WRITE OUR AGE: CHARACTERS WHO BREATHE

We all know the struggle of coming up with a name for a character, but what comes after that? 

Next to crafting a plot, I believe that the art of creating a realistic character is one of the hardest things to master as a writer. However, hopefully this post will lend a hand to any struggling writers out there agonising over personality traits, family backgrounds and character motivations.

First of all, although writing, to some people, is separate from reality, many writers tend to base their characters on someone they know in real life. For instance Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ play: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ was influenced by Williams’ sister, Rose Williams. She also inspired the character of Laura Wingfield in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’

In doing this, the writer produces a character who is, even at the drafting stage, more three dimensional. This technique gives the writer a foundation to work on and then perhaps adapt later in the writing process. Basing a character on a real person gives you the chance to notice the details that create a realistic character. You’re more likely to notice and include unique habits, such as whether fidget, what their body language is like when they’re lying and how they react to stress. All this is fundamental to helping you construct a convincing protagonist and identifying what it is that makes them tick.

After you have the basis for a character, it’s time to start hammering the heated metal block into shape. It’s time to start laying down the internal structure of the character, giving them depth and personality.

The way I like to do this is carry out a series of interviews with the character, either through role play (otherwise known as talking to myself) or a written journalistic style interview.

Here’s a brief step by step guide for how to go about doing this, however please note that this is YOUR interview, you get to do what you like and shouldn’t feel the need to be restricted by this simple guide!

  1. Choose a setting. Where are you meeting this person? In a bar? In their apartment? In Central Park South? Think carefully about where you are likely to meet your character and take a moment to imagine the surroundings, what they might be wearing and what they’re doing.
  2. Begin your ‘interview.’ It’s time to approach your character, or perhaps they’ll be the one to initiate the conversation, if they happen to be that sort of person. They might even ignore you, but either way begin your relationship with this character and start to find out all about them.
  3. Carry the conversation. Ask your character questions, as you would when you meet someone for the first time. What are they doing here? What are they called? What would they recommend on the menu? Here is where you begin to shape their thought patterns and general characteristics. Think about how they sit as they talk, if they tap their fingers, if they even pay much attention to you.
  4. Make notes once you’ve had a little chat, make a note of things that worked and ignore the excess that didn’t.
  5. Repeat It takes time to get to know someone, so repeat this process as often as you like, whenever you like. If you happen to be out and find yourself in a place that reminds you of your character, place them there and observe.

I hope this general guide will help any writers out there to build a character and develop their own techniques and skills to add to their toolkit.

 

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BOB DYLAN’S NOBEL WIN

As you may have heard, earlier this year the American singer-songwriter and poet, Bob Dylan, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for ‘having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.’ The secretary of the Swedish academy compared his work to that of Homer and Sappho and expressed hope that the news would be received with joy.

And as expected, Dylan’s Nobel win was greeted with a variety of responses, many were delighted by what they regarded as a long overdue recognition of talent, including President Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen and me, whilst others took a more disapproving stance, claiming that Dylan was fundamentally a musician, not a poet and therefore did not deserve such an accolade.

With that in mind, let us examine the argument put forward by those critics: that Bob Dylan’s songs cannot be considered literature.

Okay, now let’s remind ourselves that some of the earliest forms of poetry were lyric poetry and consider that argument again. In Dylan’s work, words and music are undoubtedly intertwined. It’s poetry written to be performed, to be enhanced by and delivered through music.

Songs such as Mr Tambourine Man’, ‘Desolation Row’ and ‘Hard Rain’ draw influence from the spontaneous style of Kerouac and the symbolism of Rimbaud. They display, as Patti Smith puts it, a ‘Rimbaudian mastery of language with a deep understanding of the causes of suffering and ultimately human resilience.’

Hard Rain itself was partly influenced by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and another Dylan song: ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is widely recognised as the anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement. This goes to show that Dylan’s work is not only poetically accomplished, but also politically nuanced and historically significant. Dylan’s songs have been the soundtrack of the last century and continue to provide truth and influence a new generation of poets.

Bob Dylan has never been a songwriter in the classical sense and is by no means a traditional poet, so it only seems fitting for some to find his brand of literature hard to define and label, but since when has ground breaking art been conventional? There is no doubt that Dylan’s work bears the defining traits of great literature, for over half a century, he has produced lyrical and narrative masterpieces that have defied expectations and set new precedents.

So if Dylan’s Nobel win is hard for some to swallow, then perhaps it’s time for them to realise that the times are a-changing, time to realise that literature is dynamic and boundless and acknowledge Bob Dylan as a rare and exceptional writer.

bob

Bob Dylan at his typewriter

FOR ALL TIME: SHORT STORY

There were only four rooms on the sixth floor of the Clearview Hotel. Phillip Eastwood had designed the level before five too many shots of tequila on his twenty-sixth birthday killed him. They’d built the floor the way he’d drawn it as a memorial and named the four rooms after his four Siberian cats, because he had no children or distinctive achievements, apart from dying in a hurricane of neon signs and his own vomit.

