day it will be. This bit of the morning is the best. Alone and quiet. Now the hour’s gone back it feels lighter, like you’re waking earlier. She stares at the disappearing pattern on the window and pulls his cardigan round her. Hugging her arms she smells him, back when his feet danced and chased her round the table.
       Her throat catches a sob before it breaks. Head bowed, she feels him behind her, his hands gripping her shoulders moving to rub the back of her neck. Massaging her tiredness. Kissing her hair. His feet so light, he’d creep up to her at the sink. Grabbing her, spinning they’d dance a while, kiss and laugh. Giddy memories, unsteady like young love.
       It’s getting lighter outside. He’s not down yet. The flutter in her chest stabs a bit, worse than yesterday. She puts the kettle on again to drown out his shuffle, one hateful foot at a time. She keeps her back to him, eyes closed. She feels sick but swallows it. He’s behind her. Helpless arms hanging.
       Will he say her name? If so, it won’t be a bad day. He mumbles and she can’t make it out. She takes his cold rough hands as they slowly two-step to his chair. He leans in to her, his cheek touching hers - like a waltz. He kisses her forehead and hums a tune, letting her take his weight. She takes his burden laughing at his tune - the wedding march.
       He falls back in the chair smiling and she forgets for a moment that his feet repulse her.

 

by Pauline Moore

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Falling off the bandwagon


Cafe Aphra's Alternative NaNoWriMo has been getting some great feedback from a steadily increasing number of writers. People have been telling us how they've been more committed to their writing through setting their own targets. These conversations are less about how many words we've written and more about our reflections upon our writing practice - how and where and why we write. We've been celebrating and sharing our writing and our reflections upon writing via this blog, the Cafe Aphra facebook page, through emails and face-to-face conversations.

And this all makes me feel more guilty about the fact that I have fallen off the bandwagon. It's not just that I've slipped. One minute I was there, sitting among the trombones and the music boxes and all the other bits and bobs which would be part of any halfway decent bandwagon, and the next minute I'm all alone watching everyone else share the bandwagon's journey over the horizon.

There are many excuses I can offer: I've had ongoing problems with my eyesight so it's been difficult for me to work online and my computer has been going through an unexpected adolescence which has involved tantrums and sulks and all the histrionics that one might expect from a teenager; I've had endless visitors and childcare crises and I've been left with both biscuit crumbs and small children hiding behind my sofa. My tumble drier started smoking, the house rabbit ate the edges of my notebook, and my dog tried to eat the edges of my landlord's handyman.

But however many excuses I can offer, the relevant thing is that I haven't been writing these past few days. Not a page. Not a sentence. Not a word.

My writing has been through dry spells before. My husband tends to notice before I do: whereas many a loving spouse might ask their wild-eyed wife if it is her 'period', the corner of my husband's mouth merely twitches with resignation as he observes that 'maybe I should do some writing'. This dry spell is different though. I've been able to look through the emails and comments of the other people who are writing in Cafe Aphra and I know that I'm not alone in the struggles that life throws our way. It's part of the process of being a writer. Our writing practice is as much about navigating the challenges of the everyday as it is about the content that we put down on the page.

And being party to other people's struggles is a good way of putting one's own challenges into a different perspective. A few days ago, I was feeling very sorry for myself. To keep with the metaphor, I fully expected that the bandwagon should turn about and come back for me; after all that's what friends do, right? And then I received an email from a friend within Cafe Aphra. Her email resonated with the words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer: "I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine of your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it." She didn't want the excuses or the reasons why I wasn't writing. Our emails bounced back and forth for a little while, and then she went back to her writing and I realized that what I need to do isn't to focus on cleaning up the biscuit crumbs and mending the tumble drier and worrying about the computer. I need to pick myself up, brush myself off, and chase after that bandwagon. I've got a notebook and an ink pen and a new pair of reading glasses. I'm ready to climb back on board.
"We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act, but a habit."
— Aristotle

Monday, November 11, 2013

Danzas Nocturnas

You like dark corners, forbidden places
Just the things I say ‘no’ to.
A rebel spirit stirs your
Contrary and unstilled blood,
A memory of ancestors that can still
Be glimpsed in your wilder moments.

You are a faux agent provocateur, sir
Running with the pack when it suits you
Posturing before the rest of the neighbourhood’s
Petty brutes and hoodlums.

You seek me out in the middle of the night
Pushing through the bathroom door and pausing
To pour yourself onto my lap, an ecstasy of purring
As I sit and pee and stroke your head.

