#flashbackFriday

Looking for inspiration for my own writing this morning, (which has been in short supply since my recent house move/job change/life getting in the way), I went back to my bookshelves to hunt out some of the stories and writers who give me hope that I’ll get my writing mojo back.  My first port of call was Grace Paley (as so often it is), so I thought I’d share an essay I wrote for Thresholds short story website on her awesome talent:

http://thresholds.chi.ac.uk/two-ears-three-lucks-a-profile-of-grace-paley/

Hope it inspires you to pick up her books, if you haven’t already found your own way to them, and then to pick up your own pens.

Now, back to my writing…

 

 

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Nice Girl

The girl – the other girl – is pushing the stripy pushchair along the pavement. Aldi carrier bags swing from both handles. She almost walks into me. The baby is playing with its feet. The eyes of the child in the pram are his eyes, green and bright.

Those are the eyes that I once fell into, coiled together on that old sofa with the stuffing bleeding out, our hands exploring one another for the first time.
Their baby has snot snaking down towards its lips. They’re his lips, too. His warm lips on mine on that sweaty sofa, the teenage mingle of sweat and aftershave, stolen from his dad’s bathroom cabinet.
I’ve replayed this scene a thousand times – bumping into him, or bumping into her, bumping into them both. Showing him I’m fine, I’m over it. I’ve done all right for myself, thanks. But the baby, this baby with his eyes and his lips has stalled me.
He was a big fish in our small home town, once. He reeled me in, threw his affection around for a while. Before unhooking me, letting me go. Now he’s just a minnow, pulling this other girl and baby along in his wake.
The baby with his eyes, his lips.
I was just a nice girl, he said. She was more adventurous than me, he said. Now she looks like the stuffing’s been kicked out of her, like the stuffing on that sofa, where I first tasted lust and excitement.
In her dead eyes I see my alternate life. The one that got away. Her adventures confined now to a snotty child and budget chicken korma.
When we meet on the pavement, him and the girl – the adventurous one – and their snotty child, the one with his eyes, his lips, I don’t say any of the things I thought I’d say.
I don’t tell him what a success I am. I don’t say Remember me? I just smile. I just stand there and smile, politely.
I’m the nice girl, remember?

First published on Cafe Aphra

Arrivals

She keeps her eyes lowered, as she’s been brought up to do. She remembers the strap her father used the time her older sister dared to meet his eye during a conversation on marriage.

She longs for her sister now; for her reliable presence beside her; for the familiarity of another woman wearing layers of hand-sewn clothing and headscarf.

Women, even young girls, race past in their summer clothing. Bare ankles and sleeveless tops revealing alabaster shoulders. She wonders at how they do not feel the cold of this place. She hears strange words emitting from the railway tannoy; she understands very little of what the words are saying. She feels the sharp intake of breath of the young man beside her, in his best suit, a tiny suitcase in one hand, eyes roaming the station platform for a glimpse of his uncle, who is to meet them here.

They are still shy around one another. She certainly has not yet met his gaze, nor he hers. She remembers his eyes looked kind when she saw them in the photograph her parents gave to her. They told her of his plans to cross the ocean, to come to England, where a job in his uncle’s business waited. A prosperous future.

She remembers her parents phrasing the question of marriage to this young man as though there was a choice for her to make. She remembers there was no real choice.

As she stands, eyes lowered in sockets edged in thick kohl eyeliner, she has no way of knowing that she will come to respect and, yes, even love the man beside her, whose white socks she notices peek from below his trousers. She doesn’t yet know that she will come to learn every contour of his body. Couldn’t imagine at this point, four days into their marriage at the age of seventeen, when she hasn’t yet had time to dream what she might become, that she will someday delight at this man’s touch.

That she will be blessed with three healthy children, all of whom they will struggle to put through university, enabling them, at least, to have their dreams met.

But today, here on this cold and damp platform, she could happily swap places with the bearded man a little way off, who shakes a polystyrene cup of loose change in their direction.

