Thursday, 14 June 2012

A story

Here is the story I entered into a competition. Thought I'd share it because it didn't get short-listed.

The opening paragraph was written by author Rosmund Lupton, entries were to follow this with a first chapter of between 800 and 1000 words.

You have to buy the magazine to read the first prize entry, the two runner-up entries can be read here.

I wonder if my attempt is a little disjointed and cheesy, but i did enjoy writing it, and will keep practising... 

The swaying of the train made her hands grip around her bag as if it was anchored and could support her. Outside the window, the trees were a blur of greens and it seemed to the woman as if it were the trees not the train which were moving, hurrying away from her, putting green distance between them. She’d started the journey with clearly defined logical reasons for it, which she’d neatly stacked up like a wall. But the rocking of the train, the judder as it had speeded up, had toppled them and the truth was now visible, poking out and ugly to her. Outside the window the moving haze of green trees was replaced by the still hard edges of a grey platform. She’d arrived.

People moved hurriedly and purposefully. Martha slowly looked around, she needed to find  her bearings. The toilets were dimly-lit, with mirrors protected by sheets of scratched perspex.  It was hazy, but the reflection clearly showed a tired and pained face.

The city, awash with dirty water. Fluorescent shop lighting and occasional flashes of flowing pillar-box red hair stopped it looking like a black and white film set.
Heavy rain forced people to bow their heads. Perfect funeral weather, a sad sky mourned the loss of its sun.

There was an hour to kill, easy in an identikit post-industrial city. Familiar cafes, familiar shops, unfamiliar faces.

Something about the narrow shopping arcade beckoned, perhaps she was lured by the unknown. Shops and cafes manned by owners, not staff, with handwritten signs - unique places.

Martha chose a cafe which screamed Shabby Chic, jars filled with marshmallows, sugared almonds and macaroons adorned the shelves. Myriad pastel hues and subtle lighting, sweet peas in old bottles on the table, very cosy.
Good coffee and robust home-baked cakes were usually a delight to the senses but
now, all she could stomach was a pot of delicately perfumed Earl Grey.

To distract herself from thoughts of the afternoon ahead, Martha looked out of the window. An elderly couple glanced at the chalkboard menu. His face looked as though it had been painted with a wishy-washy mix of purple, white and red.  The lady shook her head - prices too high and coffee not milky enough, probably.
Time and aging, regret and longing - never righting the wrongs. Such thoughts enveloped Martha in despair.

"The wettest week I've known for years" said the cafe owner. Martha could tell she was the owner, there was so much pride in the way she wiped the distressed oak tables and organised everything. Welcoming the distraction of dialogue, she searched her mind for a rhetorical response.
"Good or bad for business? I mean, in some ways people will be drawn to shelter, but others will just opt to stay home".

"Business ticks over, you never know when you're in for a rush or a lull.

Martha ran her fingers over the scroll pattern on her teaspoon and wiped the pale amber drips of tea from outside the cup. As if sensing her need for distraction, the cafe owner asked if this was the first time she had visited.

"Only, we have a loyalty scheme, I can give you a card if you'll be coming back".

"I used to live here, but I'm only here for the day. I will take a card though, I may be back - you never know".

Though, Martha could never imagine coming back.

With the spoon lined up equidistant from the cup and saucer, chair placed squarely back in place, it was time to leave.

Martha caught her reflection in a large blacked-out window. There she was - a slightly padded version of the young lady who had spent many nights in that city. Dancing and drinking, every last penny wasted trying to create the perfect weekend, to blank out reality and forget.

Feeling anonymous among the sea of faces, she drew comfort from blending in with her surroundings, being part of the shuffling throng.
Occasionally, someone would catch her attention and come into sharp focus. One lady had been on the same train, she wore a cerise mac. The tie belt skirted dangerously close to the ground on one side. Martha longed to pull the belt, even it up.
There was a longing to straighten out so many things in her life.

Looking up at the sky as grey gulls floated and swooped, hungry for fast food, Martha took a very deep breath.
It was almost time to go to the chapel,  no going back. Surely this journey still had a purpose? She refused to even consider using the word closure, all hope of that was gone.

