I won Camp NaNoWriMo 2017! (sort of)

Before this July, I had never done Camp NaNoWriMo. I’d done NaNoWriMo, in November, twice, and won once. I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo this year because I thought the motivation of a concrete goal would be very helpful in my attempt to write the first draft of a novel over this summer – I’d found the same motivation helpful before, so why not now?

The thing I didn’t realise about Camp NaNoWriMo before starting that I absolutely loved is that you set your own goal. In my case, I set it to 30,000 words, and began. Then, once I got my work schedule through, and it got towards the end of the month, I decreased this to 15,000 words to keep me motivated. What happened when I did NaNoWriMo the year before last is that the month got away from me, and halfway through November, I only had 6,000 words, and no feeling that I would be able to achieve the 50,000 word goal, so I gave up. With an editable goal, this is not the case. The only issue with this is that as the month draws to a close, you might be tempted to edit your goal down to what you already have and call it a day. You’ve just got to have the self-discipline not to do that.

The key thing that I took away from this is clear: having a goal kept me motivated. Through writer’s block, through tiredness, through procrastination, through lows, and through sheer laziness, I had a goal to work towards, and so I did. And though I may not have a full novel, I have certainly worked out a lot about the world of it that I hadn’t already thought of through simply having to essentially live in it for a month. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone – at the price of free, it provides the motivation that anyone like me so desparately needs to get your butt into gear and write that novel that’s been sitting in your head all this time. And, if you’re like me, work out quite a few teething issues with your story along the way!

Origami Cranes

Fold one thousand paper cranes in your life, and you will get a wish, so the legend says. Given the amount of time it takes to fold one thousand paper cranes, very few people have completed the task. Amelie was a rare exception.

She had learnt to fold cranes at the age of ten, and found the movement with her hands, having something to do, calming. Initially, she made them just for fun, but before she reached sixteen, the origami had become a coping method, a way to deal with her scrambled brain and butterfly heart. It was the racing heart that had led her to reach for the paper a few minutes before the strange thing appeared in her room.

She had just made the last fold, crisping the edges with her fingernails, when the thing appeared in front of her. It was tall, but looked like it was somehow standing wrong, as if it were a dog standing on its hind legs. It had a nose that came somewhere between an elephant’s trunk and a pig snout, with a mouth just underneath it and two white, aged tusks protruding either side of it. It was covered in iridescent fur, with a stripe of white running down the centre of its back and finishing in a tuft at the end of its tail.

‘Hi there!’ Its voice was a low growl but there was an unmistakable sense of friendliness to it.

‘Um, hi?’ Amelie’s eyebrows furrowed as the creature gave no further explanation of itself, despite a lengthy pause. ‘Can I help you?’

‘Oh, sorry, completely forgot. You just folded your thousandth paper crane! Congratulations!’ It pulled out a party popper from somewhere on its person and set it off so that the strings of paper adorned Amelie’s hair.

‘I’m sorry, what?’

‘You know the legend – fold one thousand paper cranes and you get a wish!’

‘And you are…?’

The creature shook its head, looking briefly at the floor. ‘I always forget to introduce myself! I am your personal wish granter, my name is Baku.’

‘Your name is what and you’re my who?’

The thing’s – Baku’s – smile vanished, replaced with a look of disdain. ‘I am Baku, you folded one thousand paper cranes, I am here to grant you a wish.’ It muttered something about how modern people had no appreciation for the old gods anymore before looking back to Amelie, smile back on its face.

‘And why should I believe you?’

Baku perceptibly rolled its eyes. ‘Look, you see these tusks, and these claws,’ it said, pointing to each of the body parts respectively, ‘if I wanted to kill you, or hurt you, I would have done so by now. I can see you just finished folding a crane, is there anything so crazy about this all really?’

Amelie sat down on to her bed, feeling slightly sick. Her hands instinctively reached for the paper as her breathing quickened, unable to take her eyes of this thing that was in the room. She looked down at the paper, breathing slower, and deeper, with each fold. Her hands had slowed to an almost imperceptible tremor when she asked her next question, her eyes firmly on the crane. ‘So what are my options?’

She slowly looked up to see Baku brighten. ‘Right, let’s get into it then! There are three rules: you cannot wish for anything that would directly harm another person, you cannot wish for anything that would upset the natural order of things, and you cannot corrupt any person’s will.’

One idea jumped to the forefront of her mind immediately. ‘I wish for you to cure my anxiety.’

Baku titled its head, and frowned. ‘I don’t think that would be wise. You see, to do that would require resetting a deep-rooted psychological pathway very suddenly. It’s too dangerous.’

‘So there are more than three rules?’

‘I’d say that one’s more of a guideline.’

Amelie crossed her arms. ‘You won’t do it though. What about super speed?’

‘I can do that! But from what I’ve seen, the novelty does soon wear off. Just a warning.’