Allister Web, more commonly known as The Spider, occupied The Rusty Suite, which was located to the left of The Shrimps Suite, which, very fittingly, housed Mrs P. Haddock. On the opposite side of the corridor, there resided two people who had spoken just once and then never conferred again.

From the moment he saw Gregory Valentine, Nate Silverman could not shake the feeling that, even on a different coast, he still shared a wall with his father.

This was what he thought of on his last day at the hotel, with his eyes fixed on a grey thread of dust by his lampshade and his forehead pulled back into an absentminded frown, Nate’s thoughts streaked through eight states, all the way back home.

He stood, poised outside his front door with one fist raised to knock, like he expected someone to answer. Noiselessly, he turned the brass knob, stepped in, and stopped.

‘Happy birthday, Nate,’ Mr Silverman bellowed from his dining room, two months after his son’s nineteenth birthday.

Nate eyed the gargantuan store brought cake that had been clumsily hacked into crumbling squares. A whole lemon had found its way into the lemonade jug, bobbing and struggling to stay afloat, drowning in a sickly sweet froth. The pearl of light in the top right corner of his father’s eyes made him look like a madman.

Nate let his bag drop to the floor with a thud as his father waited for his reaction, the hand that still held the cake knife trembling with anticipation. Nate sat down, one hand gripping the table leg and the other half stretched out towards the front door, grasping at the lingering strands of reality that licked his fingertips until they stung.

He thought he should visit them, the others, and bid them farewell. He’d see to Mrs Haddock first, she talked like tomorrow would steal her vocal chords, regardless of who was listening. Nate could hear her clarion voice now; it made the wall that faced her room hum like an electric fence.

‘Nate?’ Mrs Haddock’s voice blared out like a siren. Inches away from her door, Nate winced.

‘Yeah, it’s me.’

‘Well come on in, I’ve been waiting for you,’ Mrs Haddock rambled on as Nate let himself in ‘you know I can’t get far with my knees, else I’d walk right on over to your room and murder you for not visiting me.’

‘Well, yes I’m sorry,’ Nate said ‘but, you see, I’ve got this condition with my knees too, they pop right out of their sockets whenever I take a step and then swell up like balloons, you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to adjust these bad boys coming across the corridor just now.’

Mrs Haddock let a smile breach her stern expression as Nate sat on the edge of her bed and knocked his knees together repeatedly.

‘Oh, you are terrible,’ she swiped at him, aiming for his leg, but brushing his shoulder instead.

Mrs Haddock was old, Nate knew that the first time they spoke, but she had not a single strand of grey hair or age spot. Her lips, coloured scarlet each day, still had some kind of youthful fullness to them and the nape of her neck remained smooth as glass.

She barely looked a day past thirty, but had he asked her who currently resided in the White House, she would have said Wilson. It was only her legs that betrayed her, they could barely keep her upright and Nate knew they had sentenced her to several life times in this suite

‘I can’t stay long,’ Nate said, holding tightly onto the hand that rested on his leg, but being careful not to grip tightly, even though he wanted to.

‘Will you come over here and talk to me again tomorrow?’ Mrs Haddock inquired as Nate began to leave, he paused and honesty stole tact from him.

‘No, I don’t think I will.’

Fingering her pearls, Mrs Penny Haddock smiled like a ten-tonne truck had not stolen her dancing legs over a lifetime ago.

‘I’d hoped you’d say that.’

It happened again the next day, and the next and the next. Nate would come home to a bizarre birthday welcome; sometimes Mr Silverman would even go as far as to tie half inflated balloons to the front fence, which Nate untied hastily as soon as he got home, in case the neighbours saw.

Each day, before he left the house, Nate reminded his father that today was just a normal day, not a celebration, not a special occasion, but each day he would forget again. According to Mr Silverman, Nate was thirty-nine years old when he was made redundant for arguing with his boss about his own name.

By the time his son was middle aged, Nate had stopped trying to remind him and locked the front door each morning instead.

Nate leant against The Spider’s door for a few moments after leaving Mrs Haddock to the sound of her own voice. He felt his perspective shrinking; his world was a peach stone, with only a fissure between Oregon and New York. The walls pinched and collapsed inwards like crumpled napkins, but this time, he refused to follow their example.

‘Nathan Eldred Silverman, I can hear you thinking from all the way over here.’ The Spider’s voice came from the other side of the door, Nate’s middle name was actually Caleb, but The Spider really didn’t care. He pushed open the door to the Rusty Suite and stepped in.

Since arriving, The Spider had terraformed the once immaculate hotel room into an alien landscape. Splintered plastic littered the torn carpet and a drum-kit slumped against the back wall like a beggar, a gold curtain tassel draped on the crash cymbal.

