Surprising Thoughts A Bus Ride Sparks

images.jpg

Two weeks before Christmas I caught a bus to Chadstone Shopping Centre for an appointment. I first heard of Chadstone in the 60s. We called it Chaddy. It was a big deal then – Melbourne’s first suburban shopping centre. At last, we could understand those Hollywood movie references to ‘malls’.

According to Wikipedia:

Chadstone Shopping Centre is a super regional shopping centre located in the south-eastern suburb of Malvern East, Victoria in the city of Melbourne, Australia and is the biggest shopping centre in Australia and claims to be the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. The centre opened on 3 October 1960 and was the first self‐contained regional shopping centre in Melbourne.

The centre contains 129,924m2 of shop floor space, about 530 stores and more than 9300 free car parking spaces. It has as many as 68,000 visitors on its busiest trading days and attracts about 400,000 tourists a year from interstate and 200,000 from overseas. Sales at the centre exceed $1.4 billion—the highest turnover of all Australian shopping centres—and it has more than 20 million visitors annually.

Huge as it is now, we locals still call it Chaddy!

2007 Chadstone_Place_Entrance.jpg
2007

 

Chadstone has been constantly reinventing itself but this visit I became disoriented. When I stepped off the bus from Mordialloc I didn’t recognise the place; the change so great from my last visit a couple of years ago.

There was a new bus interchange – no longer did you get dropped alongside an entrance I recognised.

20161209_131245.jpg

I wanted to visit the Oxfam Shop but where was it? The old bus stops that flanked the entrance demolished, shopfronts moved or renovated, the centre expanded.

Sculptures and garden beds existed. Welcome cafes had me twisting and turning wondering which way to go.

Chaddy has expanded with age, like me. The expansion causing heartaches for those living nearby as homes gobbled but also nightmares for commuters and clients.

Anecdotal stories circulate of people driving around for hours trying to find a parking spot in the centre. My last experience of that was 20 years ago when John was still alive and the girls were in primary school. One of them had been invited to a birthday party at the ten pin bowling alley. (Is it still there?) Another time one of the girls invited to a movie (the cinemas are still there). To say we got lost both times is an understatement.

Even all those years ago the centre was huge with multiple entries and exits to car parks and a labyrinth of corridors and floors. We spent 20 minutes looking for a park and a further 10 minutes finding wherever we had to go. All of us stressed, no one arriving in a party mood. ‘Never again,’ John said, and I agreed. Even the girls thought, ‘it sucks’ and confided our local Southland Shopping Centre was better. (Comfort zone triumphs.)

However, like ex-Prime Minister John Howard’s promise to never ever introduce a GST, I’ve been back to Chaddy several times over the decades. At least ten times because often I do market research for YouSource based at Chadstone. I take public transport so have no issues with parking.

Once I figured the right direction and entered the mall I discovered a pleasant surprise – a real bookshop! Robinsons –– a branch of an independent bookshop I frequent in Frankston. I confided to the staff I had no idea they had another shop. The girl at the counter laughed.

‘We have eight stores,’ she said and proceeded to reel off names including large shopping centres like Eastlands, Fountain Gate, Northlands and Highpoint West. I didn’t absorb them all because like most Melburnians, depending on what side of the Yarra River or Port Philip Bay you live, it’s rare to shop outside your comfort zone.

20170103_124207-1

People are parochial: western suburbs, eastern suburbs, south-eastern suburbs, northern suburbs, the peninsula…

The bus service between Mordy and Chaddy excellent and entertaining. The route passes several schools and suburbs, stops at Mentone and Oakleigh Railway Stations and multicultural Australia hops on and off as well as the silent majority, great unwashed, salt of the earth, uninterested masses – stereotypes and atypical depending upon your point of view and life perspective.

There are young parents with toddlers, grandparents with shopping jeeps; giggling and dour teenagers.