Amelie rolled her eyes. ‘I feel like you’re being deliberately obtuse.’ She wouldn’t normally have been this honest with someone that she had just met, but this was a something, not a someone, and besides, the entire situation seemed to have sent her brain into partial shutdown anyway. For now, it was easier to go along with everything and pretend it was all normal. Her fingers still fiddled with the crane she had folded, making the wings flap.

‘All I’m saying is this decision is not one to be made in haste. Wishes can’t be undone, and you would do best to make it worthwhile rather than ending up wishing that you had wished for something better your whole life.’

‘Alright then.’ Amelie slumped back in her chair, placing the origami crane on to her desk, at the end of a row of around ten others. ‘I have some thinking to do.’

Baku sat on the floor and curled up like a cat, yawning. ‘Wake me up when you’ve decided.’

Amelie grabbed a piece of paper and began to write ideas for wishes down, scribbling them all out one by one until half an hour later, she was left satisfied.

Unsure how to wake up Baku, she cleared her throat. It didn’t stir, so she poked it, very gently, with her pen cap. It yawned, stretched, and stood up.

‘Ready to make a wish?’

Amelie nodded, and told it.

‘That’s a pretty good wish. And I have heard a fair few wishes in my time.’ Baku raised its two front limbs and closed its eyes. A teal light shone from somewhere behind it, surrounding it. The light disappeared, and Baku opened its eyes and smiled. ‘Your wish is granted.’

‘You know, you have some sort of gift,’ Amelie’s friend said to her as they lounged on a picnic blanket at the park. Three dogs surrounded them, jumping into Amelie’s lap, all fighting for attention, trying to lick her face and laying down on their backs, presenting their stomachs for belly rubs.

The owners came running over, each apologising and trying to get their dogs back. Amelie just smiled at them and pushed the dogs back to their owners.

‘Something like that.’ Amelie smiled to herself, feeling a kind of peace for the first time in years.

The War that Started it All

Innumerable days and nights of fighting, piles of dead bodies, and it had all come down to this. Margaret stood facing Horatio, a battalion of fairies, trolls, dragons, unicorns, and who knew what else behind her, a battalion of human soldiers behind him. A smattering of humans stood beside her, glancing furtively sideways and then back at the heavily armed soldiers behind Horatio, clearly unsure as to whether they had chosen the right side.

‘It doesn’t have to be this way, Horatio. Please, we can live in peace.’ Margaret knew any pleas were futile, but that didn’t stop her trying.

‘We can’t live in peace whilst these beasts,’ he gestured to the creatures standing behind Margaret, ‘insist on trampling our land.’

At the claim over the island, the trolls growled, prompting a roar from one of the dragons that sent a fireball into the sky.

‘It’s not your land Horatio. It’s no-one’s land.’

Horatio smirked. ‘You’re just too weak, Maggie. Too weak to take what’s rightfully yours.’ He put his hand to the hilt of his sword. ‘And that, sister, is what will be your downfall.’ He raised his sword and the human battalion charged forwards. Swords clashed with axes and clubs. Half the soldiers were cooked within their armour.

It only took a few moments before the fighting was over, and the soldiers – the ones who could still stand – retreated. Most of them lay dead or dying; the few who were lucky enough to only be injured sat howling in pain.

The dragons were sitting on their back legs, licking the scratches that the swords had covered their bodies with. The fairies who weren’t injured flitted around, helping the wounded on both sides. The humans had all run, from both sides, leaving only those who could not move on the battlefield.

‘It didn’t have to be this way.’ Margaret was crying now, tears forming rivers through the mud and dirt caked on to her face as she took in the sight off all the bodies. ‘We can live together peacefully.’

Horatio had somehow survived, and other than a gash along the side of his torso which had already stopped bleeding, was unharmed. He sat up, clearly incredulous.

‘Do your eyes not work? Can you not see what these monsters did? How can we co-exist with such violent, dangerous creatures?’ His voice rose to a squeak with the last question as he gestured to the creatures, who were, for the most part, unharmed.

‘You provoked them.’

‘I did no such thing! I only tried to take land that is rightfully mine.’

‘We only arrived here ten moons ago, and you think we have the right to all land on this island? These creatures have existed here peacefully for so long…’

‘These creatures are not as intelligent as us. They don’t deserve the treatment we give them, let alone what you are suggesting.’

Horatio hoisted himself up to standing and climbed on top of his horse. ‘I’m going to protect us, sister. Make sure you’re on the right side of those barriers. There’s still a chance for our stories to remember you fondly.’ The hope in Horatio’s voice was pitiable. His mouth stayed fixed in a frown, but it trembled slightly, like a toddler on the brink of a tantrum.

Margaret had lived with Horatio for so long that she had no hesitation as she said, ‘Don’t worry, brother. I will,’ turned away from him, and walked into the line of the trees.


I’m currently doing CampNaNoWriMo and this serves as a sort of short story precursor to the main body of the novel, and something surprising came out of just starting with an idea in the world and letting myself write! I would recommend it to anyone suffering from writers’ block to move past it and potentially take things in a direction you might not have previously considered! Also Camp NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo itself is great motivation for getting that novel that you’re so desperate to write down on the page or screen – and that, so I have been told many a time, is the first and most crucial step in any writing project.