‘So you’re out of here.’ The Spider scratched a hangman stick figure into his guitar lacquer and blew off the residue before leaning back to observe his handy work.

‘I just came by to say bye,’ Nate leant against the wall tentatively; the room seemed to emanate the same restless energy that The Spider did. ‘And, uh, maybe I’ll see you soon, on the cover of Rolling Stone or something.’ Allister scoffed and flicked a lime green pick across the room with a deft hand.

‘Oh please, that ship sailed before you were born,’ Nate stopped himself from pointing out that The Spider was barely twenty. His brain was so vast that it would take you fifty lifetimes to explore it, but you didn’t bother, because his unfathomable arrogance made him unlikable even to his own mother.

‘Sometimes I think about calling home,’ a silence followed as Nate tried to conjure a response to Allister’s unexpected confession. He lay on the rumpled covers, insolent green eyes darting across the ceiling; the arm that hung off the side facing Nate was flecked with old track marks.

‘Where’s home?’

‘Minnesota.’

Nate turned this new information around in his head, ‘I’m sure Minnesota misses you.’

‘I’m sure you’re wrong,’ Allister snickered as he said it and finally turned to face him. ‘I’m also pretty sure you want to bludgeon me alive, so you better get going,’

Nate didn’t expect him to cry when he told him, but he did, mercury tears pooled in his eyes and dripped off his chin like a broken faucet.

‘I can’t look after you here,’ Nate paced around the kitchen table, exasperated. ‘I mean look at you, dad, just look.’ He jerked open the fridge to reveal the ludicrous amount of kiwi fruit that occupied it and slammed it shut again. ‘What are you doing?’

With his head bowed and tears dripping steadily onto the table cloth, Mr Silverman said nothing
.

‘Look, I’m sorry,’ Nate ran an eye over the wilted sandwiches and week old bowl of trifle that took pride place in the centre of the dining table ‘it’s for the best, this way I know that you’re not going to be in danger when I’m not around.’

‘Okay.’

Nate didn’t say goodbye to Gregory Valentine in the end, he opened the old man’s door and saw him ironing the same two creases out of the back of a blazer over and over again, his arthritic fingers fumbling the iron. It took ten minutes before Valentine noticed Nate stood watching him.

‘What it is?’ Mr Valentine eyed Nate with suspicion, he had these washed out blue eyes that used to be bright, but had now faded like the rest of him. Decades of neat lawns and clean gutters, but no one to share them with had gouged cavernous creases into his face. Gregory was old enough to be Mr Silverman’s father, but the familiarity left Nate winded.

‘Nothing, Mr Valentine, I’m sorry to disturb you.’

Mr Silverman died nine months after checking into the local nursing home, by then his son had disappeared.

New York had never looked so full, the street was heaving with people as Nate stepped out of the hotel lobby, even though it was nearing midnight.

‘Hey kid, are you okay?’ a street vendor tapped Nate on the shoulder and looked up at the Clearview Hotel.

‘I’m fine.’

‘They’ve been meaning to knock this place down for decades, you know,’ the street vendor gestured towards the hotel.

‘Knock it down?’

‘Yeah, it’s been abandoned since like the 1920s, but no one’s got around to it for some reason.’

‘But people still live there,’ the street vendor fixed him with an incredulous expression.

‘Are you kidding me, the windows are smashed and all, the place is a goddamn ruin.’

‘But it’s-‘Nate stopped himself and stepped back onto the pavement ‘right, uh, thanks.’

A few streets down, Nate turned back to spot the Clearview Hotel’s neon sign, so red that it seemed to scald the indigo sky.

‘Excuse me, sir,’ Nate approached a police officer stood outside Mary Goldberg’s Flowers ‘I’m looking for a place called Clearview Hotel, could you tell me if I’m anywhere near?’

‘It’s just a few blocks down, are you a photographer or something?’

‘Yeah, yeah I am, how’d you know?’ Nate lied.

‘I’m always having you guys asking me about that old place, it’s the most photographed abandoned building in the city, you know.’

‘No I didn’t.’

Nate turned back to face the Clearview Hotel and thought he could hear The Spider wailing on his drums, he thought of how the hotel, in all its forty story splendor, would never be big enough to contain Allister Web. Nor could it banish Penny Haddock, who still dreamt rosy dreams about dancing on Ninth Avenue, from his memory.

He looked around him and wondered who else knew the Clearview Hotel as an active establishment, because he couldn’t be the only one who made it out.

He felt brand new, no longer hiding in plain sight, he was new. In this sleepless city, that Mrs Haddock had known as a world of speak easies and jazz, where Allister Web had injected oblivion into his bloodstream, Nate could so easily have felt lost, but he wasn’t. He wanted to know what was playing in the theatre, he wanted to visit a cocktail bar and meet a smiling stranger, to leave the room.