Characters galore and wonderful fodder for a writer considering the trip takes almost an hour. I love to use the trip to catch up with reading too, but always have my notebook handy:

Old man climbs the stairs to board the bus. It is an effort.
Greek? 80s?
A full length dark blue trench coat almost sweeps the ground. He’s hatless, grey hair atop brown wrinkled face. Two-three inches of trousers crumple over light blue trainers.
He swings a bag of oranges in his right hand and clutches a plastic bag bulging with 20 cent coins in the other along with a rosary, the light blue beads bright against a dull silver crucifix. He mumbles to himself, reciting prayer or penance as he shuffles down the aisle.

Who is he? Where is he going? Why the oranges? Why the coins? Is he a retired priest? What’s with the blue trainers?

20170103_124151-1.jpg

Houses and shops and public buildings viewed from the bus window all hold a story or make interesting settings.

I spot a sign, a rectangle of white cardboard hammered to a telegraph pole. Black Texta announces: ‘I buy houses’ and a mobile phone number is listed. The sign placed near a bus stop and intersection to attract passengers and motorists.
Who is buying the houses? A local or foreign syndicate? A developer wanting to make a killing?

Who? Why? Where? When?

Drivers play the radio or motor in silence. Many wear bright turbans along with their uniform. More women are drivers now. Often the bus pulls over in Warragul Road near the depot and there is a change of shift. Each driver has their own code, signs off and takes their cash box and a bag with their personal belongings.

Most still bring sandwiches from home, have a thermos, a book or newspaper to fill in the time when traffic, timetables or sudden changes give them spare minutes. Although less smoke nowadays, it is not unusual to see drivers pacing outside the bus enjoying a cigarette. Or more likely chatting on a mobile phone!

Mornings or Afternoons
Mairi Neil

The bus arrives to a restless queue
Driver grumpy, wishing time flew
Passengers board like a mutinous crew
No smiles, or greetings, courtesies few.

Timetables set and must be obeyed
When punctual, the memories fade
Lateness, delays, cancellations weighed
Invoking criticism, complaints, tirades!

What do passengers care of roadworks?
Better to assume all drivers are jerks
Perhaps skiving off, looking for perks
Responsibility of time, theirs to shirk.

Traffic jams, stress, interrupted flow
Vehicles broken down or going slow
Bicycles hesitant of where to go
Negotiating routes even hard for a pro.

Who’d be a bus driver, I often ask
Their daily challenge an unenviable task
The bus arrives to a restless queue
The long-suffering driver wishing time flew…

KYI1_8_travelquoteshdwallpaper17.jpg

Passengers plug into iPods, read books, message or chat on the phone, talk with each other or ignore the veritable Babel as English and a dozen other languages punctuate the air.

A girl, perhaps 14 sits opposite me reading Douglas Adams The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The comic Sci-Fi popular in the late 70s – I suppose in a world inhabited by Trump and his supporters the bizarre world created by Adams will seem normal!

A teenage boy, perhaps 16 talks loudly to impress his girlfriend and uses the ‘f’ word freely. A woman in her 60s or late 50s tells the boy to ‘Have some respect for others on the bus. Mind your language.’ Duly chastised he remains silent until he and his companion got off two stops later.

Good on her for speaking and good on him for respecting her point of view. I ponder the times when I’ve been in a train carriage and a portable player booms rap or techno music and I’ve wished the owner would turn it down but avoided confrontation by not speaking up. Sometimes we allow our fears and inhibitions to cloud our judgement.

A bus ride can have your brain ticking over like a Geiger Counter and also send you off on a philosophical journey, or into the past – all fodder for a writer.

Retail Therapy Flash Fiction
Mairi Neil

Sarah tapped the credit card on the machine just as the TV commercial advised. The shop assistant smiled; handed her the parcel.
Sarah beamed and said, ‘technology’s wonderful isn’t it?’
Happily swinging the bag containing her Nikes, she visited Prouds to take advantage of their jewellery sale. Purchases in exclusive boutiques followed. How she loved end-of-season sales, the packed shops, the casual assistants doing their best.
Chadstone a retail paradise that Sarah appreciated more than ever. In less than an hour, she’d spent $4,000.
What luck that the old dear had left her credit card on the counter this morning when Sarah served her coffee.