The taxi rank was in the same place as years ago, only now there were double the number of cabs. Flashbacks to teetering on four inch heels across the cobbled paving, chips in hand, cold exposed arms covered in goosebumps. Of ending a night out feeling sad, wishing it could go on forever,  music, laughter and bright lights instead of that thump of dark silence. These memories didn’t feel at all distant.

Martha’s heart and stomach became overwhelmed with spasms of pulsating anxiety, getting into a taxi was the final part of her journey and made the feelings she’d experienced on the train fade into insignificance.

Perhaps it was a good thing - encountering the world’s nosiest, chattiest taxi driver. If only he hadn’t decided to talk about the funeral.

“Union Chapel, eh? I’m guessing from the black outfit that you’re going to a funeral...clever me eh?”

It was hard to reply, despite it being obvious this was not a quirky date with a fellow wearer of sombre black attire, she wanted to keep the details to herself.

“Yes, the funeral is at 1.30, I’ve come down from up North”

“That's gonna be a busy one, good job you’ll be getting there early. Terrible when someone young dies, innit? Such a waste.”

The taxi driver had summed up her feelings. Such a waste. Twenty years of waiting, thinking, dreaming and hoping. A past brought to life and shattered so suddenly.

All that loneliness and heartache for this, a chance to say goodbye for the second and last time.  Martha felt the physical pain of grief stab her coldly and deeply.  Smoothing down her skirt, she paid the driver as he said “I’ll see you again love”.

They had been her final words to her son.


  1. Hello Lucy:
    We do think that you are very brave to put up for scrutiny, in such a public arena, your own very personal creative writing.We admire your openness and are sure that we could not allow ourselves to be so exposed.

    At moments in the story, we find the imagery and the description of character extremely powerful. You create atmosphere and a sense of tension and of place very convincingly. Martha has so many facets that we recognise in ourselves or in others we have known that we can readily sympathise with her.

    Perhaps less easy to effect, and something we wondered if you too found less satisfying, was a real sense of drama in the denouement of the piece. In gathering so many clues along the way, we felt that the final line, which in itself was wonderful,lost something of its impact.

    We have felt privileged to have been allowed a peek into your creative process and to have been able to read this short story of yours. Yes, you must keep sharpening and nurturing the artistic talent that you undoubtedly have.

    1. Thank-you for taking the time to leave such a detailed comment.
      It wasn't a brave decision to share the story because I feel it's a bit like a rough draft. Maybe if I was delighted with the finished effort it would be brave to leave myself open to criticism!
      I completely agree with what you said about the ending, I was not satisfied with it at all.

      This is the first 'story' I've written since my early teens, so there is much room for experimentation, improvement and learning.
      I'd also like my own laptop, some uninterrupted time, and of course - a room of my own!

  2. I loved this when I first read it and I still love it! I think them fools to have not chosen yours! I think the real challenge was just finding the nut sac, no scratch that, as Betty White would say, the vagina :) to enter it and put yourself out there. That is the real glory here. I am still very much afraid to share most anything I write because I know its shit but I still keep writing. Your magical way with words constantly motivates me to keep at it. Look at you inspiring me. I hope we can have a chat tomorrow :)

    1. You're so kind Krista, and you know your writing is far from shit, it's honest, dark and light in equal measure and unique.
      I will chat to you tomorrow, can't wait. x

  3. I agree that you are brave putting your creative writing up for comment, but as I’ve been nagging you for about a year, sorry, encouraging you, to do some of this stuff, who am I to argue? It’s tricky, because, as you know, I put my poetry on my blog and other bloggers who have followed the prompt that week comment on mine and each others’ efforts. The trouble with that is, we’re all far too polite and say only nice things, probably for fear that someone will say something derogatory in return. I’ve entered a few small competitions myself (250 words) and I’m yet to hear if I’ve won the fantastic prize of!

