I was back at Moniack Mhor this morning. Last week’s writing course on poetry left me feeling satisfied. I has the bones and some of the flesh of poem and the fired up enthusiasm to tweak at it, pulling out some lines and chopping at others. I don’t know yet whether I have reached an end result, but I like where it is at.
Today’s course was prose, using our experiences and observations to come up with a fiction piece, the beginnings of a short story. What I would really like is for people not to say they have never written a short story before and then, at the end of the meeting, read out something really wonderful. Surely their first effort could be a lot less than wonderful. I, however, with a computer file of dozens of short stories find it difficult to spin a tale at times. I can’t seem to connect the dots.
Part of the problem was an underlying anxiety about getting home. A badly parked car had caused me to also park badly. The car was pointing downhill, nose not far off a burn, on a stretch of icy mud. I had tried to reverse to a more secure spot but the wheels turned and car stayed where it was. Floozy and her snow tyres were just not creating enough friction.
There was also the drive up the hill. It had been a very warm day yesterday. People in pale faces blinked at the unfamiliar sunshine and shed their winter coats and scarves. There wasn’t quite the smell of sun tan lotion in the air, but it was warm. At night time I suppose the temperature dropped. There wasn’t a heavy frost, not at low levels. Up in the hills where there had been floods last week, the wet patches on parts of the road had iced over. Floozy slipped once or twice but nothing too dramatic.
How can anyone be expected to write fiction when reality had already been quite scary? I was banking on another sunny day where by the time I drove home the ice would have melted. Floozy and her snow tyres could cope with mud better than ice.
The tea, coffee and cake settling in was followed by the usual round-the-table introductions. Only a few faces were familiar. One side of the table was made up of member of the Black Isle writers group, many of whom were working on manuscripts which they humbly insisted were unlikely to be published.
We were given a proper guided tour this time and given a little more detail about the garden planted recently. Places that had been under water last week were dried out and accessible.
No one asked me to listen to a plant speaking. I have to say that having spent yesterday afternoon replanting the patio containers, the plant world and I might be on speaking terms now. The task this time was to make notes, observe and use the material in a fiction story.
I am a stone gatherer. I like to bring something home after a visit somewhere, preferably a stone, but a bit of wood will do or a strand of sheep’s wool caught on a barbed wire fence. I suppose these bits of things remind me that I went to these places. Sometimes I remember what I did or saw, but most often the places merge. That grey sparkly stone might have come from just outside a bothy in the middle of the Cairngorms or it might have come from a path beside a river in North Yorkshire.
I picked up a stone from a pile beside a pond and secreted it in a pocket. I wanted to write about a stone gatherer, like me. A different age from me, a different gender, a different place but a stone gatherer like me, with a glass bowl of stones on the window sill, and a first stone in his hand and a memory - a boyhood memory of sitting on a bench in the sunshine, underneath an open window, listening to someone teach a group of students how to write poetry.
I’d like to say it was a great short story, or the opening few paragraphs to one, but it didn’t really take my imagination by the scruff of the neck and insist on being written. Where the words of poem would have leapt from the wings into centre stage, the short story was flagging a taxi from the corner of the road to go home to warm slippers and a generous thumb of a single malt.
Without the option to pass, my short story was inflicted on the other writers around the table. It was seriously cringe-worthy and didn’t even qualified as the poor cousin in the room. How different from last week when someone said my poem was their favourite. There were no plaudits this time, just a swift moving on to the lady next to me.
OK, so this one morning I couldn’t write a decent short story.
Am I down-hearted? Not really. I’m not about the surrender my pen and donate my thesaurus to a charity shop.
Tomorrow I might write a best seller!