© Alyx Hurst 2017

137th Best Dad

Dean rolled over in bed, keeping his eyes firmly shut in an attempt to convince himself that he was still asleep. He knew he had mere seconds before his four- and seven-year-old alarm clocks went off, especially as he could feel the weight of his wife, Jodie, in the bed next to him. Apparently, a lie in on fathers’ day was too much to ask for.

Right on cue, the bundles of joy burst into the room, bounding on to the bed and bouncing on top of him. ‘Happy Fathers’ Day Daddy!’ they yelled, without even waiting for him to open his eyes.

Pinned to the bed, he turned his head a fraction and blinked a few times to clear the sleep. His daughters’ faces came into view. Poppy, his eldest, was leaning over him so her gap toothed smile was just inches from his nose, whilst his younger daughter, Niamh, was wriggling around the end of the bed.

‘Good morning monsters.’

They shuffled around so they were laying between him and Jodie and he sat up.

‘We have a present for you Daddy!’

Dean saw Jodie subtly pick up a wrapped up box from her side of the bed and hand it to the girls as she sat up. The girls took it and shoved it at their father with boundless glee.

‘Thank you, girls!’ He ripped into the packaging, revealing the mug in its colourful carboard packaging. He smiled and sighed, before turning it round and reading what was on it. ‘Is that what you think of me then girls?’ He laughed, confused. ‘Where did you find it?’

‘Yeah, we think you’re the number one dad in the whole wide world!’ Niamh shouted, jumping up and down on the bed.

‘No, you think I’m the number one hundred and thirty-seven dad in the whole wide world.’

‘What do you mean?’ Jodie leant over to look at the mug. ‘That’s not the mug I bought.’

‘Huh?’

‘I bought a generic number one dad mug, Dean, and I wrapped up a number one dad mug, just like a million other mums did in preparation for today.’

‘Very funny.’

‘We got you the number one dad mug Daddy, we promise!’ Poppy’s lip quivered. ‘I’m sorry!’

‘I get it, it’s a joke pumpkin, don’t worry, Daddy’s not upset.’

‘But we did though!’

Dean shushed her and turned on the news.

‘We bring you breaking news that many people across the globe seem to have woken up to their “number one dad” mugs becoming slightly less complimentary. Each mug now appears to have a different number on it, and from what our sources can gather, currently there is one number assigned to each father. The cause of this change is not yet known, but it is not considered sinister at this current point in time. Stay tuned for updates.’

Poppy and Niamh had lost focus and were playing a game on their iPad.

Dean narrowed his eyes. ‘That’s weird.’ He shrugged, rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom. ‘Mind if I hop in the shower first?’

‘Dean. Your mug – and many other mugs across the globe – just mysteriously changed to a random number. Are you not at all concerned?’

‘Nothing we can do about it. Besides, if we do have to deal with some sort of situation, I would prefer to be dressed.’

Jodie turned to the kids, seemingly giving up on her husband, and tried to coax them out of her and Dean’s bed and into their own rooms to get ready.

They left the news on constantly at Jodie’s insistence, waiting for some sort of explanation. None was given.

‘Are we still going out for lunch?’ Dean asked Jodie, looking at her whilst her eyes stayed firmly fixed on the television. ‘The table’s booked for one, and we kind of need to get moving if we’re going to get there on time.’

‘I don’t know, all of this stuff is a little ominous, I’m not sure if I want to go out until we know what it is.’ Jodie chewed her lip, her eyes remaining focused on the reporter who was going through some theories with a scientist of some sort.

‘Well, whatever it is is far more advanced than we are, so I don’t think we’ll be any safer in here than outside. I don’t see why we should let this little mug incident stop us from having a nice lunch.’

Jodie stopped her nervous lip chewing and turned to her husband, incredulous. ‘I don’t understand how you can be so unbothered by this.’

‘Well, I am. Are we going out for lunch or not?’

She rolled her eyes. ‘I suppose so. Do you mind getting the girls ready?’

‘On it.’

Five minutes before they were due to leave there was a ring at the door.

‘I’ll get it!’ Dean called. He pulled open the door and bit back a scream.

Standing in the doorway was a figure around four foot in height, with at least one and a half of those feet made up by a long grey head that bulged slightly to the left and right at the top. There was an eye in either side, and one in the middle, the left one jade, the middle one amber, and the right one sapphire; they blinked independently of each other. From the chin down the creature was a translucent grey blob, from which six arms protruded. It pulled something small and shiny out of itself and pressed a button. The small opening its face that Dean presumed to be its mouth opened and some strange sounds came out. The creature let go of the button and the thing started speaking.

‘I am an official from the Jamoray, here on duty for my peoples with the authority of the Intergalactic Federation. Can I see the father of the house’s rank please?’ The voice was flat and robotic, none of the syllables quite flowing together.

‘My rank?’

The creature held out its shiny thing and listened to it make noise before speaking what Dean presumed was its answer into it.

‘Your father rank.’

