Blossoming Bentleigh A Delight

an artist's impression of how Bentleigh Station will look when finished.jpg

Last week, I sat in a cafe in Bentleigh near the railway station, pen in hand scribbling away while enjoying coffee and cake.

I’d finished class but had some time to kill before joining an Intergenerational Project within the City of Kingston.

I often use time like this to either wind down by reflecting and writing or observe and write – as I tell my students to do – never miss an opportunity to gather material for stories and poems!

Proust quote

It had been a memorable day. The first real hint of spring warmth in the air and I informed my boss of my intention to retire from Godfrey Street at the end of the year. I’ve decided to apply for the aged pension and ‘retire’ from most paid work.

Instead of teaching and travelling between neighbourhood houses, I will only teach at Chelsea – and not until second term 2019 – giving myself a transitioning period to work out how to stay connected with community, teaching, writers and the craft of storytelling I love.

Sitting and sipping coffee brought relaxation and a sense of relief – I’d made a decision I’d been avoiding although discussed aloud with family and close friends.

The times and life definitely a’changing!

quote about past bentleigh

It has been a long winter – everybody I meet says so and I have to agree, so how wonderful to feel the warmth of the sun – it energised me to be more positive.

Sunshine makes you feel better and brightens the day, especially if you work indoors like me – and so much of writing is expressing inner thoughts, delving into dreams, fears and phobias along with fantasies, imaginings and ideas… classrooms become incubators and separated from ‘outside’.

A breath of fresh air does wonders in more ways than one and I always appreciate walking or using public transport to stay grounded in reality. Having breathing space before and after work and on a sunny day, the walk a senses overload.

Albert Street to Mordialloc Station at this time of year reveals blossoming trees and flowers blooming in various gardens, including my own.

camelia mordialloc

The magpie trill competes with noisy minors, and the wattlebirds have returned to caw loudly while clawing back their territory as the grevillea and bottlebrush bud. The air is perfumed with apple and plum trees along with camellias and the perennial geraniums.

The garden at the community house in Bentleigh tended by volunteers and is delightful in spring.

The walk from Bentleigh Station up Centre Road to Godfrey street perfumed with a variety of eateries and a more pleasant stroll after State Government and Glen Eira Council’s efforts to beautify the shopping strip ‘back to normal’ after the upheaval of the level crossing removal.

If I hadn’t taken pictures and documented that massive infrastructure project memories would fade as to how it looked.

Recording Memories Important

That’s what I love about my Life Stories & Legacies class – in fact, all my classes where people write their recollections. So many different perspectives and experiences.

Trish, a student in my Mordialloc class several years ago recalled a memory about Bentleigh when I gave an exercise about a milestone most of us are eager to celebrate:

‘What do you remember from childhood when you reached double figures?’

On my birthday, the day was sunny – good things happen on sunny days, especially if a Sunday. We lived in Richmond and I was told we were moving to the country. I felt happy and excited because there would be cows and horses. We climbed in the family Buick and drove off to Bentleigh – that was ‘the country’ in the 1940s. It seemed a long drive with outer suburbs just developing and no traffic worries. The house was unfinished and surrounding paddocks our playground. Horses from Mentone intruded into the paddocks sometimes and I was scared of being trampled.

The lady at end of the road had a cow and chickens and I remember the taste of frothy warm milk straight from her cow. Francesco street was where we lived and Mrs White our only next-door neighbour. There were vegetables growing nearby and goods were delivered by horse and cart so plenty of manure available for growing. Whenever I smell the pungent aroma of horse manure, I remember moving to live in Bentleigh when I was ten years old.

There will always be critics of development and change (there are some I don’t like) however, Premier Daniel Andrews’ legacy of upgrading, building and planning much-needed infrastructure for our public transport system is amazing and long overdue. Hats off to the engineers and workers who carried out the vision.

A witness to the important change in Bentleigh:

  • The bottom two tiers of the MCG could have been filled with the earth excavated from under the McKinnon, Bentleigh and Ormond level crossings once intensive digging began for rail under road trench.
  • The Level Crossing Removal Authority estimated 150 tipper trucks left the excavation sites each hour as 500,000 tonnes of earth was moved to a Heatherton tip in the initial ten days.
  • Construction crews of 1000 plus workers toiled around the clock to minimise inconvenience and get the Frankston services running. The job completed in 37 days instead of the scheduled 94!

Short-term pain for long-term gain.

A great new station.

It may come at a political cost because people dislike disruption to their routines and with an election looming whinging from naysayers will be funded and organised by political opponents, but as someone who has never owned a car and with a great belief in living sustainably, I’m glad the state government has made investment in efficient public transport a priority.

Climate change already wreaks havoc, Melbourne’s roads are clogged, reliable public transport the most sensible and sustainable way to move people.

By removing level crossings, adding new lines, linking suburbs, creating a reliable coordinated transport mix – all of these will help a cultural change.

And at Bentleigh as in other level crossings, it will save lives as an extract from one of the Mordialloc Writers’ anthologies, Off The Rails illustrates.

Jeff Lasbury operated the kiosk on Bentleigh station for several years :

Monday, March 23rd 1998 was like any other day until 8.00 am when I heard the train horn blast, a woman scream, and a sickening thud accompanied by the hissing sound of the air brakes being applied by the train driver.

I opened the kiosk door and poked my head out to look down the ramp to the level crossing praying no one had been hurt. I could see nothing untoward and breathed a sigh of relief. I stepped out of the kiosk but decided to turn back because the train had pulled into the station as usual, when I caught sight of a body lying on the tracks almost directly in front of me.

I looked again… everything appeared unreal, an eerie silence descended. It seemed a long time before someone found something to cover the body of the young woman. I assumed the body female because of the scream I had heard but minutes later a hysterical woman came to the kiosk window and between sobs explained it was her
screaming. She had witnessed a young man hit by the train.

Overwhelmed with sadness, I felt numb, and struggled with disbelief…

The young man had been a customer and recently celebrated his 18th birthday. That morning, his mother dropped him off near the station because he was running a bit late. The boom gates came down and the lights were flashing, however, like many pedestrians, he crossed the first line because no train was on that line, but there were
two more tracks to cross. Worried about missing his train, which neared the station, he crossed the barrier, looking in the direction of his approaching train ignoring the other
way. He walked into the path of the city-bound train, which he probably didn’t hear coming because of the Walkman plugged into his ears.

Floral tributes appeared at the level crossing the next day, and a day later, the wire fence in front of the kiosk blossomed with more. Most were single flowers, some not particularly beautiful but left by people who knew and loved the young man, all touching tributes to a tragic lost life…

Some years later, a young woman walked past the kiosk to the ticket machine further up the platform. She took a little time to get her ticket and then came back past. She lost her life in exactly the same way as the young man.

Almost every level crossing will have a similar tale to tell or examples of near misses – I won’t miss the Centre Road level crossing or its clanging lights and boom gates.

A tragedy is far away from my thoughts walking Centre Road on a sunny day, the chaos of mounds of dirt, grunting and growling heavy machinery, buses replacing trains, the traffic and pedestrian diversions are all in the past too.