In the warm glow of New York’s nocturnal lights, Nate came to the realisation that all the days, even the bad ones, had been special occasions, and that his father had it right all along.

By Vivien Lin
2016

A winning entry of the Stratford upon Avon Literary Festival Poetry and Short Story Competition 2016.

(Entry was included in winning anthology, however was not awarded the category prize.)

http://www.stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk/article/creative-writing-competition-2016

POEM OF THE DAY: MORNING – FRANK O’HARA

Morning

I’ve got to tell you
how I love you always
I think of it on grey
mornings with death

in my mouth the tea
is never hot enough
then and the cigarette
dry the maroon robe

chills me I need you
and look out the window
at the noiseless snow

At night on the dock
the buses glow like
clouds and I am lonely
thinking of flutes

I miss you always
when I go to the beach
the sand is wet with
tears that seem mine

although I never weep
and hold you in my
heart with a very real
humor you’d be proud of

the parking lot is
crowded and I stand
rattling my keys the car
is empty as a bicycle

what are you doing now
where did you eat your
lunch and were there
lots of anchovies it

is difficult to think
of you without me in
the sentence you depress
me when you are alone

Last night the stars
were numerous and today
snow is their calling
card I’ll not be cordial

there is nothing that
distracts me music is
only a crossword puzzle
do you know how it is

when you are the only
passenger if there is a
place further from me
I beg you do not go

THE ART OF BEING SINGLE

Helium balloons and soft toys shaped like internal organs. It sounds like the makings of a thrilling time, doesn’t it? It’s unforgivably deceiving, the entire façade of Valentines Day, but that is why I love it. It’s as if I’m watching the most intense and ridiculous romantic drama take place over the span of a few days.

You have happy couples strolling down the street, grinning serenely as they anticipate the arrival of Valentines Day, however, at least one half of that love-sick pair is bound to forget the occasion and end up having to present a can of condensed milk and tinned sausage to their lactose intolerant, vegetarian partner.

The wafting scent of chocolate and red roses stinks out the street like Mustard Gas when the dreaded day arrives. I look on fondly as people sprint in their pyjamas like greyhounds to corner shops and card stores before the crack of dawn, in the hope that their futile efforts will save their relationship for disaster.

I am single and free of obligations, Valentines Day is the only day of the year when I am #WINNING.

The good bit comes afterwards. As February 15th rolls into town, I take pleasure in strolling up and down the seasonal aisle of Tesco to embrace the essence of crushed dreams and unreturned texts, whilst I rid the shelves of discount chocolate and cheap wine.

Happy Valentines Day to me.

POEM OF THE DAY: Frank O’Hara

       ANIMALS

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it’s no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn’t want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days

[1950]

POEM OF THE DAY: CAROL ANN DUFFY- Valentine

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Carol Ann Duffy

POEM OF THE DAY: WALT WHITMAN- O’ Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up-for you the flag is flung-for you the bugle trills; 10
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths-for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won; 20
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Walt Whitman

POEM OF THE DAY: E.E CUMMINGS- You Are Tired (I Think)

You are tired,
(I think)
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I.

Come with me, then,
And we’ll leave it far and far away—
(Only you and I, understand!)

You have played,
(I think)
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and—
Just tired.
So am I.

But I come with a dream in my eyes tonight,
And knock with a rose at the hopeless gate of your heart—
Open to me!
For I will show you the places Nobody knows,
And, if you like,
The perfect places of Sleep.

Ah, come with me!
I’ll blow you that wonderful bubble, the moon,
That floats forever and a day;
I’ll sing you the jacinth song
Of the probable stars;
I will attempt the unstartled steppes of dream,
Until I find the Only Flower,
Which shall keep (I think) your little heart

While the moon comes out of the sea

 

e.e cummings .

QUOTES OF THE DAY: TED HUGHES

“Nobody wanted your dance,
Nobody wanted your strange glitter, your floundering
Drowning life and your effort to save yourself,
Treading water, dancing the dark turmoil,
Looking for something to give.”
― Ted Hughes Birthday Letters

“The dreamer in her
Had fallen in love with me and she did not know it.
That moment the dreamer in me
Fell in love with her and I knew it”
– Ted Hughes Birthday Letters

Imagine what you are writing about.
See it and live it. Do not think it up laboriously, as if you were working out mental arithmetic.
Just look at it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, turn yourself into it.
When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic.”
― Ted Hughes Poetry in the Making: An Anthology

“And you will never know what a battle
I fought to keep the meaning of my words
Solid with the world we were making.”
– Ted Hughes Birthday Letters  