This has to be linked to the mugs, Dean thought, maybe if I show him my mug.

‘I’ll get it.’ He turned, debated whether or not to leave the door open for a second before leaving it ajar and dashing to the kitchen. He grabbed the mug off the side, still in its packaging, dashed back to the door and held it to the creature. The creature held out its shiny thing and a light that looked like a scanner came from the device. The creature pulled another device that had also been previously suspended in its gelatinous body and pressed a few buttons. A spotlight seemed to shine over it, and something around the size of a loaf of bread fell from the sky. The creature caught it, and spoke into the device again. The device translated.

‘Father one three seven, this is your charge. Take care of your charge or risk punishment, which can be a substantial fine, jail time, or death depending on your infringement. Thank you and goodbye.’ With that, the creature turned and flew upwards towards the spotlight. The light shut off, and Dean was left holding his “charge”.

He looked down, and what he could only presume to be a baby version of the creature that just gave it to him stared back. As he stared, it transformed, skin becoming opaque and changing colour to match his, head growing smaller and the middle eye disappearing, and a tuft of black hair growing over the top of its head. The middle pair of the arms retracted into its body, whilst the lower pair moved downwards, the hands at the end changing into feet.

Dean almost dropped it.

‘Who was that?’ Jodie said, walking down the stairs, ‘I saw some weird light coming from out…’ The words died on her lips as she saw the bundle in his arms. ‘Dean, what is that?’ The baby creature was focusing on its face now, growing a nose, a human mouth, and ears. It giggled.

‘Could you turn on the news, honey?’ He tried to keep his voice as calm as possible so as not to frighten Poppy and Niamh.  ‘And I think lunch is cancelled.’

‘…just getting reports in that many people are receiving strange baby creatures that have transformative powers. Here is some footage we’re just getting in.’ The news report showed the same thing that Dean had just seen happen on his doorstep happen somewhere else. ‘The creatures are transforming into human babies, and within the blankets they are wrapped in come what appears to be a set of instructions.’

‘Put it down Dean, find the instructions.’

He did as Jodie told him to, and found a piece of paper that said exactly what the creature had told him, with a couple of ‘guidance notes’ underneath

‘This baby will transform to look like one of your own species. Do not be alarmed, this may take a few days. After a week, your charge will be entirely human [human was bolded and slightly separate from the rest of the text] and you can treat it as such. Until then, please feed it only a designated portion from the food packet enclosed.’

On moving the baby, which was now only slightly gelatinous in form, Jodie found a foil wrapped packet, which was segmented into twenty-one sections.

‘Good luck with your charge, and as always, best wishes from the Intergalactic Federation,’ the instructions finished, along with a stamp that was a crude cartoonish drawing of three planets and a rocket ship.

They turned back to the television. ‘The numbers we reported earlier appear to be a global ranking of fathers, from best to worst.’

‘If they’re a ranking, that means I’m one hundred and thirty-seventh best dad in the world. That’s not too shabby,’ Dean smiled, clearly pleased with himself.

Jodie rolled her eyes. ‘Well done. Can we now please deal with the matter at hand?’

At that point, the girls clearly got bored of whatever they were doing and came running in, stopping short when they saw the squirming creature sitting on the side.

‘Mummy, Daddy, what’s that?’ Poppy asked, pointing to it.

‘This is your new brother. Surprise!’ Dean told them, quickly wrapping it back up in the blanket and picking it up. It looked like a boy, he had to presume it was one for the minute.

‘A baby!’ Niamh squealed, running over to them. Jodie grabbed the papers and food packet off the side with one hand, and guided Niamh with the other.

‘Yes, a baby brother. Shall we have some lunch now?’ Jodie said to the girls, putting the creature’s things on top of the fridge on her way to the table.

Niamh and Poppy sat at the table, but the questions did not stop. ‘But your tummy didn’t get big Mummy?’

‘No, because this baby is special.’

Special is one way to describe it, Dean thought as he stared down at the face of the creature, which now looked almost fully human, with just a slight ripple under the surface of its skin. He sighed, pulled out a chair, and sat down cradling the baby, hoping, as part of him would hope for the rest of his life, that this was all just some sort of weird elaborate dream.


I’m currently working on a longer form novel so this is just something short and silly that I thought appropriate as it’s Fathers’ Day this Sunday! I got the idea from this prompt on the writing prompts tumblr account, and I just thought it was a funny idea, started writing, and this is where it went. Hope you enjoyed it!

 

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: brilliant inside and out

I had heard about The Girl of Ink and Stars many times from many people before I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave – it was Children’s Book of the Month not once but twice at Waterstones, (later going on to win Children’s Book of the Year), was a Financial Times Book of the Year, the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year, was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Award, and was shortlisted for both the Jhalak Prize and the Branford Boase Award. Not only that, but many people I trust for book recommendations and follow online, such as Carrie Hope Fletcher on YouTube, read it and recommended it. And I, as an aspiring young adult author, really wanted to read it.