The new station functions well – toilets and waiting room at street level, a lift and ramp plus stairs – facilities appreciated by everyone, not just rail users.

Murals and music and a delightful community meeting place also appreciated.

I loved the piano that stayed for some time and the many people who took advantage of the freedom to tinkle the ivories… especially the ones who had talent – they attracted smiling listeners, including me.

New cafes and shops have opened and old ones refurbished. Outside tables always abuzz with the old and young plus plenty of canine companions.

bentleigh cafe wall message.jpg

The disconnect of Centre Road caused by the level crossing now gone and people (including myself) visit shops and cafes ignored before.

What will 2019 bring?

I freely admit there will be a period of adjustment for me because I’ll miss the twice-weekly trips to Bentleigh and the community house.

I’m always surprised how easily workplaces you like become a second home but I’m looking forward to spending more time focusing on my own projects ‘at home’ and Bentleigh is only a train trip away!

download.png

What Price Would you Pay to have ‘All The Money In The World’?

download.jpg

On Wednesday evening, my daughters and I went to Southland to see the latest film release of Michelle Williams – All the Money In the World.

As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, she is a favourite actress. We love to support her films and this one seems especially relevant for our times when we have supposedly one of the richest men in the world as President of the USA and people divided as to his character.

Are wealth and business acumen an indication of character? Are they the most important attributes of a man/leader? Or is all wealth and power from wealth corrupting?

The film, directed by Ridley Scott, will also be forever linked to controversy because of the #Me Too Movement, Kevin Spacey’s hurried exit, and also the pay inequality exposed by the reshoot when the disparity of Michelle and co-star Mark Wahlberg’s payment made headlines.

Definitely a movie for celebrity-obsessed, social media times!

All-The-Money-In-The-World-poster-1-e1510957631823.jpg

The Power Of Story – Does Everyone Have A Price?

All the Money In the World inspired by real-life events and based on a book about the 1973 kidnapping of teenager John Paul Getty 111 (played by Charlie Plummer).

There is the usual criticism from historical purists.

(The latest film about Churchill and WW2 released at the same time and on my to see list suffering a similar fate.)

However, as I said in my review of The Greatest Showman if you are seeking historical accuracy and “the truth”, which, in my view, is almost impossible to ever discover, please don’t expect it from Hollywood, an industry first and foremost about entertainment!

There are libraries, museums, historical documents and research institutes aplenty – seek your own facts but as far as movies are concerned, accept that stories inspired or based on real people or events will be dramatised to fit into a 2-3 hour window and suspension of reality.

Creative non-fiction is a literary genre and movie scripts based on fact aim for authenticity but sacrifice accuracy for the power of story too.

As Entertainment ‘All the Money in The World ‘Succeeds

From July – November 1973, the period the film is set, I was travelling in the UK while enjoying a year away from my university studies in Australia. 

I can remember the newspapers being obsessed by the kidnapping central to the film. At 19 years of age – not much older than John Paul Getty 111, and far from home and family, I could only imagine his terror and how his mother struggled to cope.

I received regular letters from my Mum and every time I rang home (reverse charges!) she would always end with ‘when are you coming home?

How does a family cope with something as horrific as a kidnapping?

How did Paul’s mother, abandoned by husband and powerful father-in-law patriarch negotiate and survive this traumatic turn of events in a world where women were only just beginning to assert themselves? A world, where authority and power were dominated by males.

Michelle Williams as Gail, the teenager’s mother, captures the emotional havoc wreaked by the heinous act, compounded by the seemingly cold, calculated indifference from John Paul’s grandfather ‘the richest man in the world’ and his refusal to pay the ransom.

Her body language, the tone of voice, range of emotion in facial expressions a stellar performance. Believable and engaging.

Her expression in the closing scene, as she looks at a particularly significant piece of Paul Getty Senior’s priceless object d’art collection, sums up how I think every viewer would feel about the billionaire played brilliantly by Christopher Plummer, in an exceptional performance for someone called in as a last-minute replacement for Spacey!

A major thread in the movie is Gail’s ability to stand up to the Getty empire and the powerful Paul Getty Senior. In a divorce settlement she eschews the Getty money for herself and only wants money for the children and sole custody to protect her children from a drug-addled father – hence her dire straits when the kidnappers want $17million for the return of her son.

Money she doesn’t have.

images-1.jpg

The tension in the film is all about changing the grandfather’s mind from an initial refusal to pay the ransom because in his reasoning, he had 14 other grandchildren and he would soon have no money if he paid the kidnappers and invited criminal activity.

There is a suggestion that young Paul planned the kidnapping to get back at his grandfather and have a slice of his fortune. A sub-plot that allows Mark Wahlberg’s character, the grandfather’s head of personal security to figure large in the story and have a transformational journey.

download-2.jpg

However, when the boy’s ear is sent to a newspaper office to prove the kidnapping is serious and the boy’s life is at risk, the grandfather finally agrees, albeit to offer a much lower sum that is ‘tax deductible’.

The scenes of the frightened teenager shackled in caves and barns, stripped of his wealth and privilege, abused and later mutilated (a harrowing, edge of the seat scene), are visceral and heart-rending and contrast with the luxurious, yet cold and soulless lifestyle of his grandfather.

download-1.jpg

There is one kidnapper who develops a friendship with young Paul and nurses him through illness. He is genuinely astounded that a family so rich would value money over life and you wonder if his life circumstances were different would he be a hard-working farmer, factory worker, or professional living and contributing to society or would he succumb to the trappings of wealth and be corrupted… is there ever justification for criminal activity, excuses to be made for bargaining with someone’s life?

Did Marx get the divisions and problems of society right?

We certainly see the lumpen proletariat in action in this movie as well as the capitalists with and without conscience or integrity, and the bumbling, corrupt, brutal and ultimately efficient authorities.

A Movie of Our Times?

In a world still reeling from the effects of the GFC and a rising disgust for what many perceive as the failure of capitalism, the excesses of neoliberalism – this movie doesn’t pull any punches regarding the lack of morality of those who have so much money they become increasingly richer with little or no effort – money makes money if you are prepared to:

  • manipulate stocks,
  • break or manipulate laws or misuse legislation and tax havens
  • ruthlessly buy and sell works of art regardless of provenance or legality
  • ignore family responsibilities and treat people as commodities

The 1% don’t come out looking honourable (or really happy) – although by making Paul Getty Senior their representative, the film makes them larger than life. This richest man in the world revealed to be in a class of his own!

The film also exposes those with an insatiable greed and desire for money – other people’s money – people who don’t want to put in the time, investment or effort to earn a living honestly.

Mafiosi running the networks within the Calabrian underworld who kidnapped Paul Getty 111. They have no honour, no ethics, no integrity and no vision except self-service and dog eat dog.

Economic inequity is not new and All The Money In The World creates the historical background and setting well – Getty made his money by exploiting the Middle East’s oil.

The changing social mores of the 60s turned into the revolutionary and alternative 70s – and Rome was one of the playgrounds of the super-rich.