“Your temples, where the hair crowded in,
Were the tender place. Once to check
I dropped a file across the electrodes
of a twelve-volt battery — it exploded
Like a grenade. Somebody wired you up.
Somebody pushed the lever. They crashed
The thunderbolt into your skull.
In their bleached coats, with blenched faces,
They hovered again
To see how you were, in your straps.
Whether your teeth were still whole.
The hand on the calibrated lever
Again feeling nothing
Except feeling nothing pushed to feel
Some squirm of sensation. Terror
Was the cloud of you
Waiting for these lightnings. I saw
An oak limb sheared at a bang.
You your Daddy’s leg. How many seizures
Did you suffer this god to grab you
By the roots of the hair? The reports
Escaped back into clouds. What went up
Vaporized? Where lightning rods wept copper
And the nerve threw off its skin
Like a burning child
Scampering out of the bomb-flash. They dropped you
A rigid bent bit of wire
Across the Boston City grid. The lights
In the Senate House dipped
As your voice dived inwards
Right through the bolt-hole basement.
Came up, years later,
Over-exposed, like an X-ray —
Brain-map still dark-patched
With the scorched-earth scars
Of your retreat. And your words,
Faces reversed from the light,
Holding in their entrails. ”
– Ted Hughes The Tender Place from Birthday Letters – 1998

RAILWAY CITIES – short story by VL

This train is bound for London, an uninspiring, soulless city, where the sun drags itself along the crumbling pavement in a top hat and gloves. What people are is where they are. I must be London through and through. My lungs are infiltrated with smog. I am circling, forever circling, myself.

‘Why don’t you leave, then?’ Douglas had asked me some time ago now.

I can’t remember what I replied with, but it must have been good because he shut up right away. I’m a magnificent deflector; I guess I have London to thank for that. In case you’re wondering, old Doug’s shovelling earth and herding sheep now, not because he got demoted or anything, but because he left when he wanted to. His stupid corporate mugs are still in our apartment, taking up space where mine should be.

I come up out of the ground just as a lady passes by, she is forty, fifty, maybe? It gets hard to tell after thirty-five and most people will lie if you ask them. Anyway, she looks like a splendid story, with enough creases and ironed out edges to be a long and meaty one too, but the swarming horde smuggles her away before I catch up with her. I would have treated her real nice too, been a proper gentleman and taken her back to a time when scotch was classy and dancing was friendly, nothing more.

The steakhouse I passed two minutes ago is coming up again, and the rain washed awning is gone this time around. What could it take to get it back? Would a twenty do the job, sir? Fifty? I’m a vegetarian, but even an old steakhouse deserves to stay dry, don’t you think?

Things are always disappearing in this city, purses, cheques, people, and no one seems to know or care where they go, they just become sucked into this invisible vortex. If I wasn’t currently occupied with this terrific job, I would do it, I really would. I would stick on a deer-stalker and find a Watson to help me and hunt down the lost pieces of London.

There was a man who used to scowl at me from the coffee house doorway, and I’d kill to have him back too. Which is quite ironic, don’t you think? My morning latte and muffin would have done the job. There was no need for homicide back then. We’re suckers for making life harder for ourselves, we really are.

This train is bound for Paris, where my sixteen-year-old heart lies. My silhouette has faded into the seat of this carriage, but people stopped noticing years ago. Let me tell you something about Paris. Doug would have hated it, hated it with all his muddy heart.

But to me, Paris was the dream, the city of the Great Manifesto, with its eternal firefly lights and the scent of decency, on its glitter dusted pavements one could never truly die. I was going to speak French like a real Frenchman and live in an apartment near the Champs Elysees with a coffee machine. I had plans to marry a Marie or Jaquez with a bob.

Paris was flames and dancers and evening walks on the promenade, a dream for shallow hearts.

This train is bound for Italy. I’m sat here on the cold metal bench on the platform, gulping down scalding coffee from a cup that feels like sawdust, and trying to stay awake. I was saving Italy for when I got tired, tired of swirling crowds and hotdogs, for when I was old and travelled and smiling.

I would find some faded little diner and know the owner by his first name. I’d tell locals about the time I ran a circus in Brazil and the phantom girl who kissed me at the New York cocktail bar I liked at twenty-two. I would eat olives, garlic and sun-dried vegetables until I was a hundred-and-two then die in a striped deck chair, drenched in sun and ready for the moon.

This train feels as if it’s been delayed for light years. You must remind me to file a complaint.

 

RAILWAY CITIES BY VIVIEN LIN

CHRISTMAS MAKES MONSTERS OF US ALL

As the most wonderful time of the year draws near and you prepare to gain 30 pounds in the space of two days, there are a few things to keep in mind.

It is cold. It is stupidly cold, the kind of cold that makes me jealous of the equator. ‘Ooh look, they’ve gone and set their pudding on fire,’ God said ‘let me extinguish it with an expensive British winter!’

To avoid leaving your toes in your boots, I suggest you eat some ginger. Don’t ask me why, but my mum always said that ginger keeps you warm and in good health, she even made tea with it once and I don’t mean ginger and lemon tea, I mean she made English Breakfast with ginger water.