Initially, many other books got in my way. Naturally, studying an English and Creative Writing degree, I had a lot of poems, novels, short stories, and plays to read for my course, and these obviously took precedence. Everytime I walked into my local Waterstones, there was a lovely display of copies of the book, in windows or on the tables, and I desparately wanted to pick up a copy, but just… didn’t.

But then I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave. She came to do a guest lecture at my university about writing “children’s” fiction was inspiring, especially for someone like me who sits working on my young adult novel whilst my friends work on amazing pieces that sit nicely under the label of ‘literary fiction’. She was incredibly lovely, no pretenses that the process was easy as she projected the word counts of her numerous drafts to show how the first draft was never the finished product, frank talk about the effect of mental illness on her writing process and how she battled through it, and information about the way things are done publishing-wise either side of the pond. She also discussed with us how ridiculous it is that some books are considered better than others due to their genre, a sentiment I very much share. Needless to say, The Girl of Ink and Stars jumped up my reading list, and I bought a copy almost immediately. And I am so glad I did.

The first thing that amazed me was the beauty of the whole book. The cover itself is gorgeous, but the pages themselves are where the true amazement lies. Each page is decorated like a map in keeping with the protagonist Isabella’s dreams and her father’s job as a cartographer. The result is that every page feels like a step on the journey that the characters undertake, mapping out the unknown of their island. I’ve never seen pages like it, and I urge you to pick up the book if only to see the pages.

The only potential issue with a gorgeous cover is that sometimes the contents don’t quite live up to their presentation.

This book definitely did not have that issue.

The story centres around the character of Isabella, who volunteers to guide a search for her friend after she gets lost in what the people of her village call ‘The Forgotten Territories’. More than eager to explore the island and chart it on a map, following in the footsteps of her father, a cartographer, she ventures in to the Forgotten Territories with the search party, and finds herself facing a lot more trouble than she initially expected.

The exposition of the story is slow and subtle, revealing a world that is not too dissimilar from our own – after all, Kiran Millwood Hargrave does say that the places in all of her novels are real places, but they obviously feature some slight embellishments. The relationships between the characters are great – I particularly enjoyed seeing the friendship between Isabella and Lupe, as a focus on friendship rather than romance is so refreshing to see. The mythic elements were really interesting, and tied well into the rest of the plot.

The only complaint I have about this book is that I feel it could have been a little longer. As it was, at just over 200 pages, I felt the world wasn’t explored to its full potential. I would love to have seen adventures spanning over the whole island in depth, as there are some villages displayed on the map that are barely visited, only for a page or two, and some that are not visited at all. The world of the book was so great, it just seemed a shame to leave it at what felt almost like the bare minimum exploration, especially when the protagonist talks about how much she wants to explore the entire island of Joya throughout the novel.

Overall,  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and adventure, and wants to read something refreshing.

The differences in planning

One curious thing that I have noticed when talking to other writers about how they write is the amount of planning that goes into their work. Some people plan so much that the story is basically written for them, others start with nothing more than an idea and a blank word document.

A quote on this point comes from Zadie Smith, who famously starts with nothing more than an idea: ‘How does anyone begin a story knowing how it will end?’. I am inclined to side with her slightly on this matter – whilst I do have a general plot planned for everything I write, I change things as I go along, as what sounds well in a plan doesn’t necessarily flow well in the real thing. It’s the reason I have to write in chronological order except in exceptional circumstances – I can’t risk wasting my time on writing pages and pages that may not make sense when I write what preceeds it. I do however know someone who had a 5000 word plan for his novel, and just wrote within that. Which to me sounds crazy.

But my planning has reached another level – I have a page in my bullet journal dedicated to tracking the progress of my ideas, with a checklist of initial concept, characters, developed plot, chapters planned, reception of my ideas by my friends and family, the type of narrative… the list goes on. And I only feel comfortable starting to write when I have all these things ticked off, which presents a potential problem:

Satisfaction.

Many people experience this issue – as soon as someone says that your idea is really cool, or seems excited by it, sometimes you can be satisfied by that and the wind leaves your sails. You don’t have to write it, because by that one person, or multiple people, saying that the idea is cool, you’ve received all the recognition you need and subconciously, you stop. This same thing sometimes happens to me with planning novels. If I, like my friend, wrote a 5000 word plan for a novel, I would stop. To me, it’s basically done by that point, no matter how much that is not the case and the actual novel would be more like 70,000 words long.

So, in short, don’t be guilted by other people in thinking you have to write a long plan like I was. Different things work for different people, and there will always be people that do more than you, and always people who do less. You have to find the rhythm that suits you best, you have to keep that satisfaction at bay until you have finished and you are truly satisfied with what you are written, so ignore everyone else, and get writing!

The Value of Comedy

After being set yet another text to read on my degree course about dark, depressing topics, I began to wonder why it is that we never study anything happy. This is not the first time I have considered this – my course mates and I actually asked the lecturer we had for the first half of this term whether she would set any short stories with an upbeat tone. She thought about it, and admitted that no, she hadn’t set any happy short stories, and the fact that this was not a conscious decision made me think about it even more.