The Bus from Mordialloc to Chadstone
Mairi Neil

The sea a mix of grey, blue and green
as white sails parallel to the pier
leave the Creek as if pulled on a string
outdoor tables and chairs filled with families
a kaleidoscope of  colourful dots on the beach
groups and singles claiming patches of sand
and in the distance wetsuits mimic dolphins
the swimmers braving a tumultuous sea
gulls circle above gannets poised on rocks
myriad hungry eyes ever-watchful for food…

An old lady wearing too much makeup boards
with gaudy red lippy and rouge-stained cheeks
manicured red talons clutch bag and brolly
she sits beside a young girl whose compact mirror
wobbles as she applies mascara and eye shadow
the risk of losing an eye high as the bus bounces
over gouged lumps and road bumps
the old lady stares in disapproval or is it awe…

on the pavement solitary walkers stride
solo by choice or circumstance
perhaps walking through depression
a man and woman pant past
jogging fitness freaks, hot and sweaty
obligatory cords dangling from ears
music or meditation to increase their speed
not keep in touch with world affairs
an overweight man pushes a shopping jeep
looking uncomfortable and miserable –
for his generation, this was a wifely duty
or is he reduced to delivering junk mail
to maintain a quality of life?

when Oakleigh comes into view
graffiti walls compete with inner city lanes
the bus almost empties of people
going to work, to study, to shop
to catch a train to the city…
but just as many climb aboard
heading for Holmesglen TAFE
or the irresistible magnet of Chaddy
towering blocks of concrete and glass
studded with neon gems and greenery
surrounded by vehicles disgorging people
into a bustling commercial hub
no longer unique but replicated
throughout Australia and the world…

Please feel free to comment –

What experiences have you had on public transport that could be a poem, story or perhaps a novel?

 

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

Prompts as Inspiration – Writing Classes help Creativity and are FUN!

“Writing will fill your heart if you let it… will fill your pages and help fill your life.”

Julia Cameron

caroline's orchids 2

I received The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron as a gift from a student after my husband John died. The student empathised with me, understood the effect John’s death was having on my writing ability, even the desire to write. Philip lived with schizophrenia and depression – he understood trauma and grief well, albeit  from a different perspective than mine.

He turned up early one morning with a much-loved, dog-eared copy of The Artist’s Way saying, ‘This helped me through a tough patch.’  He thrust the book into my hand and left like a gust of wind. My surprised thanks followed him down the driveway. ( Still in pyjamas trying to shake off the exhaustion of yet another sleepless night, I wasn’t in a fit state to receive visitors!)

The book and subsequent ones I’ve read by Julia Cameron, kept me engaged with writing and more importantly teaching writing. I needed to have an income, to make my plan to give my teenage daughters a choice of  educational opportunities, a reality. To regain enthusiasm for teaching writing meant I had to regain the passion for the written word and the energy to write!

Julia’s book did the trick and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been teaching for over fifteen years and have become more expert at creating prompts or ideas to help people write in class regardless of whether it is fiction, non-fiction, poetry or memoir.

Here is my piece of flash fiction, or slice of life and a poem from the prompt

The scraping sound got louder…

“Mum… Mum,’ Anne’s voice rose an octave on the second ‘mum’. I hurried into her room. ‘What’s wrong?”

She’d been complaining of a headache earlier and I wondered if some other pain had manifested. I wasn’t expecting her reaction.

‘Shh, shh. listen…’

‘What…?’

‘Listen to that…’

‘To what?’

‘The scraping sound – there’s possums in the ceiling.’

I froze, strained to hear the noise, silently praying it wasn’t possums. I remembered the stories friends related about dealing with possums taking up residence in the roof and groaned.

‘Shh,’ Anne hissed, ‘do you hear it.’

Sure enough the scraping sound got louder. ‘Those three little possums nesting in the jasmine weren’t there this morning.’

It was my turn to shush and signal Anne to be quiet. Scratch… scrabble… silence. The scraping inconsistent and intermittent. I stared at the offending corner of the ceiling, tried to envisage the colour-bond roof and eaves. Where could a possum get in?

Scratch… scrabble… silence.