Hash and marijuana the drug of choice, along with alcohol, soon to be surpassed by cocaine and heroin a scourge of emotionally vulnerable, including the wealthy.

Paul Getty 111, still too young to be an all-out wastrel and bad guy but a rich teenager with more freedom than most. Aware of his status and mixing in adult circles more than the average teenager there is a hint his life will be as aimless as his drug-addicted father.

His kidnapping a brutal shock but not entirely unexpected.

There is the reality of the rise of various terrorist groups, urban guerrillas and ‘freedom fighters’ in the 70s demanding society’s perceived wrongs must be addressed. The Red Brigade operated in Italy and were early suspects in Paul’s kidnapping and although they professed higher ideals their methods just as questionable as the various criminal groups seeking money.

A heady mix of strong characters and action for the movie to handle and it does it well without descending into sensational car chases, shoot-outs, boring stereotypes and gratuitous violence.

Telling a well-known story is always difficult – writers and directors have to find a new angle or techniques to spice up the story to keep people’s interest.

Actors have to capture the essence of the character and try to make them believable but not descend into caricature or be so far removed from reality that those who remember the ‘real’ people reject the story out of hand.

(As an aside, one daughter commented on how busy the wardrobe and hairdressers on set would have been to capture the authenticity of the period so well!)

Through powerful acting and good storytelling, All the Money in The World has focused on what it means to be human – what all art wants to do – confront, challenge, explore the human condition!

images.jpg

I’m sure this film will generate lots of dinner conversations – least of all the controversies around the making of it, the differences between the script and history, Hollywood’s sexual and pay equity scandals…

However, regarding the actual movie – go see and enjoy.

The production values are top shelf including some stunning cinematography and some memorable acting performances and scenes.

Think About…

What are the most important values for society to adopt?

Why do we revere the rich or cling to trickle down economics or accept the notion that being rich means being successful?

What are our own personal benchmarks?

Regardless of status or wealth is it the choices we make that decide our decency and humanity?

Is the pursuit of wealth in some people’s DNA?

How much is too much wealth?

Is it loving relationships, family, friendship and a feeling of belonging that provide true happiness, respect, and self-worth?

When Paul Getty Senior paid the ransom in All the Money in The World he facilitated the release of his injured and permanently traumatised grandson but didn’t buy happiness or heal damaged relationships – it takes breath and flesh to do that!

images.png

Mondayitis or Monday ‘it’s us’

johns rose.jpg

Mondays, the start of the working week for most people and the school or university week for students. If you’ve been lucky to have an exciting or relaxing weekend, perhaps a glimpse of freedom from the shackles of timetables, it can be hard to get motivated to ‘rise and shine’ as my father used to sing.

Not only did Dad sing, but he’d put on a pipe band record at full blast, grab a mop or brush as his baton and transform into a  drum master leading his troops, albeit from bedrooms to breakfast table!

Along with my five siblings, I did rise ( not sure about the shine) and we’d follow him down the hallway tousled-haired and pyjama-clad into the kitchen to be greeted by the smell of toast and tea.

Mercifully, the massed pipes and drums of the Sutherland Highlanders, Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the Cameron Highlanders or any number of records from Dad’s collection would then be silenced.

Mondayitis never tolerated in our household – the ‘Protestant work ethic’ inculcated at an early age. Self-inflicted pain from youthful excess and late nights not an excuse for missing school or work.

107975-monday-itis

Yet Mondayitis is real, like the blues, and if you have a boring or depressing job, or the weather is cold and wet and the bed is warm, or there are a thousand distractions and reasons for staying home – going to the park, meeting up with friends, lying on the beach, curling up with a book… just Life with a capital L – the odd bout of Mondayitis can rejuvenate a jaded spirit.

But it can become a habit.  One of my brother’s high school mates actually thought the teachers wouldn’t notice a pattern to his absenteeism!

However, If you are fortunate to be free of permanent work and study commitments, and have a choice as to how you spend your week,  joining a club, group or class and having an enjoyable activity to look forward to does help. It is even part of a suggested  plan to cure Mondayitis!

As mentioned in other posts, you know the activity I recommend is a creative writing class.

“Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.”

 Amy Tan

This term at Mordialloc Neighbourhood we’ve had some fun changing the format. Many of my students have been coming for years to the Writing for Pleasure & Publication classes, which keeps me on my toes. There can be no repeat lessons.

So borrowing  cards my daughter made for her Diploma of Art Therapy, we do some flash fiction to start the lesson. An extra writing task added to activate the brain cells.

cards-for-writing

Imagination, Ideas, Invention … I’m sounding a little like an Aussie politician at election time but three-word slogans aside – I try to make sure each class is as interesting and inspiring as possible.

I’m always looking for new ways to approach writing and encourage the pens to move.

There is a set lesson but choosing a random card and writing for ten minutes on whatever the picture triggers has produced entertaining and touching vignettes and the potential for some great stories.cards-for-prompts

Dennis chose the Batman card and wrote a witty dialogue between Bruce Wayne aka Batman and a new franchisee in Australia, Dingo Man! Needless to say, there were roars of laughter as he read his piece.

We had emotional memories of family and personal trauma, imaginative mysteries, childhood dreams, poems and essays.  A popular card is Shakespeare’s observation that All The World’s A Stage. It prompts interesting reflections.

I chose a card with a short verse and what looks like Jack climbing a beanstalk – perhaps the picture was intended as a metaphor for the words:

After Zen, Pick Up A Pen
Mairi Neil

‘Into the woods to get my wish
I don’t care how the time is now…’

What is my wish? I ask my heart
A jet flies overhead, I want to depart.
I want to fly – or is it flee?
To be somewhere else, to be really me.

Perhaps live in a cottage, grow veggies galore
Crimson roses climb to frame the door
The sound of the sea a whisper away
Soft sand or pebble beach, to walk each day.

No Internet to distract, banish TV too
Windows to Mother Nature will do.
Imagination unfiltered, pen unfettered
Past, present, and future, stories checkered.

Flowing words and thoughts, false or true
My mojo needs a seismic shift to renew.
But is there a need for woods, or fleeing by air?
Perhaps wishes come true from … anywhere.

I’ll make the time now – seize the day
Harness the words and what I want to say.
If positive encouragement rings in my ears
Dreams can be enough to banish fears!

I’ll take a notepad and pencil, or pen
Seek other dreamers with a writing yen
To say with words what drives the heart
I’ll join a writing class, no need to depart!

The last verse I added at home -a bit of advertising or perhaps convincing myself yearning can be suppressed!  I was putting into words my desire to return to Scotland – a dream I’ve nurtured for a long time.

Another piece of writing to come out of Monday class was in response to events next door to the neighborhood house.

Construction sites a constant in Mordialloc as so many houses are pulled down to be replaced with apartments or townhouses – even when houses have been renovated, as was the case with this house.