There is a general trend through the study of literature to study texts that explore darker themes, with sad endings. In my sixth form, I studied a total of twelve texts, and one of them – The Importance of Being Earnest – was a comedy. The rest consisted of five tragic plays, two novels with murder as a central, recurring action, two poetry collections exploring the futility of life and the sad state of society today, and one graphic novel about the Holocaust. Delightful. Then at GCSE, it was Of Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls that we studied, To Kill a Mockingbird before that, etcetera, etcetera. But why is this? It seems as if we almost give texts that are tragic a higher value, but why?

It could be considered that texts that are comedies are seen as having less value, as they aren’t necessarily texts that we think about afterwards. When the curtain goes down at the end of All My Sons after the gunshot, the audience are left thinking about the morality of the characters’ actions, and how they could have reached a less tragic conclusion to the one that they have seen. But when the curtain goes down at the end of The Importance of Being Earnest, the audience are left smiling, maybe talking with the people that they are with about the hilarity of some of the scenes. This difference does not mean that Wilde’s play does not include explorations of themes related to humanity, but instead that these explorations are not as often noticed. In this instance, the only way to give more value to comedies is to give them literary value, in a sense, by studying them more widely.

Do we feel that if we take simple enjoyment from a piece of art, it is worth less than something that leaves us churned up inside? This idea could be less wacky than it sounds – think of popular fiction. More often than not now, a text being ‘popular’ means that it is less valuable, ‘popular fiction’ is used as a derogatory term by some literary scholars and snobs. But how does that make any sense – surely a text being more popular means that it’s better?

Or is it simply that we view comedy as trivial? To do this would in itself be stupid – it will be the comedy produced now that will clearly portray to people of the future the attitude towards politicians, celebrities, and culture at large. Think of the representations of Donald Trump seen on Saturday Night Live and the Tonight Show in the USA, and how so many of our most famous comedians have used Brexit and the US Election as fuel for their latest routines. It is this that are the clearest representation of the populous’ current opinion of the state of the world, and whilst that can be taken from tragedy, comedy, at least today, has more immediacy than its counterpart.

One of the comments that I remember in our lectures on Shakespeare last term was made by our lecturer comparing A Midsummer Night’s Dream to other Shakespeare plays. She pointed out how cleverly crafted the whole play is, how the characters have to be on and off stage at just the right times for the doubling of roles that more often than not occurred. It was clear how planned the play was, and how it also made points about members of Shakespearean society. Hamlet, by contrast, is a train wreck. There is no way that Shakespeare started off with a plan in writing it, better to just kill everyone off. Now whilst I’m not in anyway saying that Hamlet is not a good play (I love it and the characters more than you can know) it is strange that it is studied so much more than the masterpiece that is A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the latter is more of an ‘introduction to Shakespeare’ play that you study in year seven and never consider again, moving on as you mature to the more ‘serious’ topics.

Whilst I don’t deny that the darker themes explored within a lot of tragedy need to be shown to the world, it would be strange to say that comedy cannot also explore these themes, and sometimes in a very interesting way. Why not study a tragedy, and compare it with a comedy that contains the same themes, and see how the two different genres explore the themes differently? Surely that’s more interesting that comparing two explorations of a theme from the same genre – but I may be speaking too subjectively.

My brother actually gave up studying English Literature at A Level because ‘everything was too depressing’. I’m not saying that we should completely cut out the tragedy, but some variety would be nice.

And hey, as a writer, I know how difficult good comedy is to write. So can we please just give it a bit more of a chance?

Living in the Present

‘The present is all we have, yet it is the one thing we will never learn to hold in our hands’ – Madeleine Thien, Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016)

She sits, mug of tea cupped in her hands, and observes. She knows that she is in her home, and that she lives there with her family, but she does not remember their faces, or how she came to be here.

The voice comes from the speaker. ‘Live in the moment.’ She breathes in. Breathes out. Centres herself. Forgets that the speaker is there.

Her children come down the stairs – she knows, now, that there are stairs just outside of the kitchen, but it is something, she realises, that she did not know before this moment. Or maybe she did, and she simply forgot. Everything before this moment seems so cloudy in her mind. She leaves her mug of tea to make her children breakfast, and as soon as her back is turned, it disappears from her mind, as do her children’s faces. Her task remains in mind, and she wonders as she puts the bread in the toaster whether she has ever done this before. She certainly can’t remember doing it if she has.

She has a husband, she knows that for a fact. But she does not remember any of his individualities at all. Why did she marry him? She feels a strange claw grip in her lower abdomen as she realises she does not know where he is.

Her phone screen lights up.

The message on the screen reads ‘Greg’ in bold letters, underneath that, ‘Thinking of you, have a good day xx’.

Of course, her husband is Greg. He has a job. He is at his job. She remembers, although she still has no idea what his job is. Or who he is.

Her children soon leave the house, and she is left with a cold mug of tea wondering what they look like.

The speaker comes on again. ‘Breathe in. Breathe out. Live in the moment.’