Come wintertime, my kitchen becomes a bloody ginger wonderland. I tried to point out to my mum that the guy from Titanic chugged from a flask of alcohol in preparation for being plunged into the cold ocean and perhaps I should do the same before a Christmas dinner party, but she wasn’t convinced.

‘Tis the season to be grouchy, fa la la la la, la la la la. Oh bow down to the everlasting cycle of headaches  and streaming eyes and no, I am not talking about the family gathering. As the scent of gingerbread and mistletoe fills the air, so does the smell of Vicks and Soothers.

It is Christmas, and an overweight, child spying man is rolling into town on an oversized dinner tray, we must greet him like a tenor choir. If he’s lucky, we may even choke up a ball of phlegm and leave it on a dish for his reindeer. Make Santa feel welcome, kids.

Speaking of Santa, why do children find it magical that a stranger, with an unhealthy BMI and an army of slaves, plunges down the chimney and into their home without warning. The guys even eats your food, for crying out loud!

When my neighbour found me with a hand in her Rice Crispies and a huge bag slung over my shoulder, she threw a saucepan at me and called my mother. Yet nobody has called Santa’s parents, he skips away scot free, whilst calling out the name of a gardening implement and jingling his damn bells.

Now, let’s talk poultry. It’s around this time of year when turkeys begin to pen their wills, and we all feel bad about that, but what about the chickens?? They’ve been demoted, turkeys are bigger, better, more exclusive. Even turkey sandwiches are celebrated, hardy anyone thinks to Instagram their stodgy old chicken sandwich.

It’s not until January, when we find that we can only fit a single finger in our mitten, when we go crawling back to chickens to save us. Bye bye steak and beef, hello chicken, you beautiful, nutritious alternative! Well, let me tell you a little something! Chicken is sick and tired of being your rebound bird, watch out for salmonella.

Arson is always on the rise come Christmas time, electric blankets, candles, pudding. Pudding is a beautiful thing, sacred even. For any non- British people out there, Christmas pudding is this brown/grey gritty mound, composed of something that was probably fruit a long time ago. It’s bad enough that it looks like a pie made of a sack of mouldy tea leaves, but folk have taken it upon themselves to douse it in sherry and burn it to cinders, before scraping the remains onto party plates for people to flush down the bog.

This cruel, cruel practice has left me so disheartened that I often feel like dousing myself in alcohol and setting myself on fire too.

 

Happy holidays to you all.

HOW TO HAVE THE GREATEST SUPERPOWER

It can be infuriating at times when you’re sat opposite someone and have absolutely no idea what cogs are turning in their heads. This feeling may arise when meeting a figure of authority for the first time, or even if your life long friend has a very well practised poker face.

When conversing with a potential customer in sales, or dragging your slick palms down freshly ironed slacks in an interview, we all wish we had the power to delve into the depths of someone’s head and see their perspective of ourselves. We want people to like us and we long to know how to make that happen. Over thinkers, like myself, may leave a conversation feeling like a complete inept at human communication. Did I nod too much? Did I sound pretentious and pompous? Did I do that jerky thing with my arms without realising?

If only we could be reassured by the knowledge that the other person were just as insecure as we were.

Tracy, who you thought found you tramp-like? Yeah, well she’s wearing last weeks knickers and it’s beginning to chafe.

Adam, the vegetarian you persistently offered sausage rolls to? Yeah, well his grandpa used to bludgeon piglets to death every evening and pretend he was a gladiator.

Hayley’s not even listening to you, she’s too busy worrying about the five slugs she found in her kitchen and considering staying at a hotel for a night, or possibly forever. Now she’s envisioning the slugs in graphic detail and you can’t seem to swallow the piece of cake you were eating.

How traumatised would we be if the true extend of the world’s insanity was visible to us? 

Having immediate access to other minds would probably leave you none the wiser to whether the other person liked you or not. They would either be thinking of something else or just point out every little thing they notice about you.

Why is she wearing a huge jacket whilst indoors?
You gradually slip out of your layers, even though you’re cold.

Is that her fifth slice of pizza tonight?
You leave your plate on the side and pick up a bowl of lettuce.

I’m kind of hungry
You offer them your pizza

‘Don’t they know I’m on a low carb diet?! Are they trying to sabotage me?
You apologise profusely and ram the remaining slice into your mouth to make yourself shut up and end up choking.

Huh? Wow what a freak.

Are they okay? Why is their face that colour?

Okay, I’m going to leave. 

Before you know it, you’re left standing there, a cold, hungry, weeping mess, worse off than before and utterly humilated. Despite your best efforts and good intentions, you’ve managed to bend and alter your actions and personality based on what other’s want. Each person you meet will be thinking something different, wanting something different and you can’t conform to all their expectations.