    The important point you make is that you enjoyed writing it, and as Jane and Lance say you are honing your skills. I enjoyed reading it too and the twist at the end, although I felt it coming, still had the desired emotional pull. I note that you gave ‘the woman’ a name. Perhaps the emotional impact would have been greater if she had remained anonymous.There are clues to be picked up in that opening paragraph which can be developed. What was that ugly truth I wonder?

    I think you did fantastically well with this first attempt and your descriptive passages draw very vivid pictures - have you thought of having a stab at poetry? Keep it up, and let’s have more please.

    1. Thanks for all the encouragement you've always given me, I would never have done this a year ago. There will always be an element of politeness when commenting on other people's blogs, but if people keep returning, you must be doing something right. I definitely wanted constructive criticism, and I'd rather get it from people I admire (like you!).

      Maybe I should try some poetry, it's been a while since I last got poetic.

      I think finding a style helps, and poetry is a great way to exercise your writing skills.

    2. I’m not going to be able to read the winning entry in Grazia, as we can’t get it here, but I have read the runners up entries and I have to say your entry was equally as good.

    3. I read the winning entry today. It's excellent. Co-incidentally, it's about a woman returning to her home town for a funeral.
      If I were to pick one fault with it (nothing's perfect) I'd say it ended without leaving me wanting to find out more.
      Would you like me to send you a photocopy of it?

  4. I thought it was better than the other person's opening paragraph. You're very good at creating a scene - I really felt as if I was in the cafe too - and the main character felt like a real person. I agree with Nell, that making her anonymous might have been even better.

    There were a couple of times when I felt that using commas interupted the rhythm of your words, e.g, in the sentence "Martha slowly looked around, she needed to find her bearings." I think the break is too long for a comma and needs a full stop or semi-colon. Sorry if that's nit-picking, but I thought highly enough of your writing to read it closely, thinking about every sentence.

    You definitely have a talent.

    1. Thank-you for doing what I hoped a few people would do - read it thoroughly and offer pointers for improvement.
      I certainly didn't publish this as a 'look what I've done!' post.
      Commas are the bane of my life. I'm aware that a few poor punctuation habits crop up in my writing, and my vocabulary isn't as broad as I'd like it to be.
      I didn't even consider leaving the main character anonymous, but it would have been better.
      Nit-picking is necessary if I'm to improve, and I think I have the best bunch of nit-pickers helping me here.

      I didn't write anything before starting this blog last year, so I now need to make up for lost time. Thanks again!

  5. I never felt the twist at the end coming and when it did it hit me right in the belly. You are a fantastic writer, Lucy, I truly mean that. Many blogs I read I do tend to skim read but I always savour every word you write.
    Your powers of observation as phenomenal, the number of times I see a belt trailing on the street and hesitate as to whether to step in and tell the wearer.
    Keep up the great work, you'll be placed next time, I'm sure of it!
    You rock. xxxx

    1. Thank-you Vix! I actually saw a lady at Bath station (when I went to the Spa with Clare) wearing a cerise mac with the belt trailing close to the dirty toilet floor!
      Labels sticking out is another - do I tell them or not?
      I'm so flattered by your comment, I feel encouraged to continue writing down my observations.

  6. So great to see this up here luce! Your great at creating atmostphere, it's really vivid to me, and i really want to know what happens next x

    1. Thanks Max! I think I'd have to take the story to a dark and humorous place next (somehow).

  7. Hi Lucy, I presume Rosmund Lupton is a published writer, but I have to say that if that was an opening chapter of a novel, I would probably put it back on the shelf. It didn't entice me at all. I agree with Steerforth's comment on your piece being better. You've got me wondering about all the stuff that had gone down between Martha and her son before his death, how he died, etc etc so that's got to say something about your writing hasn't it...
    As for not having a broad vocabulary, jeez! I've just had to look up equidistant in the dictionary!
    I'm a bit of a speedy reader so I tend to fly over most things I read, not your blog though Lucy, I always read it properly x

    1. thank-you Kylie! As the entry was meant to be a first chapter, I did want to leave plenty to elaborate on. I must knuckle down now and write more often, I'm so impatient with things. Any hobby I partake in usually gets dropped pretty quickly because I can't cope with having to keep beavering away to get better.
      Like with everything, time is an issue. I feel so guilty writing away when the house is a mess, the boys need entertaining and there are endless tasks to complete.
      Not to mention needing to find a proper job!