When you wake with a comic expression
Of sleepy slant-eyed resentment
And yawn enormously with a foul little belch
I am amazed by the extending length
Of your elastic yoga-stretched body.

Little sausage, fly-hunter
Tip-toe dancing bull fighter,
You pounce on the prey of your imaginings
Then wrap your tail in a circle and sit in it
Picturesque as a Chinese vase
By the fireplace.





by Sara Roberts

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Flash yourself unstuck

Do you need to kickstart your writing this month? Has your November challenge so far been less than prolific? Don't worry.... several of us here at Cafe Aphra & Friends are in the same position. 

Today I successfully avoided working on my novel by starting on my next assignment in the online flash fiction writing course I am doing, courtesy of Fish Publishing (which I would warmly recommend). One of the tasks in today's section on dialogue was the following:

A husband has crashed his wife’s car and has to tell her but is avoiding coming out with it directly. The wife didn’t insure the car and at some point has to come clean about that too. Build a dialogue that has no lines of summary, no attribution, no description of tone, no characterizing of voice or words; just two voices. 

Because you have no attribution - no he said or she said - you must portray those silences and pauses through punctuation. With only their exchanges you must deliver who they are, what sort of people they are, the subtext and where they are in time and space without letting it seem forced or contrived. 

150 to 300 words. 

(Adapted from Richard Bausch’s exercise - Character and situation through Dialogue)

I immediately felt motivated to start writing and once again witnessed the power of flash fiction to get us unstuck when we are in a writing rut. The results may not have been been brilliant, but I had fun doing it and it gave me a sense of satisfaction at having achieved something - indeed, at having finished something! A rare gift indeed.

So I thought, how about suggesting this to all us NaNo writers out there this month who are looking for a way back into writing and rediscovering the joy of it? 

If anyone feels like giving it a go, they can post up their results here as a comment or email them in and we'll publish them as part of our Flash Fiction Fridays series. (Check out this week's great story by Derek Dohren by the way, 'Elena'.) 

Go on - try it! 
What have you got to lose?
;)



Elena

I suppose what first intrigued me about Elena was her long jet-black hair. Despite her advancing years, she looked like a Disney princess. I imagined she had an army of little animal helpers who did the washing up at home while she sang sweet songs and brushed her tresses. On more than one occasion, I found myself lingering a little longer than was decent on her siren features. I must rein that in, I thought. Mustn't make it obvious.
Other blokes in the office had warned me. Geoff Breen had had a nasty run-in with her. He'd fantasised about her long enough before making his move, but she'd cut him dead. He was so screwed up about it. "I don't know whether I want to shag her or punch her," he'd told me. "Maybe both, I don't know. She's a right cow. Probably lesbian." We'd laughed. The problem is that Geoff doesn't understand women, not like I do. You have to be a bit smart, you know, sensitive. Now I was seeing Elena for the first time I could see what the fuss was about.
If the shimmering hair provided the initial hook, it was a curious dichotomy in her personality that held me captive. She was an unlikely alliance of disparate ideologies. She had this strict Catholic upbringing thing, evident in the slightly pinched features she projected when making a serious point; the cross and chain she allowed to drape over her clothes. Not so much Madonna, more Mother Teresa - no, Joan of Arc. Hard but still feminine, you know.
And yet more dominant was a Bohemian outlook personified by the deliciously floppy hat she tossed onto the coat-stand as she arrived at our meeting. That, and the madly erotic whiff of her musky perfume that spoke to me of something molten beneath the skin, a throbbing sexuality. It just needed the right man. I fixed the knot in my tie. Christ, was that a marijuana plant tattooed on the back of her neck?
"So", she said (looking specifically at me), "What do you think Michael? You've been very quiet."
"Oh, I completely agree", I heard myself croak. " We can't always be seen to be beating our staff with a stick."
"What?" exclaimed Martin. "You were all for cracking down hard this morning. 'Give them the dole queue if that's what they want', you said."
Elena smiled. Without taking her eyes off mine she announced, "Martin, you have to remember that changing one's mind requires one to have a mind. I think Michael's being very sensible."
She ran slender fingers through her hair and a fresh rush of perfume hit my nostrils. Did she wink at me? Clearly, I had her in the palm of my hand.
"Michael, this is bollocks,” Ian said. "We can't back down now. The press will slaughter us."
"Well, Michael and I now see eye to eye,” said Elena. "It's clear there's some mileage in talking this over."
Elena fixed her gaze on Martin and tossed her hair. I knew it was for me. I fumbled for the knot in my tie. Geoff Breen's going to be so jealous, I thought.


by Derek Dohren