Farewell No 459 Main Street, Mordialloc
Mairi Neil

Monday morning
First day of term
A scene of devastation,
Dust swirling in the air
The chomp of a front end loader
Crunching bricks
Smashing tiles
Splintering wood
Demolition next door…
The hum of machines
An unwelcome background noise
As the classroom shakes
With the vibration of diggers
In moments the building flattened
A home – gone
A dream – forgotten
Years of living, loving,
Arguing, playing,
Holidaying, working
Birthing, dying
Reduced to dust motes
Lost in the wind
Continuous clattering, splattering
Crunching, munching
Clanging, banging
Until dump trucks cart away
history…
From the rubble
And mounds of soil
A family of mice
Scurry under the fence
Two ravens circle and swoop
To pick over the carcass
The silence deafening.

imgres-1.jpg

Sadly, development is not always in the best interests of the community. This one, in particular, may well lead to the end of my class because those with disabilities struggle to access the house.

Once multiple units are built the few parking spaces in front of the community house will be reduced and those with walkers and walking sticks will not be able to walk the extra distance required.

Already one of my students arrives an hour before class begins to get one of the few disabled parking spots. Now that’s dedication!

Parking always at a premium will be almost non-existent as building works progress, roads are partially blocked, tradesmen park nearby, and more people compete for limited spaces.

Mondayitis will be the least of our problems!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Holiday Games Banishing Stress With a Toolbox of Fun

john and anne 1986 1.jpeg

I love this picture of husband, John with daughter, Anne. In 1986, he may have been the Secretary of one of the largest and most powerful trade unions in Australia but he was also a new father, albeit second time round.

And the second time round he had his priorities right. Whenever he came home, or if I met him after work, he switched off, and lived in the moment – moments of love and joy, concentrating on family and where and how we fitted into the big picture of Life.

This week is the anniversary of John’s death and as usual reflection and memories of our time together are more intense but I’m always grateful for the many gifts John left me. The most important of course being our two beautiful daughters, but also his wisdom about taking the time to value what is really important in life:

  • the respect and love of those you hold dear,
  • the difference you make in their lives,
  • and the legacy you leave for them.

Begone Stress!

“I find it makes life a lot easier if you just forget a lot of stuff you’re supposed to be doing.”

JK Rowling

Me an ET Sydney 2014.jpg

We never took advantage of the perk of having our home telephone paid even although many times calls were work-related. We chose to have a silent number, more expensive but unlisted in the telephone directory. This helped to separate home and work, especially random calls from the media, plus abusive calls and death threats – although unfortunately some of the latter got through.

It wasn’t a perfect system but a thousand times better than today’s mobile world where everyone is urged to be contactable regardless of where they are – the flexibility to work marketed as a plus, feeding the idea that we are indispensable and therefore don’t switch off. Add the 24-hour news cycle and social media platforms like FB and Twitter and in some cases, it is a perfect storm for anxiety and overwork.  

I dread to think how different some of the tough periods we experienced could have been in today’s world. It is a brave person who puts their hand up for a job requiring time in the public eye.

A child pretending to talk into a phone has become children as young as pre-schoolers actually having a proliferation of digital tools for entertainment, including computers, game consoles, phones, and iPads. 

Childhood a different experience than when my daughters were young. I’m not sure if many modern children learn how to switch off or disconnect. This may be a contributing factor to the high rates of anxiety and depression we hear about.

images.png

I must factor in a proper break – I know a failure to do this has consequences – my body tells me that in no uncertain terms. In the last few weeks, I’ve experienced the extreme effects of a bout of labyrinthitis – not the ideal way to slow down but the illness leave you no option.

Holiday Games

In my healthy world, there are lots of books to read and word and writing games to help me slow down and relax, as well as a variety of craft which I enjoy.

I have a Scrabble buddy, Helen, and the girls and I enjoy board games like Cluedo (we have various boutique variations) but my all-time favourite is Sequence ( a combination of cards and poker chips). I also love crossword puzzles and now use these as a preferred way of switching my mind off to drift into sleep.

By the time term ends, I figure everyone is looking to wind down and have some fun so I step out of the normal lesson structure and encourage free-fall writing and see what eventuates.

America has produced innovative writing teachers along with amazing writers. We may bemoan the changes they have made to English spelling and grammar but there is no denying they have also enriched the English language and culture. The best writing games I have come from the USA.

images-4.jpg

I have several games I’ve bought online but also a couple that I’ve discovered in Melbourne shops. Serendipitous finds that I share with my writing group or classes.

Memories of Mordialloc Writer’s Group’s traditional Christmas get-together before the summer break still makes me chuckle as I recall the weird, whacky and wonderful stories produced.

In many of my end of term classes, it is the same.

Outrageous first lines, off-the-planet characters, ridiculous plots, absurd settings – a toss of the dice or a random choice that forces you out of your comfort zone. Pushes you in directions not attempted before.

Permission to be fanciful, funny, and free of being politically correct, or following accepted structures and expectations.

14316882_10158094063825377_790145542479657339_n

Amazingly, a gem may be produced, an idea salvaged to be usable or a memorable entertaining story to remind us how wonderful manipulating words can be.

We’ve been told often enough there are only seven basic plots, seven archetypal themes recurring through every kind of storytelling whether ancient myths, folk tales, plays, short stories, novels, movies or TV soap operas:

  • Overcoming the Monster
  • Rags to Riches
  • The Quest
  • Voyage and Return
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Rebirth

We also know the hero has a thousand faces and we must always be at war against cliché!

However, for a few minutes, in my last classes for the term, we race against time, let all the rules and tools of crafting fiction we’ve absorbed loose, and have some fun – stereotypes and clichés abound or may disappear.

Mid 19th century: French, past participle (used as a noun) of clichér ‘to stereotype’.

They are very similar. A stereotype is a generalization, it’s usually considered negative, and is oversimplified. Oxford uses “the woman as the carer” as their example of a stereotype. Not all women are “carers” so it is a stereotype. A cliché is any word, phrase, situation, or idea that has become so popular it is tired and overused. It can be a stereotype, but it can also be a fact. Popular phrases can be cliché, a stereotype can be a cliché or even common things in poetry can become a cliché, like the very overused “babbling brook” “pouring rain” or “everlasting love.”

Lizzy

The Writer’s Toolbox

This term, we used The Writer’s Toolbox, a game I picked up in Readings, St Kilda, for a mere $14.95 last September. A bargain I’m still crowing about.

20160918_135313-1.jpg

A box of fun guaranteed to banish stress and clear writer’s block – and to paraphrase Star Trek – your imagination travels where you’ve never been before!

We didn’t have time to use the game to its full extent because lessons are finite but I cherry-picked parts so we had the opportunity to share everyone’s delightful masterpieces.

We also bent the rules – some managed to use every prompt they were given, others used some and others altered their lines or words to suit their story. That’s what is wonderful about writing games – the only rules are imagination and that moving pen!

20160918_135522-1.jpg

I’ve listed my prompts and the bizarre flash fiction result follows.

First sentence: (To start with a surprise) My brother did this weird thing with turtles…

NonSequitur: (a surprising transition) … that weekend in Duluth

The Last Straw: (to create a dramatic arc) … “We were drinking champagne and losing our shirts.”