She does as she’s told, forgetting the momentary fear about a stranger instructing her movements. As she hoovers the house, she wonders how the mirror got to be on the wall, or how the violet stain came to be so ingrained into the carpet. All her brain comes up with is that it does not matter, but she finds herself unable to stifle the worry. How did she even get to be in this house?

The doorbell’s sharp trill interrupts her thoughts. She turns off the hoover and abandons it.

The silhouette of the man on the other side of the door is visible through the frosted glass. She has a fleeting thought that it could be her husband, but despite still not remembering what he looks like, she knows that this man is not him. A feeling curls its way into her stomach, making her feel nauseous and clammy. She pushes it away and opens the door.

She recognises the man in a blurry sense. He wears a clearly expensive suit, his hair is very carefully styled, his face full of the tell-tale plump that only botox provides. She takes this all in whilst resisting an incredibly strong urge to slam the door in his face and lock herself in. She cannot recall why she feels that way, so she simply stands.

‘Hello, how are you feeling today?’ His voice carries a smooth control that only increases her panic.

‘Confused.’ Something within her tells her that this man knows why she feels this way. And how to stop it. But he simply offers his hand to her.

‘Come with me, I will help you.’

Every part of her screams against it, but she takes his hand and steps out of the house nonetheless. ‘I am still in my slippers!’ she says, suddenly embarrassed.

The man only smiles at her. ‘So you are. Would you like to change into shoes?’

She can sense that it is not a question, but nods anyway. She takes a step backwards, releasing the man’s hand and looking for a pair of shoes that are hers. She slips into a pair, leaving her slippers neatly in a gap.

The speaker fires up again. ‘Live in the moment. Breathe in. Breathe out.’ She obeys.

The man has not moved when she turns back to him, and he proffers his hand again. She takes it, and steps out, squinting at the bright light.

‘Where are we going?’ she asks. She knows there is something wrong with the question before he turns to her with a patronising smile.

‘Do not worry about where we are going. You have been there many times before. Just live in the moment. Appreciate the world.’ He turns away from her as he says this, and does not look at her again. Not as he opens the door to the back of the car, not a glance in the rear-view mirror as he gets in and locks the doors, not as he drives her through winding streets, not even as he opens the door to let her out of the car. He stands aside, lets her climb out and take in her surroundings before closing the door and walking away. She has no choice but to follow him.

‘In here please.’ He steps aside and lets her through a metal door into one of the giant concrete bricks that make up the surrounding landscape.

Flashes of memory come to her now. She knows that she has been here before, she knows that when she left here she never wanted to come back. She knows that there is no turning back now.

Two people wearing all white suits walk up to her, one moving behind her and restraining her arms, the other facing her, wearing a smile.

‘Hello again. I hear you are having some trouble. Are you ready to feel better again?’ The woman standing in front of her is blank faced, talking to her as if she is senile.

‘What are you going to do to me?’ she whispers.

‘Do not worry, you will feel better soon. Come with me now, it will make everything so much easier.’

She does not move. A sharp push in the base of her spine forces her to move, and she realises the person behind her is pushing her forwards, through this empty room, towards the next door. If she thinks about it, she can remember what the person behind her looks like, the way their white suit hangs off their tiny frame, their bleached white hair that perfectly matches the colour of their suit.

She struggles in a vain attempt to get herself free. The grip on her only tightens.

‘Live in the moment. Breathe in. Breathe out.’ The voice stills her, its presence in her ear unexpectedly restrictive. She tries to fight the urge to obey, but all she manages to do is make her breath shake.

She is forced down on to a reclined chair and strapped in at her wrists, chest, and ankles. The two white suits leave the room, and a woman in a lab coat walks in.

‘Hello, Lisa, is it? I’m Georgia.’

Her breath quickens. Is that her name? It sounds right, but how can it be? How can she not remember her own name?

Georgia looks confused. ‘You don’t remember?’

She does not give her an answer. ‘Please don’t do this to me,’ she whispers, ‘I want to remember. I don’t know who I am anymore.’ Her cheeks are wet. Georgia looks at her in shock and offers her a tissue before realising the restraints that encircle her arms. Georgia dabs at her cheeks.

‘It’ll make you feel better, I promise.’ Georgia does not sound as sure as her colleagues.

She is not sure of her memories, but she knows that she has not seen this woman before. She only shakes her head and turns away.

‘Right, the first step, here we go.’

The liquid in the syringe is unnaturally blue, and the fear escalates as it is pushed into her veins. She gasps as vivid memories flood back into her mind, straining against the straps as visions of her family dance behind her eyes. Her name is Lisa. She is thirty-six. She has been married for ten years. ‘Please,’ she gasps out, ‘Please, no more.’

‘Are you in pain?’ Georgia halts the rest of her preparation.

‘No, I remember. I remember everything.’ Her cheeks are wet again. ‘Please don’t take this away from me, please.’

Georgia hesitates. ‘It will make you feel better.’ She sounds as if she is convincing herself more than anyone else.

Lisa shakes her head. ‘No, it won’t, I’m sure of that, please, let me live.’