So don’t, it’s exhausting.

Leave your coat on, pick up your pizza and talk to people naturally. As long as you’re not intentionally a douchebag, then it doesn’t really matter. Misinterpretations happen all the time, we’re all guilty of them, but generally don’t hold them against people. it’s human error.

Felicity might find your voice annoying and Craig might hate the colour of your scarf, John thinks you’re a sociopath and Lacy doesn’t think you’ll succeed in your field. These things are true to them, but not to you.

Similarly, if Eunice idolises you and Gareth hangs on your every word, it doesn’t mean you’re great. Knowing that Iden thinks your lasts piece on Oil Spills was the best piece of journalism every written doesn’t make it so. We don’t need to know any of this. if the interviewer thinks you’re an uneducated slug from Hayley’s kitchen floor after you shake hands, you tried your best, keep your coat on and go for some pizza.

I want the superpower to access my own mind, to know it inside out like my favourite book. Look subjectively upon my own thoughts and change according to what I record.

The answer is not now to get people to like you, it’s how to get your own brain to like itself and other people. Have a mind that would make Hayley or Graham or Eunice or Felicity comfortable keeping their coats on and to reach for another slice of pizza. Now that’s a superpower.

HOW TO BE A MODEL STUDENT

Half a decade ago, I started high school. I had a pink Puma rucksack full of crap I would never use and fish out from the deep dark depths of it at the end of the year. My blazer was as stiff as the ironing board it had been soldered against and I wore these translucent pink Ghandi glasses that made me look like a bug – the usual.

Since then, I have perfected the art of being a model student and am eager to pass my golden notes of wisdom onto you.

#Lesson 1:
Do not introduce yourself to teachers as ‘Viktor Pickles.’

#LESSON 2:
Avoid producing self portraits that look like this:image (4)

#LESSON 3
Know that this is not an acceptable thing to draw in your history book: image (1)

#LESSON 4:
Under no circumstances is it acceptable to eat fajitas in class.

#LESSON 5:
Try not to fart in assembly and blame it on your friend.

#LESSON 6:
Learn to spell correctly:

#LESSON 7:
Just because Scout is wearing a ham costume in To Kill a Mockingbird, it does not permit you to proclaim her as ‘dead meat.’

#LESSON 8:
Holden CAULFIELD, not Holden Cauliflower.

#LESSON 9:
If you still can’t spell ‘difficulty,’ I suggest you read Matilda.

#LESSON 10:
If you were meant to colour it in, just colour it in. image (6)#LESSON 11:
If you can’t draw, you can’t draw.

#LESSON 12:
Please learn how to spell
photo#LESSON 13;
Develop all points fully to avoid confusion and private meetings with your English teacher.
image (8)#LESSON 14:
Don’t giggle when being told off.

#LESSON 15:
Know when to ask for help.
image (7)#LESSON 16:
Try not to insult children by calling out: ‘YOU THINK YOU’RE SO COOL, HANGING OUT NEXT TO THE FIRE EXHAUSTER, BUT YOU’RE JUST LAME.’ =__=

#LESSON 17:
If you’re 12, you may not realise this, but swearing in every sentence is not okay. Please stop.

I hope you enjoyed this post and if you did please give it a like or maybe share it with a friend. All pictures and examples used in this post are my own and not intended to insult teachers, pupils or anyone in anyway.  =]

Are We There Yet?

mutters toss and turn under rumpled sighs
seagulls come swooping without warning
finally the kings and queens of little empires
colliding and meeting but never seeing
grasping stupidly at clouds in empty time
hushed whispers fill our heads, our hearts
the cycle the cycle we must not break
we are lost, suspended in a single sunbeam
smiling through the bottomless free fall
the fall it feels like flying, soaring, roaming
it feels so because we imagine it to be
but when imagination slips into the void
no longer do we care if it is to come home
what a childish thing to want, we’ll think
childish thoughts for shallow childish lives
plummeting like devils towards the centre
dreary nights become just like the last
no midnight pondering of other milky spirals
just cling film and wine and autumn gutters
sit down and shut up we’ll say (but shout)
focused, judgemental like we were taught
stars and skies and humans are only dust
ground underfoot, glinting, shattered legacies
we’re made, not living, just standing still
guardians of the summer before we forgot
the night with the rainbow, the saucepan
friends: you can’t remember me can you?
lonely hands in clean kitchens and gardens
how many years will we waste and carry
twist the knot tighter and hurl into bins
sit upright unsmiling to keep our faces
blink each sunny spell and hurricane away
pass our faults along to kids who’ll say
how sad we’ll be when we are grown

the bluest cloud

you came and woke me early today
blue traces in your hair
said the wind had smelt just like the sun
said I could find you there
your sunbeam hands tipped them forward the
driftwood of your conscience
ruckled midnight words of the absurd
borderline of nonsense
you are and will be the greatest thing
i lend my night sky to
all my moonlit sighs of dawn’s first light
they all belong to you
you are enthralled by refulgent flames
planets away from me
constellations sleep behind your eyes
finches yours to carry
laughing the records of ’94
your voice above the keys
glass misted with the breath of a boy
a whisper from the breeze
through the heavy mist of 5AM
the clouds they said to me
the parts of me that fail to reach you
meander in the sea