Previously published on Spelk Fiction:  https://spelkfiction.com

 

Smoke Screen

He pulls a tin of bait from an old canvas bag, faded to murky green.  During the week, the tin of bait sits in the fridge, maggots wriggling in confinement alongside lettuce and a block of cheddar.

She lets go of the rod to get out the red tartan Thermos.  Sharing a hot, strong tea from plastic cups that taste like summer picnics, they silently watch a duck’s feather float along the surface of the water.  

Finished drinking, shaking the droplets into the grass verge, she reaches into her jumper and pulls out a ten pack of Marlboro’s from under her bra strap.  She knows he ain’t been near there in years, so it’s a safe hiding place.  

Taking pity, she lights one from her own and holds it out to him between yellowed fingers.  He takes it, and they sit together in silence, smoking and fishing.

This piece was a previous winner of the weekly AdHoc Fiction competition and published on their website.

 

The Many Faces of Success

When I was a little girl, if anyone should ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always the same: A Writer.  The only slight deviation from this was ‘A Journalist’, but basically, I wanted to get paid for writing words of some sort.

It took a long time to realize some of that ambition.  I was in my forties by the time I actually got up the nerve to submit work, and the day I got an email saying a magazine would pay me for a feature I wrote was like a dream coming true.  I had always said I’d be happy to just see my writing published somewhere – anywhere – in my lifetime.

But it’s a fact of human nature that once you get over the rush of achieving one dream, another takes its place.  I didn’t just want one piece of writing published, I wanted more than that.  I wanted to make writing my job, my full-time career.

And that is where the dissatisfaction can start to set in.  Because if you look at the writers you admire, they often don’t just write.  Writing is their passion, what they may put down in the box marked ‘Occupation’.  But often, they teach, edit, wait tables, to make ends meet.  Because writing is so important in their lives, they are willing to work in other roles to still be able to feel that thrill of seeing their writing published.

I had a conversation with someone a while back, about being a “successful” writer.  It was interesting, because neither one of us had the same ideas about what “success” actually meant.

It’s obvious to say that a bestselling novelist is a success in their field.  But unlike many other types of work, there can be such a wide-ranging scope for writers that it’s hard to pin down.

Take my own writing life so far, for example: I’ve had a few features published in that online magazine now; academic-style essays on a couple of websites; several creative non-fiction pieces/essays; and too many small flash fictions to count.  I even came first in a flash fiction contest – the first time I entered it!

So, have I made it then?  Well, that depends.  If you could go back and ask that little girl sitting on her bed making magazines, she would likely say “Yes”.  It is more than she ever expected.  But the issue remains, like for most people who pursue any kind of art: paying the bills.  The truth is, there are so many literary magazines and websites out there that run with volunteers that they don’t have the funds to pay writers.  The promise of much talked about ‘exposure’ of your work is abundant.  But at some point, it’s nice to get paid for all that effort.

I have been lucky in that I have begun to get paid for some of my writing, but not all of it, and not vast amounts by any stretch.  I recently had my second piece of writing published on the fabulous online magazine Feminartsy.   I did a lot of research for this essay, which I enjoyed as it was a subject close to me: combining motherhood and writing.  (If you’re interested, it’s here: http://feminartsy.com/a-womb-of-ones-own-motherhood-and-the-female-writer/ ).

I worked with the brilliant editor at Feminartsy, who gave ideas of how to improve the piece, and I edited and polished it some more.  Last week, it was published, for a fee.  Yay!  Success!!

But I realised some time ago, that in order to allow my creativity to flow and not bite my fingernails down worrying about paying the bills, other paid work has to come into the picture.  Editing, yoga teaching, proof-reading, shop work…all these things make it possible for me to pursue my main goal, my ‘life’s work’ as Elizabeth Gilbert puts it in Big Magic, her book on creativity.  Writing.  Seeing my work out there in the world.

Success may have many different faces; it can still be success.

Keep reading and writing!

Kate xx