‘Mice,’ I said, ‘it’s a mouse – there’s not enough room in this extension for possums to get into the roof. This part of the house has a flat roof.’

‘It’s too noisy for a mouse, mum.’

‘No it’s not, they climb up the inside of the walls – probably where your room adjoins the old part of the house – they use the lathes like ladders.’

Scratch… scrabble… silence.

‘Your Nana always said mice in the ceiling wear hobnail boots.’

The ceiling fan whirred and hummed. Doves cooed outside.  Anne smiled, and resumed working on her laptop. I returned to the kitchen to finish baking for my writing classes, but the scraping noise triggered fear – not of mice in hobnail boots, but of a rat gnawing through electric wire – or perhaps plaster.

I’d ask Mark next door to check the roof – just in case. An electrician, heights or small spaces never phased him. Since John died, he’d often come to our rescue. I sighed and stirred the cake batter with more vigour than intended; mixture splashed onto the bench. Rats indeed!

A conversation from years before in the school canteen sprung to mind. Carolyn Plattfuss regaled me and other mothers on duty with details of a frightening experience. One day, although her baby was asleep in his cot, she had an overwhelming urge to check he was all right. She tiptoed into his room just as plaster started to crumble and fall from the ceiling in the corner where the cot hugged the wall. The lumps missed the now crying baby by centimetres.

Carolyn rushed to the rescue as two large rats fell, coupled together and squirming; they landed in the cot scattering plaster debris. Carolyn grabbed her son with  trembling arms and raced from the room. She slammed the door, but  had the presence of mind to jam a towel underneath the door before ringing pest exterminators, who caught and removed the rodents.

I shuddered. Standing silent and still, I craned my neck towards Anne’s bedroom; holding my breath I listened.

Scratch… scrabble…scratch…

Mice having fun on the lathes? Please let it be so. I picked up the phone and dialled Mark’s number. Maybe he’ll be free tomorrow to go up into the roof and check. Until then there will be little sleep in this house tonight!

Aurora snuffled at my legs, wagging her tail, hoping for a treat. Love you to bits, I thought, but sometimes it would be helpful if you could morph into a cat!

Scratch… scrabble… scratch

mouse-rodent ar128700024529531

Night Visitor

Mairi Neil

Oh, little mouse, I sit here sewing,

The children are in bed.

I was seeking relaxation,

Now I’m listening to you

Instead!

You’re scrabbling in my roof, I hear your feet

Against the ceiling.

Are you on a family outing –

Is that a baby I hear squealing?

Now you’ve run into the kitchen

And put on your hobnail boots.

There’s scraping noises

From the chimney

You obviously don’t mind the soot.

Is that a clatter and a bump?

Perhaps I’ll get a cat –

I’m sure I hear a gnawing

Little mouse,  are you a RAT??

Students came up with a variety of possibilities for scraping sounds and everyone had several stories of different genres about mice, rats and possums – including me!

window open and a cool breeze, window blind scraping intruder at the window man on roof painting and preparing spouting possums on a tin roof exhaust pipe loose concreter/plasterer working tree branch on door

They utilised various settings – why not ‘have a go’ too? Have some fun exercising your creativity.

Writing Flash Fiction Helps Editing Skills and Is Flashing Good Fun!

Words should be an intense pleasure, just as leather should be to a shoemaker. If there isn’t that pleasure for a writer, maybe he ought to be a philosopher.    

Evelyn Waugh, The New York Times, November 19, 1950

The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.      

Mark Twain, letter to George Bainton, October 15, 1888

words_THEME-110x110

Flash fiction is defined as fiction that is brief – perhaps only a thousand words,  fifty to  hundred words, or even less than that because we now have Twitter stories where writers only use 140 characters!

This short form of storytelling requires skill and imagination. No time to be wasted on exposition, just delve straight to the ‘flashpoint’ of a story and intrigue the reader. Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style advises, ‘The habitual use of the active voice…makes for forcible writing.’ Flash fiction encourages the use of active voice so that’s another incentive to ‘have a go’ and write some.

Twitter Flash Fiction
Mairi Neil

The boat circled the reef. Ted floated silently, his knife wound leaking blood. Annie waited for the hungry pointer to make her single again.