Three Sixth-Sense cards: (reminders to include the senses)  fresh floor wax; the toenails of the yoga girl; the smell of Susie’s leftovers

 FLASH FICTION IN 30 MINUTES

Fijian Fantasy by Mairi Neil (590 words)

My brother did this weird thing with turtles when he was drinking. I’m not talking tea or coffee, of course, but the hard stuff. Straight whisky – shots Jack called them.

After a few shots, he’d balance the turtle on his head, sway forwards so the turtle slid down his neck, disappeared into his ghastly, fluorescent shirt, and I don’t know how, because they’re the slowest creatures I know, but the darn thing popped out the front of his shirt the minute he straightened up – much to the surprise and applause of the audience.

Jack wasn’t on a stage, of course, but in a bar. Any bar, makeshift or otherwise. One of many found in the Fijian Islands where he’s lived for the past eighteen years. Needless to say, his audiences all mad or as drunk as him. It wasn’t the life our conservative parents envisaged and they clung to a belief Jack would, as father often said, ‘grow up and get a real job.’

But tropical sunsets and island life suits Jack and he can sing too. He’s made a precarious living entertaining the tourists with his weird turtle act and Frank Sinatra voice – until that weekend in Duluth.

Duluth, outback Australia, the most boring place on earth, but where my parents decided to retire and request brother Jack and I turn up for their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.

When Jack received the invitation, he said it was more of a royal command and spoiled the promise of the best relationship of his life. ‘We’re drinking champagne and losing our shirts,’ he boasted. ‘Susie’s teaching me yoga and my body’s discovering positions I never knew possible.’

‘Too much information, Jack!’ I said, ‘And you have to be here. Now get on a plane with shirt, minus turtle and be in Duluth by Tuesday.’

He never showed.

The oldies were devastated and I was despatched to Fiji to check Jack was okay. He’d fallen off the radar since our last conversation.

I arrived at his house, well shack really. (The smell of Susie’s leftovers still cling to my nostrils.) Jack told me she had a penchant for kippers and hash browns. Neither were clean freaks because the place looked like the aftermath of a hand grenade explosion. I doubt if Jack could find a shirt for turtle act or anything else among the piles of gaudy floral clothes. By the smell, they may even have taken root.

I discovered toenails of the yoga girl strewn like red confetti on the bathroom floor. I assume they were hers unless Jack kept more secrets from the oldies. My blood pressure rose along with my temper but as I turned to leave, I spied a scrap of rainbow-coloured paper fluttering on the fridge door.
When you’re ready to leave turtles and shots meet me at Hotel Marau

On arrival, at the swankiest hotel on the island, you’re assaulted by fresh floor wax, sparkling mirrors, polished mahogany tables, and an ambiance of soft piano music, tinkling water fountains and slippered feet gliding on parquet tiles.

Jack’s dirty shambles existed on a different planet so I almost fainted to see him on stage, his dinner-suited elegance crooning a la Frank Sinatra.

A glamorous woman, oozing chiffon and bling, sat at the front table enthralled, red fingernails tapping a martini glass. Susie, the yoga girl?

A wedding ring glittered on her finger matching the one on Jack’s hand clutching the mic.
Duluth may not be amused but at least no turtles or shots in sight.

YOUR TURN NOW:

Here are a few examples of some of the First Line prompts. Find a quiet spot and see what your imagination produces.

Your Mother lied to you, that’s the truth!

I have this system for getting exactly what I want out of people.

Dad gave me a wink like we were pals or something…

I loved the way she said ‘balloon’…

He swore on his mother’s grave but then he swore on just about everything.

There I was just standing there…

My only defence was to write down every word they said…

 

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Escapism Via Flash Fiction

ET and Me Sydney Coz play.jpg

After class, today, chatting with one of my students who is a fairly new immigrant from Turkey, we shared how the sadness in the world saps our creativity.

Understandably, she is worried about her family and friends after the recent events in Turkey and with family and friends in the UK, USA, and Europe I too seem to be in a constant state of worry – as well as being concerned for my Turkish student and other Turkish friends!

It is too easy to tune into ABC24 and the plethora of social media news, too easy to become addicted or obsessed about hearing the latest updates, too easy to be stressed, too easy to focus on anything but writing!

I tend to be a worrier but also highly sensitive to other people’s woes – compassion a core family value, along with a sense of social responsibility and community.

13307403_10154219402406103_6507090734973692322_n

My writing can be therapy and escapism, as well as a way to try and make sense or understand the indefensible, irrational and the unfathomable aspects of human nature and behaviour. I don’t keep a journal but often scribble my feelings into notebooks or fashion a poem or short piece of prose.

Times of emotional trauma or physical upheaval make it difficult to concentrate and when local or global tragedies occur, focus on substantial creative projects wanes, or is lost completely.

Thank goodness for writing classes!

Regardless of how empty I feel, once I’m in the safe space of my writing classes with the lesson plan in hand I let my imagination loose for the 15-20 minutes of stream of consciousness writing that is the ‘splurge’.

Sitting beside my students, I can become a writer rather than the teacher.

images.jpg

The skills of fiction and nonfiction are not mutually exclusive, and mastering or even flirting with one can have a transformative effect on the other.

Zachary Petit, Writer’s Digest

Today, we concentrated on the importance of opening lines. Not just because it is important to grab the reader’s attention but also as a way of jump-starting our imagination.

It never ceases to amaze me the variety and quality of the stories random splurges produce and today was no different.

A good opening line is a powerful thing: It can grab an editor’s attention, set the tone for the rest of the piece, and make sure readers stay through The End!

Jacob M. Appel

This is why it is called a HOOK – just like a fish at the end of the line, you want to keep your readers hanging in there!

Splurge – Try one of these story openings:

  • He’d always had the perfect golf grip. The one he used on the gun wasn’t bad, either.
  • Palm trees always reminded me of him/her. (You can substitute any other flora)
  • Parker was definitely not singing in the rain.
  • I think that after you lose your car keys three days in a row, you should just be able to stay home.
  • The devil always finds work for idle hands to do, according to Mr Smith our science teacher – and he should know.
  • My alter-ego came to life one summer in 1975. (Or another date!)
  • The scraping noise was Grandfather’s chair on the flagged tile floor.
  • ‘Who is it, Madeleine?’
  • The crushed carcass of the car outside the corner garage revealed a truth Constable Thomson didn’t want to face.

 

Night Terror
Mairi Neil (flash fiction of 750 words)

The scraping noise was Grandfather’s chair on the slate floor, but why is he in the kitchen now?

The clock in the hallway, ticked, whirred, and chimed the half-hour. Tim checked his Father’s fob watch on the bedside table: 3.30am.

How did Grandfather manage the stairs by himself – and why? Is Mum downstairs too? Tim held his breath, but no tell-tale cough announced his mother’s presence; no whistle of steam from the kettle on the range.

When Mum’s in the kitchen, there’s always the clink of china cups, although this is a strange hour for a tea party.

Another creak, low and sinister, followed by the scraping noise again.

Tim imagined the chair rocking back and forth in front of the wood-fired stove. The old man huddling forward, gnarled hands stretching towards the open oven door, willing the radiated heat to warm arthritic bones.

Mum must be there – who else stoked and lit the fire? Tim concentrated; listened for murmuring voices.