ON A STRANGER’S NIGHT

They float like lanterns between the trees
An armless clock in the midnight breeze
Enchanted, bewitched in their own white now
Blue traces of the past lost in the folds of love’s gown
Beaten lungs, aching with warning
I turn from the play that comes to town
It’s credits ever changing, the story line stagnant
An invited friend snatches them
Jerks them into a chaotic labyrinth of endless black
They become the underlying stars of the sky
Illuminated by the toxic screams of their hollow walls
Hate punching through tissue thin hearts
He blunders through the cobwebs to search
For the man he was that night
When their wine glasses were rimmed with love
When he cast away the stars for her hand
The ornaments of their contract shimmer like her silver eyes
Trapped in the cracks of his boot soles
The burning rain that seals their fate
Feels like a blessing
On a stranger’s night I saw
Two paper lanterns
Lying
Ruined on the floor

THOUGHTS FROM A TRAIN

9:46AM

For a Quiet Carriage there is a surprising numbered of yobs behind me, chattering and screeching away like a family of chimps. From what I can gather, the guy behind me (we shall call him Gareth) is a budding actor who is on his way to an audition in London. His clarion voice is now informing me that, not only had he played a dingo, but he has also been offered a position at the company of a successful business person, which he feels ‘positive, positive, positive’ about. Unfortunately, it seems that he is prohibited to give away any details about his shiny new job.

Here are 3 things I can safely tell you about Gareth:

  1. He lives alone and has great conversations with himself.
  2. He talks to strangers on trains.
  3. He is a grade A bullshitter.

Anyway, nevermind him, let’s discuss the free Wi-Fi on this train that doesn’t actually work – actually, that’s boring and you didn’t come here for boring, so I’ll tell you all about train stations instead.

I’m joking, don’t worry.

Here’s a couple in front of me now (we shall call them Cameron and Susan – Sameron) and they just shared a croissant, which was cute while it lasted, but now they’re both staring at the empty wrapper with their hands on their knees- apparently catatonic. I have a feeling that this is their first date and Cameron’s mum didn’t coach him past the croissant.

10:18AM

Gareth is still talking. It seems that he has found a buddy to talk football with (we shall call him Ron,) Ron’s currently raving about Aston Villa and Gareth is listing doughnut preferences. The telecom just advertised the tuck shop in carriage A – I think Sameron should invest in a family sized bag of Doritos, I’m having serious concerns about their lack of movement.

10:27AM

I’ve just moved places and now have a spiffing football commentary being fed into my left ear. Ron has found a new friend, who swears an awful lot (we shall call him Bucky.) Bucky’s Adidas trainers have crept dangerously close to my leg.

I think he knows I’m writing about him.

10:36AM

There’s a woman at my 11 o’clock who is drinking (what I assume is coffee, but since I can’t see it, it could be straight vodka for all I know) from a cup with a moustached man on it. I shall tell her telepathically how cool it is.

Bucky’s just complained about how idiotic some football fans can be and how much he hates flat lemonade. Now he’s opened two large cans of larger at the same time to prove his point.

Fun fact: Bucky is afraid of tunnels.

Ron’s just announced his phobia of flying and that he shits himself every time and doesn’t leave his seat.

I hope he wears a nappy.

11:00AM

Sameron update: still catatonic.

Apparently, the thing I’ve nudged with my foot for the entire journey is Ron’s right foot.

Fun fact: according to Bucky, he is okay with the Tube, as he is only scared when he goes through dark tunnels at ‘top speed.’

An old man has moved to the seat on my left (let’s call him Roger) with a can of Stella Artois on his table. I originally thought he was doing origami but, as it turns out, he’s hand rolling an impressive collected of cigarettes.

Origami is healthier, kids.

11:05AM

I’ve discovered that the secret to walking down a turbulent train is to step very rapidly and latch onto heads with a claw like grip.

Fun fact: Ron buys his jeans from the women’s section of Topshop.

Gareth has quieted down, I think he found something to eat. Susan has resorted to eating chunks of her Aloe Vera lip balm and Roger is still rolling cigarettes – maybe he’s entering a competition.

11:30AM

The train has arrived at London Euston and Gareth just left.

I shall miss him.

Bucky’s real name turns out to be Ross, but he’ll always be Bucky to me. He complained noisily about his flat larger and left too.

Fun fact: if you listen closely, you’ll discover that everybody is slightly nuts.