Sam and Kara snuggled into their sleeping bags. They loved the peacefulness of the Australian Outback. As did the death adder in their tent.

Moonlight glittered on the dirt mound. Helen shivered. The shadowy figure crunched on the bones. How to stop the labrador’s midnight feasts?

There are even six word short stories based on a legend about Ernest Hemingway accepting a bet he could make people cry in a six word story. The classic he’s believed to have produced: For sale: Baby Shoes. Never worn.

Check out efforts by other famous authors: http://www.sixwordstories.net/category/author/famous-authors/

Have fun trying this in different genres. My attempts pretty ordinary:

Bus driver faints. Passengers can’t drive
Urgent coded message; an enigma still.
Sacked today. Started blogging, became famous.
Door opens. Shots fired. Wrong address!
Tall, handsome. Personality of a doorstop.

The spacecraft landed. Her novel reality.

1511029_695959863836392_8941424702136344477_n

Writing is exploring and experimentation. I began writing very short fiction in the late 80s early 90s in response to a daily newspaper’s request for 55 word short stories. I concentrated on having a surprise twist at the end or punchline – a bit like a joke. Members of Mordialloc Writers’ Group, including me were thrilled when our stories were published. We won fountain pens, handbags, movie tickets – and the newspaper filled a column on their entertainment page.

Stalking Fear
Mairi Neil
Footsteps echoed. Helen looked around; scurried towards home. Fear flitted across her face. She shivered and gathered her coat closer with trembling fingers. A stumble on the cobblestones and she clutched her handbag against her chest; glanced over her shoulder. Was she still being followed? A scream rent the air. ‘Cut!’ The director, not happy. (55words)

What a Fright
Mairi Neil
Margaret stared at the middle-aged woman. How could she have left the house like that? She shook her head in amazement at the spare tyre around the midriff, the peppered grey hair, creased face, and eyes sagging with dark bags. The beige top and daggy track pants so unflattering. How she hated shopping centre mirrors!  (55words)

Sad Farewell
Mairi Neil
He choked back tears and sniffed as he placed a rose on her fresh grave. He thought of all the years they’d spent together. Poor hardworking Maisie, dead far too soon. He knew her pregnancy was a mistake. What would they do without her? He sobbed as he watched her puppies scrabble at the earth. (55words)

Cruise Away
Mairi Neil
‘It’s certainly been a holiday to remember,’ said Lily.
‘Yes,’ agreed Jack, as he draped an affectionate arm around his wife’s shoulders. ‘Although, a bit too warm for my liking.’
‘And for me,’ whispers Lily, snuggling closer to Jack.
The elderly couple settled themselves into the lifeboat and watched the burning cruise ship slowly sink.

Ward Duty
Mairi Neil
‘The room is jinxed. For days whoever occupies this bed is dead by morning – despite the full life support system.’
‘They are always all right at change of shift each morning, doctor.’
Meanwhile, the new cleaner muttered again about the unnecessarily long chord on the vacuum cleaner when there was a powerpoint by every bed.

Last year I responded to a request for fiction to make a zine and students in my classes took up the challenge to write stories between 100-200 words, or less. We published our zines and distributed them in the community houses, but they also appeared at a special zine fair in Canberra at a workshop devoted to flash fiction.

Nightwatch
Mairi Neil
Figures in black crept across the roof while others edged up the street and positioned themselves in nearby gardens.‘Ready?’ he whispered into the microphone.
‘All in position, Sir,’ came the reply.
‘Go! Go! Go!’ he commanded.
The SWAT team attacked number 16 Bailey Street.The family within killed on sight. Meanwhile, the terrorist cell at number 61 heard the commotion and fled unharmed.