The morning ritual always the same; Grandfather and his crook legs and weak heart only make it downstairs by leaning on Mum’s arm and gripping the bannister.

Maybe they couldn’t sleep and Mum lit the fire to keep the old man company and now they’re absorbed in one of the story-telling sessions they seem to like so much. Always talking about the past. Tim often wished he had a time machine like the man in the book he borrowed from the library.

He burrowed deeper into warm bedclothes, his small face, a flat white stone in an inky river of shadows. His breath drifted in uneven puffs in the cold air and twitching his nose his eyes widened with remembering. If Grandfather is rocking in front of the fire he’d be smoking his pipe, a habit he said helped him count his blessings. But no pungent tobacco smoke wafted up the staircase to cloud the room.

An asthmatic cough from the room across the hall punctuated the night before fading into gentle snoring almost immediately.

And Mum is still asleep. Who is downstairs? A thief? Tim shuddered. Who could make an intruder leave?

So many homeless men living by the railway line. Men who cadged meals and money before stowing away on one of the frequent goods trains that crisscrossed the land. Desperate men with nothing to lose. Men fighting to survive bad economic times.

Has one broken in and settled by the fire? Tim’s eyelids flickered and he fought back tears. Troubled blue eyes stared at the dresser, found the photograph of his father, pale in the muted moonlight shining through threadbare curtains.

If only the mining accident hadn’t happened, Dad would make the intruder leave. Tim clenched his teeth.

He remembered the burly man at the door yesterday. His offer to chop wood for two shillings – the price of a flagon of sherry.

Mum confessed their poverty and offered a sandwich. The man’s hairy top lip twisted. ‘Only if there’s dessert,’ he said, menacing eyes staring too long at Mum’s chest before returning to her flushed face.

Tim sensed his Mum’s fear as she slammed the door, rammed the bolt across, pressed her shaking body against the entrance as if the oak panels needed help to keep the man out.

His ten-year-old hands fisted, but Grandfather’s restraining hand on his shoulder held him firm. He hated the old man for his whispered, ‘You’re too young, boy,’ but had a rush of pity when Grandfather added, ‘and I’m too old.’

Blood surged in Tim’s ears. He gripped the bedsheets, his racing heartbeat competing with the scraping and rumbling below. He must go downstairs and face the intruder, prove to Grandfather he was not too young, prove to Mum he could protect her.

The curtains billowed and a gust of even colder air swirled around the room. Tim froze. Perhaps it was a ghost downstairs. Dad or Grandmother visiting – they both had favoured the chair by the fire. The scraping noise accompanied by a rustling as if hands searched canisters.

An almighty crash followed the rattling of crockery. Tim cowered under the blankets until a shattering of glass and china was joined by grunting and snarling.

And his Mum spluttering, ‘Damn possums!’

Tim searched for his slippers and met his mother in the hallway as she recovered from a coughing fit.

They hurried downstairs. A tremulous smile playing on Tim’s lips as the stairs creaked and Grandfather’s chair scraped on the slate floor.

rocking chair

It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.

Lucille Ball

Writing makes me happy.

Why not choose a first line and write a story – escape from sadness and tragedy for a few moments with some flash fiction fun!

Flex Writing Muscles With Flash Fiction Fun

mordialloc beach.jpg
Mordialloc beach storm brewing

I can’t believe the term holidays are almost over and my  list of ‘things to do’ has morphed into ‘things I should have done’.

I hear my Mother’s voice ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions...’ Mum loved quotes: proverbs, Bible texts, aphorisms, lines from poems or classical literature and it’s amazing how many come to mind – imprinted on my brain like the times tables from school.

C’est la vie

At least, I’ve almost finished preparing my lessons for the four classes starting soon, and I’ve caught up with some friends, but the clearing of clutter to renovate the shed didn’t happen, nor clearing the boxes of papers from my study.

Maybe spring cleaning will work …

mordi beach stormy day.jpg

While filing away old lessons and researching and planning new ones I came across pieces of writing I’d written in class or on the train to work. Such a welcome distraction. The inevitable editing and polishing began until in some cases the original words barely recognised.

I don’t need any excuse to play with words or write and often when I come across a poem or story I can’t remember what the prompt was or why I wrote it!

Like this poem from 2o12, which was buried among notes in a lesson about dialogue!

Sea Dance
Mairi Neil

Shattered nerves soothed
By waves in a slow waltz
One two three four
One two three four
Lapping at feet, teasing the sand
The glittering sun
A silver ball suspended
From an azure ceiling
The vast ocean
A mirrored dance floor
A crooning breeze snatches
Troubles away
To where white sails flutter
And dolphins dream
One two three four
One two three four
Waves in a slow waltz
Soothe shattered nerves.

Mordialloc beach storm clouds gathering.jpg

Of course, the recent Federal Election and the prospect of a hung parliament is an entertaining (and worrying) distraction. Listening to all the politicians putting their particular spin on an extraordinary turn of events will no doubt fuel many writers, albeit comedians.

However, what it will mean for Australia is anybody’s guess and it is certainly keeping journalists busy. They have no trouble filling the 24 hour news cycle. The rest of us get on with life and hope for the stability promised.

An Election Limerick

Malcolm Turnbull, the PM in Oz
Who decided to be the LNP boss
Well, he turned out a dud
Just like Kevin Rudd
Their poor judgement Australia’s loss

1e79dc738cd17cf2dc344e26e75c2b19.jpg

I discovered a piece of flash fiction with a title that seemed to fit the election result so will share it to show what can come from a prompt I have used a few times over the years in classes. And like most fiction there is a lot of truth because here is a link to where I got my original idea.

Feel free to ‘have a go’ if the prompt triggers a story or poem:

The Writing Prompt

You were walking on the beach this morning and came across a bottle with a note in it.
Were you alone?
Why were you at the beach? Is that important?
Who put the message in the bottle?
Where did the bottle originate?
What does the note say?
How long was the bottle in the water?
Will you have to do something/take some action?
What are the consequences?

The story you write can be fantasy, adventure, horror, humorous, historical, mystery, romance…

Mixed Messages
Mairi Neil

Janet scuffed the sand oblivious to the cry of seagulls and crash of incoming tide. The dullness of leaden clouds grew darker by the minute. Hunched over with hands stuck deep inside her Duffel coat’s pockets, she struggled against the wind.

Straight from the Arctic – cold and frigid – the words Ben used to describe her last night.

She sidestepped a surge of white foam, stumbled over a green bottle vomited ashore with other debris. The jolt made her focus for a moment on something other than her own misery, then she noticed a scrap of paper inside the bottle.

She peered through the sand encrusted glass. The bottle, a peculiar shape with glass reminiscent of the bedside lamp inherited from her grandmother and supposedly from the 1800s.

Wary of touching anything the sea threw up, Janet used her booted foot to roll the bottle free of seaweed and entangled driftwood.

The sea harboured unpleasant creatures; animals that bite and sting.

Janet shuddered, remembering the stab from the stone fish she’d unwittingly stood on as a child. The pain of poisonous spines, the brush with death and disaster – a story her mother retold to anyone who’d listen. A story reinforcing Janet’s anxieties – not just of the sea, but fear of anything unknown.