  8. Steerforth said what I think...that you are great at setting a scene, at drawing the reader into it. Your blog posts are like that too. Always like reading what you've written. And, echoing Kylie, I take the time to thoroughly read your blog posts instead of skimming like I do with most others.

    I won't offer a word of criticism Lucy because, first, I think you are awesome for entering the competition and, secondly, hugely brave for putting your rejected entry here for us to read and, thirdly, there isn't much to criticise anyway. I liked the piece.

    Bravo. Keep at it because your writing is good and can only get better with practice.

    1. Thanks Wendz. I think you and I see the world through a similar lens, picking up on minor details. I would have welcomed any criticisms you had, but I know there's plenty of room for all-round improvement.
      We are all our own biggest critics, I can't ever imagine being completely satisfied with my writing - that's a good thing I suppose

  9. Thank you for sharing! I enjoyed your story and definitely preferred it to the original paragraph, you have a must better, less pretentious style. AND I prefer your entry to the runners up... what to do those Grazia bastards know?!

    1. Thanks Clare!
      I read the winning entry today, seems the Grazia bastards picked a worthy winner.
      The winning entry is about a woman returning to her home town for a funeral - fancy that.

      I just need to keep writing down things I see, hopefully everything else will improve.

  10. Dear Lucy, your story is so entertaining and it has a wide appeal on so many levels!You made my imagination work through visual delight and you led me to the end with suspance!!I'm so sorry that I can't write even a good comment in english, I hope you get me, I only want to say that I really love to read it and I'm sorry that your story didn't win, but these things happen to me all the time, we have to keep on doing what we love best and sometime is better to continue to improve our skills than be a one time winner.
    Good job!!
    Lots of love

    1. Good advice. As long as you enjoy what you're doing it's worth keeping at it. There's always room for improvement and I am going to work on my weaknesses now.

  11. Amor,
    your story was so vivid and entertaing.Felt like I was there with Martha!
    Kept me in suspense. Now can you write a naughty story for me?
    Keep writting your great inspirational stories! I'm sure you keep a journal of everything you come across.

    1. A naughty story, me? I don't have any life experience on which to draw experience from for such a tale. Hahahahaha.

      No journal for me, I know it'd be a great thing to do. I have bought journals, and pens to keep in my bag for this purpose. Organisation is not my strong point though.

      Thanks for the supportive comments, I have really been encouraged by everyone.

  12. I just bought Grazia actually and read the winning entry, which once it got going, I did enjoy. That said, I always LOVE your writing. You can definitely go somewhere with the short stories - have you ever read Mslexia? They have quite frequent writing competitions with good prizes, I think you'd be perfect. x

    1. Thanks for the tip - I've been looking at the website and I'll see if I can get the magazine from Smiths.

  13. I thought the ending was effective. I didn't expect it.
    I liked the allusions to her youth, that her body had become 'padded.' It made me wonder who she used to be.
    The era that the piece is set in wasn't totally obvious to me and I liked that. There were mentions of a cerise mac and the term 'shabby chic', but it could almost have been a Victorian setting, in some ways. There was something a little gothic there and it reminded me a bit if Sarah Waters. Perhaps you could almost play on genre of setting if you developed this further. I can almost imagine a ind of modern day mystery with undertones of classic gothic novel. Hope that doesn't sound weird.
    You have a talent and it seems to me like it is what you are meant to do. There is a real bite of truth in your writing. x

  14. I didn't predict the ending at all. I was intrigued, curious as to where the story/Martha was going. I love your ability to describe places, people, details to build the atmosphere. You observe and write so well, Lucy. I didn't mind that you gave her a name, I get a bit irritated by nameless main characters, I always think the writer just couldn't decide on one!
    Keep at it, love! xxxxx


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