Wrong Number
Mairi Neil
‘What the?’ Linda froze in the doorway; her eyes darting around the room. She twisted and checked the hotel corridor, green eyes returning to stare at the ringing phone by the bedside. She had told no one she’d be here.
Fear crept from her stomach into her throat as the insistent buzz blocked the muted sounds of traffic from the city. She was conscious of chiming as the lift to the tenth floor worked overtime with a tour group. The phone continued to ring.
Probably Reception; they’ve forgotten to tell me something.
She hurried over and snatched up the receiver, ‘hello!’ Her eyes drawn like a magnet to the high-rise opposite –– the glint of something metallic.
She heard the shattering of glass, but didn’t feel the bullet from the assassin’s rifle.

Ritual Farewell
Mairi Neil
I watch the dark silhouette in the moonlight; listen as the heavy breathing transforms the still night air. He paces the backyard before stopping beside the vegetable garden. How clever! The mound of soil quickly grows as he prepares the ground for burial. Each night, the same ritual as next-door’s dog chooses a new spot to bury his bones.

Disaster Strikes
Mairi Neil
The low growl became a loud rumble. The ground shifted. Celia’s shaking matched the floor’s shudder. She lurched and grasped a nearby handrail; her fear mirrored in other people’s eyes. She struggled to stay upright. The terror ended abruptly and she breathed a sigh of relief. Holding her children close she said, ‘Don’t ask me to visit Scienceworks again,’ as she stepped off the earthquake simulator.

Flash fiction may be a rigid word limit, but it also is experimental, cross-genre and may even be obscure like some poetry. This is a great exercise for writers and students of writing. I’ve researched and participated in competitions such as writing on a postcard, one page, or a story to be read in 30 seconds or a minute – even mini-novels for a mobile phone screen. For all things flash fiction check out Flash Fiction World.

Hard Labour
Mairi Neil

She stands on the cliff’s edge buffeted by the southwesterly and drops her hands to her side and sighs. No sign of John’s ship. She rubs her belly just as the baby somersaults. You must be a boy! Mary clings to a scrawny birch tree; pulls her shawl tighter around thin shoulders as waves crash below. Thunderous explosions against jagged rocks. Seagulls squeal and wheel overhead, their beady eyes forever seeking food. A proud gannet immobile on the biggest rock, points its beak seawards as if it too waits for sails to appear.
Mary inhales the sweetness of the heather, tastes salty spray as the wind gusts. A bank of clouds unfurl like a grey blanket and the first drops of rain dampen her skin. The horizon black as the once blue sea bubbles sending molten steel waves roaring towards land. Is John’s ship caught in that maelstrom?
The impatient life she carries heaves again. Tears sting her face. The gannet flies skywards, a black spectre. Sea gulls screech, vultures circling. Mary closes her eyes to ride out the waves of pain, grips her ringless finger and wishes she had listened to her mother.

Revenge is Sweet
Mairi Neil

‘I’m not staying in this dump for a whole week.’
Gina stared at Bob’s flushed face and flinched as he slammed the wardrobe door. ‘I told you last night your tricks don’t work with me.’
She watched her fiancé cram clothes into his holdall. ‘What tricks?’ Her voice remained calm. ‘Pardon me for thinking you’d enjoy being alone with me. No distractions. Just the two of us. Undisturbed.’
Bob snorted and waved his arms at the window. ‘A bloody owl hooting all night, frogs croaking, and a twittering cacophony at dawn. Give me a noisy resort any day.’
‘Well, I’m not leaving the cabin.’
‘Fine – I’ll come back for you in a week.’
And he was gone.
Gina went to the woodpile with her coffee and sat on the tarpaulin covering the Holden’s spare wheel. She soaked up the sun, smiled, and checked her watch. The tyre would be flat when he reached Kangaroo Gully. She’ll prepare his favourite lunch soon. The forty minute walk uphill good sauce for Bob’s appetite.

Colour My World
Mairi Neil

Martin’s tongue protruded between thin lips, a pink dot of concentration. Blue eyes danced from paint palette to easel. Just like his father, Elaine thought, as she watched Martin dab and daub, sweep and slide. The paintbrush looking too big for six-year-old hands. The square of butcher’s paper soon filled with colourful blobs and strokes. ‘Jackson Pollock eat your heart out,’ Elaine whispered and smiled at Martin’s effort for the school art competition. She remembered Tom’s pride at the birth of their son. ‘Hope he has my talent for painting and your way with words.’
Tears gathered. The car accident had robbed her of Tom and left Martin severely disabled. Thank goodness she had discovered this school and new therapies. Martin had spoken his first word yesterday and if he can hold a paintbrush, a pen will follow.