Scaredy cat! Scaredy cat! The chants of school bullies still hurt 30 years later.

‘You’re scared of your own shadow.’ Another taunt Ben threw at her last night when she offered reasons why she didn’t want to travel to Doha.

‘Not shadows, Ben! Bombs and terrorists – no place is safe over there.’

‘Do you realise how much money is on offer? The lifestyle we can live if we move there?’
It always came down to money with Ben.

Emotion almost choked her as she picked up the bottle before the angry sea reclaimed it. She strode to the bluestone wall separating sand and promenade and sat on the cold bricks. A nearby stick ideal to dig out the weathered cork.

A few shakes and canny manipulation meant the note fell into her hand. Faded paper and blurred ink. However, the scrawled letters clear: HELP!

Janet began to shake, her imagination haywire, heart thudding.

Was someone captive on a ship? Abandoned on an island? Robinson Crusoe sprang to mind – when was that written? Janet tried to remember.

How far away from Australia was the island? What about pirates? Treasure Island’s murderous crew not that far-fetched. Plenty of people imprisoned, tortured and abandoned on the high seas over the years.

Today, the media full of refugees fleeing horror, needing help. How many migrant ships lost at sea? People seeking a new life in another land, survivor or survivors struggling in a lifeboat, minimum supplies gone, burning sun blistering skin, salt water driving the occupants mad…

She breathed deeply, inhaling the freshening wind. Ben always accused her of indecision and procrastination. She straightened her shoulders and with bottle and note in hand, started towards the town.

I’ll call into the police station first. What if they think my ideas fanciful? Tell me they have too much important work to do regarding border security. They’ll dismiss the note as a prank. Maybe accuse me of mischief!

Better to go to the local museum. Double check if the bottle is old or a replica. Ease the fear that someone isn’t desperate for help.

A sixth sense made Janet turn to stare seawards. With the worry over Ben and distraction of her find, she hadn’t scanned the bay this morning for ships heading for the city or leaving for distant oceans.

She loved speculating about their journeys – a not-too distant ancestor had been a sea captain – ‘the sea’s in our blood’ her father always said.

A white speck on the horizon moved fast becoming bigger like an expanding balloon.
A speedboat?
Was that a hand waving – arm pointing?

Janet looked around. No one else on the beach this dreary winter’s day. Even the regular dog walkers avoided the icy weather.

She edged towards the sea like a child worried about seeing the store Santa. The boat bumped over breakers, mounted waves, stayed on course, heading her way. Two people visible – one waving, shouting and pointing. At the bottle?

Her bottle.
How did they know?

A minute later, the boat skidded and juddered onto the sand. A sleek motorboat equipped with the latest technological wizardry. One of the men had binoculars around his neck, the other an earpiece hooked into a radio.

‘The bottle please, madam,’ said the man with binoculars, reaching out a gloved hand.

‘We’re from the CSIRO,’ chimed his companion.

‘The bottle. CSIRO,’ Janet repeated their words. Confused and flustered, she felt an anxiety attack beginning, chest tightening, breathing difficult. Heat in her chest moved up to her neck burning her face. Her legs quivered.

‘How did?’ she began to speak, but gloved hands interrupted.

‘Inside the bottle, there’s a tracking device stuck to the bottom.’

Janet hesitated as if he spoke Swahili. She reluctantly held the bottle up for examination. A glimmer of sunlight managed to break through the bruised clump of clouds now suffocating the foreshore. She noticed a tiny pebble, shook the bottle, it refused to dislodge. A transmitter?

‘Oh,’ she whispered.

Her imagination flew to spies, espionage, invading armies, dredged up a story her grandfather told about the war; explosive devices masked as innocuous wrack washed ashore. Ordinary people blown up because of their curiosity.

She pushed the bottle into outstretched gloved hands. The driver of the boat began to speak.

‘We’re testing the power of waves and…’ his explanation cut short by gloved hands pressuring his shoulder.

Janet retreated a few metres before turning and running towards the promenade. She slowed to catch her breath and shove her shaking hands into pockets.

Wait ’til Ben hears about this, she thought. Will he believe me?

She spun around to get more details about the men, but the boat was already speeding out to sea.

What just happened? What if they were lying? Were they scientists or Defence personnel? Were they even Australian?

A gust of wind whisked her sigh seawards.

She wouldn’t tell Ben. Why invite another lecture of what she should have done? How the world had changed since 9/11 – Australia included.

Ben can go to Doha or anywhere else for that matter. On his own. Stay there for all she cared. Amass his millions at the expense of the poor.

The wind died down, and the dark clouds scudded out to sea as if being towed by the speedboat. Janet threw her head back and laughed, surprised at the sound.

She hadn’t heard herself laugh or felt so relaxed in a long time.

It was over between her and Ben. No indecision or procrastination now!

The winter sun a pale promise in the clearing sky as she strolled home.

 

Today you are you.

That is truer than true.

there is no one alive

who is truer than you!

Dr Seuss

Flash Fiction: Fanciful Fun But Good Writing Practice

images.jpg

In my classes at local neighbourhood houses, we create a special writing environment to encourage each other to write;  to be in the mood to write when we are in that space.

The most important part of the class is the writing – for some students it’s the first chance they have in a busy week to put pen to paper, or perhaps take a break from whatever writing project they are working on. Some go to other writing classes like U3A, others are enrolled in TAFE or University courses.

I give prompts to flex those writing muscles, trigger ideas, spark a splurge!

images-2.jpg

No one expects a masterpiece in 20 – 30 minutes of stream of consciousness writing but the future poems and prose that arise from the ideas contained in the splurge are guaranteed to be useful when the writer sets to work editing, rewriting, fashioning the poem, fictional story, memoir, faction, play or film script into something readable later.

images-3.jpg

Is Time Disappearing More Quickly?

I can’t believe another term is almost over – where did the time go? However as a wintry chill sets in, the days shrink and the nights grow longer, it’s an opportune time to catch up on reading and writing. No excuses necessary to stay inside warm and snug.

This morning, as I stare at rain dripping from the trees and commuters hurrying to the station trying to avoid the puddles gathering on the pavement, it is indeed an inviting incentive to stay at the computer and lose myself in a fanciful world where the sun is shining, roses blossom and children’s laughter floats through the air.

Or perhaps, after examining the dark clouds and the shadows among the shrubbery I’ll start a gothic tale or two!

Imagination knows no bounds…

imgres-1.jpg

From first line triggers, bizarre plots and a selection of picture postcards I’ve encouraged students to try  flash fiction as a way of honing writing skills. To keep word count under a 1000 words, or aim for some of the more prescriptive counts: under 200 , 500 , 800 words, even  50 or 60 word counts – this takes skill in planning, editing and of course seeking the all-important twist or surprise at the end to make the short form worthwhile.

Flash fiction improves your editing skills but also helps you think about plots, how to craft a story in a few words – add the senses, show not tell and all the other attributes important to story-telling and writing.