‘I have to do my job. Please don’t make this any harder than it has to be, we know what’s best for you.’

‘How can you say that when I have no idea who the people I love are unless they are sitting right in front of me?’ Lisa knows she is winning even as her voice shakes – none of the doctors she has met have ever let her talk this much.

‘That is one of the unfortunate side effects of the cure…’

‘Cure? This is torture!’

Georgia breaks. She puts her head in her hands and begins to cry, at which point two others walk into the room. They push past her, pick up the syringe and inject step two into Lisa’s arm as she screams.

A week later, sat at home, she receives a letter that simply reads,

I am so sorry. I will try to fix this.

Georgia

She does not know who Georgia is, or what she is apologising for, but she feels bizarrely content.

The Hotel

People pass through the hotel every day, and one pair of eyes notices every one.

A woman stands and smokes on a balcony, finding solace in the smoke that she cannot seem to find anywhere else. Under the harsh electric light, her skin appears sallow, drooping. As soon as the final ashes fall, she regains her composure and returns to her lover in the bedroom, pasting a sultry smile on to her painted lips, as she has grown to know people expect.

When she had checked in, the receptionist had noticed how white the knuckles on her manicured fingers were as they clutched at her suitcase handle.

“Your room is 240, madam, turn right when you reach the second floor and walk along that corridor. It will be on your left.”

“Thank you.” The woman didn’t look as she took the key, eyes shifting around the room. She waved away the bell hop, climbed into the lift, said, “Two please.” Her eyes swivel to the ceiling and the lift pulls away. When she returns her keys, she has another woman in tow, one whose eyes glance around as she adjusts her fur coat, winking at those who catch her eye. The first woman shifts uncomfortably, staring at the desk as she slides the keys over.

“Thank you, I hope you enjoyed your stay. See you again soon!”

“Thank you, goodbye.” She looks up. Smiles. Looks back down. Her companion lingers as she walks, revelling in the stares.

A man arrives in the lobby, top hat and overcoat making people stare, as if they believe that walking down the hotel’s centuries old grand central staircase has transported them back in time. Some wave, some smile, seeing the man’s dress as an invitation to acknowledge him – he did not want this to be the case, and yet, it is. He nods to the bellhop, who takes his suitcase from his grasp, walks to the lift and sinks against the wall, breathing. He knows how full this weekend will be, and the receptionist can’t help but feel sorry for him, despite the air of confidence he talks with the next day. He still sinks into the lift when it’s over.

He slides the keys over the desk.

“Thank you Sir, I hope you enjoyed your stay.”

He looks up at the receptionist and shakes his head. “The hotel is lovely. Now back to the wife and kids.” The smile he attempts turns his lips to a thin line as he raises his eyebrows, picks up his case and walks out, the threadbare hems of his trousers catching on his soles.

The hotel is closed for the weekend for a wedding, and as the receptionist welcomes the bridal party, he can’t help but notice the bride’s thinly preserved smile as two older women direct things behind her.

“Your key, madam. Room 67 for the first night. The honeymoon suite will be ready for you tomorrow.”

“Thank you Sir, everything looks perfect.” She smiles and nods with such genuine warmth that the receptionist can’t help but smile, and sends her an extra bottle of champagne, on the house.

The day of her wedding, she stands in the room soon to be filled with guests, looking around as her train falls behind her. She sees the tablecloths and seat covers that her mother in law to be picked out, the set up for the DJ that her father insisted would be better than a band, despite the bride’s best friend offering to play with their band for free, the flowers that her aunt insisted on, as she wears the gown that her mother picked out, insisting it was the most flattering to her figure. She finds her cheeks wet, and as the receptionist passes the room he makes a mental note to send chocolates up with the champagne that evening. Hours later, as she is spun about the room, she laughs, the sound brittle and hollow in her ears. The party continues long after she slips away from the wedding with her husband, into their room where they devour the chocolates before collapsing into bed.

She slides the two sets of keys over the desk as the sun is wiping the sleep from its eyes.

“Thank you for all the hard work you put in this weekend, it was fantastic.”

The receptionist thinks of the drunken wedding guests that had stumbled through the hall minutes before and smiles. “It was a beautiful wedding; I am glad you enjoyed your stay. Congratulations.”

The bride smiles as the groom stares at her, transfixed. “No doubt we will be staying here again soon. Auf Wiedersehen!”

“Goodbye.” The receptionist smiles to himself later when a maid hands him a handful of banknotes and a note that reads, ‘Thank you for the chocolate xx’

Many people visit the hotel, and the receptionist notices every one.

This is a piece a wrote for which the brief was to write a piece that you could storyboard, in order to make it very visual. I found a very striking picture online of a woman leaning on a very grand bannister in a hotel, smoking, and I was fascinated in what this woman was doing, and began thinking about how for most people, a hotel is a temporary place, but for some, it is their life (or at least part of) and these people get to witness such a wide variety of people passing through all the time.

At the moment I am working on quite a few pieces for uni, some may reach here, some may not, so expect some works in progress in the not-so-distant future!