Fear of the Dark
Mairi Neil

A beep like a balloon popping confirms the Mazda has locked. I hurry towards the lift. Is that other footsteps, or the echo of mine? The few yards seem to double.Why are the lights flickering?
The agent boasted the car park’s electronic gates made it ‘as safe as houses’. I hold my breath. Listen. The lights flicker off. I freeze. My chest hurts.
Oil stains on the concrete morph into sinister shapes. What if I trip? Bump into a parked car? I imagine the concrete pillars, plumbing and air-conditioning pipes crisscrossing the ceiling, ‘safe as houses’ he said.
The electric generator crackles, but was that a metallic click as if someone dropped a key? My bladder throbs, legs tremble. A scream gathers in my throat. The lights flicker on. The elevator’s silver doors shine like a beacon.
I stumble on a raised edge of concrete. Hands flail but I avoid falling. Laughing at my clumsiness I reach the lift just as the lights die with a bang. The lift doors refuse to open. I breathe deeply and inhale the acrid smell of cigarette smoke. ‘Who’s there?’ I stutter.

If you give yourself a word limit you have a clear indication of the maximum length of a piece of work and how much detail should go into the piece. Writing to a set word limit is an acquired and valuable skill and who knows where it might lead? Usually, I know how I want the short story to end before I begin – have that punchline or ‘ah ah’ moment in your mind and write to it.

Job Satisfaction
Mairi Neil

Jones hummed and secured the specimen jar into his briefcase. He smoothed the surgical gloves before checking the protective covers on his shoes and picking his way around the murderer’s flat, careful not to leave traces of his visit.
How he loved this job: the precision, planning, collating evidence and risk taking. New technologies made it more challenging and exciting. A random hair on a pillow or in a plughole, a scrape of skin or blood on furniture, a cigarette butt. Any pining for the old police ways of getting a conviction by intimidation compensated by the thrill of planting evidence.

Cultivating the Future
Mairi Neil

Tim checked Wikipedia and tackled James when he arrived home from college. ‘That’s a marijuana plant you’ve got in your room!’
James paled, ‘Is it? I’m looking after it for a friend.’
‘Yeah right! Never thought my son would get into drugs.’
Defiant, James jutted his jaw, ‘it’s legal – for personal use.’
‘One plant can lead to many,’ said Tim, ‘especially one as healthy as yours.’
‘I just want to save money,’ muttered James.
‘You need to make money, son.’
‘What do you mean?’
Tim’s lips twisted wryly, ‘I’ve just been made redundant. Let’s plant an income.’

A Fishy Tale
Mairi Neil

Martin couldn’t believe the judges announcement, that bastard Bill had won the Angler’s prize. Bill strode to the podium to collect the $1000 cheque. Martin seethed. It wasn’t about the money. He looked at his son and saw disappointment etched on the ten-year-old’s face. He had assured the boy their 5kg Bass would win.
The local newspaper insisted everyone gather around the winner for a photograph displaying their catch alongside Bill’s 6kg giant. Salt rubbed into a fresh wound.
On the crowded podium, Pete pulled at Martin’s arm. ‘He’s a cheat Dad.’
‘We don’t have to smile, son,’ Martin whispered to Pete, ‘but we can’t be sore losers.’
‘But Dad… he stole that fish.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Look at the mark on its side.’
Martin peered at the unusual scar on Bill’s fish. Pete was right. It was one of the Bass from the Aquarium. Father and son grinned as they planned how to spend the cheque and Bill was charged with burglary as well as cheating.

Many writing professions like copywriting and marketing demand short succinct attention-grabbing and memorable ‘stories’, but so do other professions. The writing on captions for exhibits in museums and art galleries, brochures for businesses, book reviews, and a variety of academic tasks or small business needs – the fewer words you use to leave an impression on a reader, the better. And this all takes practice. Have some fun!

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, 1865.