You can pick up on what is happening around you, what’s in the news, the latest issue that’s the flavour of the month and instead of delving too deeply, taking months of research, you craft a short story and vent and create an up-to-the minute piece!

Since technology has given us the ability to read books on iPad, Kindle, mobile phone and a variety of other portable devices, writers have a huge market to consider – those who read via screen and those short of time. (Which includes just about everybody in the modern world!)

images.jpg

There have been plenty of studies detailing how reading online differs from reading a traditional book. The most obvious being page and word size and the demand for shorter and more concise writing.

Enter the popularity of flash fiction. These are the 3-5 minute short stories popular in Women’s magazines of old. The ones consumed in a coffee break, but now they be read via devices while people commute, are on trains or aeroplanes, waiting in the doctors or for other appointments, sitting in cafes or parks.

A writing class or group wonderful venues for these exercises because ideas bounce of each other, fellow students can give input if you’re stuck for an ending, or the plot seems awry and most of all there is a plethora of entertaining stories produced by feedback, wandering off in ways you’d never have imagined!

And why not – in most of my classes, although students range in age and ability, the majority are seniors who have lived amazing lives.

All that richness and life experience shared. So many varied ideas like colourful rich threads of a valuable tapestry.

images-1.jpg

Here is my effort from an idea of opening a birthday present..

A Birthday To Remember by Mairi Neil

‘Open the presents! Open the presents!’

Julie laughed as everyone in the room took up the chant and she was dragged to where a pile of gaily wrapped gifts surrounded by nibbles and wine glasses sat in the centre of the dining table.

‘Where to begin?’ she murmured to Deb as her best friend released her grasp of Julie’s hand.

There were bags hinting at bottles and ornamental paper shaped like books. Everyone knew Julie’s passion for crime thrillers. A few larger flat parcels with the telltale elegant gift wrap of Haig’s chocolates revealed they knew another of Julie’s passions.

‘Open this one, first,’ said Ben, a fourteen-year-old nephew, pushing the largest present towards his aunt. Round with red crinkly paper flaring at the top, a scarlet ribbon held it together.

‘Curiosity killed the cat,’ Deb quipped as she playfully shouldered Ben aside whispering in Julie’s ear, ‘open mine first – it’s your favourite writer!’

Insistent, Ben begged Julie with pleading baby-blue eyes and all the charm he could muster. ‘This isn’t my present. Mum bought you that,’ and to much laughter from the crowd of mainly twenty-somethings, he pointed to a brightly wrapped rectangle that could only be another book.

‘Okay, you win Mr. Pushy,’ Julie said and winked at Deb to soften the blow. She searched the parcel for a tag. ‘A mystery present – how exciting,’ and her nimble fingers untied the ribbon.

Julie heard the clink of glasses as Deb moved around the small crowd and topped up drinks for the toast. Someone had doused the lights and from the corner of her eyes she saw twenty-five candles flickering atop a cake in her Mother’s hands.

‘We might as well do this now, darling while everyone’s attention is on you.’

Conscious of the heat from the candles as her Mother placed the plate beside the parcel, now stripped of paper and ribbon, Julie clapped her hands at the round hat box.

She glanced around at the baker’s dozen of friends and family. ‘I hope this is what I think it is – you all know me too well!’

She pulled off the lid with a flourish, picturing herself as the winner of the ‘Best Hat’ at the soon-to-be-held Melbourne Cup.

*****

Within the hour DI Flint flicked through his notebook trying to piece together the chaos that followed the opening of the unlabelled present.

Later, he stared at the array of photographs on the Incident Room board. Was Julie the target? Did the person responsible know her mother would bring the cake out at that moment? Could it be a practical joke gone wrong? Ben was a precocious kid but where would he get a cobra?

Flint brushed hands through a mop of tussled brown hair. It was going to be a long night and it didn’t help that half the guests were affected by alcohol and bloody party pills! Deb seemed to be the only sensible one – and yet what if…?

Was it coincidence the book she gave Julie was Death by Surprise?

Exhausted, DI Flint threw his notebook down and shook his head as he checked his watch. Time to visit the morgue and then to the hospital and see if Julie’s in a fit state to be interviewed apparently she adored her widowed mum.

What a case to land the first night he’d given up smoking.

(567 words)

Rattlesnake Green

Here is another from a first line…

Righteous Anger by Mairi Neil

The kiss had surprised her. How dare he take liberties. That behaviour may have been accepted in ‘the good old days’, but this is 2016!

She could have him for sexual harassment. That would wipe the smug smile from his face, slow his arrogant strut to a shuffle.

It’s about power – the perception of coercion – what chance has an employee refusing the boss?

And how much more an uneven relationship can there be than the CEO and a junior clerk?

The kiss wrong on so many levels! The grin he gave afterwards won’t be so wide when he’s slapped with a writ.

I know what the rest of the office will say but I mean it this time. I’m not just going to talk – I’ll do the walk. I’ll hand in my resignation if need be –– in protest at all the young women soiled by office predators.

I mean, I saw it with my own eyes. Disgusting! People in glass offices should remember others look in.

*****

She’s what?

Why wasn’t I told his daughter worked here?

(176 words)

images-2.jpg

Prison Blues by Mairi Neil

I survey the ceiling of my prison. Ants march along concrete edges in a never-ending line, in and out of the crumbling mortar above a tiny barred window, too high for me to reach.

A shaft of pale sunlight patterns the opposite wall. There is a world outside this room! Tears buried beneath bravado trickle from the corner of aching eyes, dribbling into my mouth –– the taste of salt a welcome relief from the sickly sweet bun that had passed for breakfast.

A trio of flies buzz around the naked light bulb swinging from the centre of the stained ceiling. The slab whitewashed a thousand years ago and not touched since. Another wave of panic has me gasping for air. How can I be here? I repeat the mantra from yoga class, ‘breathe in, breathe out…’ and trawl through the events of the last two days trying to pinpoint what had gone wrong.

Fear twists my stomach and bowels. Will I throw up or …? I stare at the bucket in the far corner of the tiny cell sitting beneath the solitary tap jutting from the wall, and shudder.

The shuffling and snorting of the guard positioned a few feet down the dank corridor drifts under the buckled door. How many hands and feet spent their anger and despair against that door?

I suppress the urge to humiliate myself. The lingering smell of the last episode hangs in the air like the suspended light bulb. The flies increase their buzzing and frantic swirling. The guard had been almost too quick to respond. His reluctant replacement of the bucket and disdainful glare a warning not to expect such a favour again. The room spins.

I close my eyes willing relaxation. The man from the Consulate will visit again soon –– perhaps with good news. I’m not just any woman. I’m a well-known journalist. Please God, if money and celebrity count for anything get me out of this hellhole.

I’ve learnt my lesson. I’ll never write another story or make a flippant Facebook remark about Thai Royalty. Damn the Internet!  In fact, I’ll never step foot in this country again.

Oh, for the good old days when hard copy was checked by editors.

(372 words)

Prison_cell_door.jpg

Please share any flash fiction ideas or completed pieces or improve on mine and brighten an otherwise dull day!

Happy writing!

geraniums happy to feel rain.jpg