A Night Off from the Opera


It feels really weird not being in Onegin-land for a day.  I actually go to work, and talk about something other than music, very strange!
And despite not getting to bed until 1am and being awake again at 5, I decide I do have the energy for writing group.
I have a completed story about Cretan bull dancers that I want to try out on them, and  although it is too long to read the whole piece, I read about half, and an animated discussion follows about young narrators, contrasts and heat, which is extremely useful.

B reads the first page or so of his new novel which is very entertaining, and we talk a little about sequels (which this is) and exposition of the crucial plot detail from the previous book, for those who have not read it, and how difficult it is to get right.  I don’t think we reach a conclusion. 
A reads a chapter from her ongoing work, a riveting novel of self deception and angst which is both gripping and laugh out loud funny.  She says how much we helped by suggesting she decide who exactly a musterious character was, and how it freed her up to get on with the plot.
We talk about our awareness of the group as potential audience when we are writing, and I admit to enjoying writing things I think they won’t like.
R is deep into a massive re-write of her adolescent novel (67%) and feeling a little worn by the process.

We discuss the fact the A is now retired, B redundant, and D redundant from tomorrow, and how all this time to write is suddenly available.  I try very hard not to look expectant in an ‘ I expect at least a chapter by next time’ way.  I think that makes it that under half of our group are still in full time work now.  Are we a typical demographic?

J hasn’t made it to the group tonight because she is manically churning ingredients for her pop-up icecream parlour at Broca Foods on Saturday.  We decide that  our writing exercise will have an icecream theme in her honour, but make it difficult for ourselves by imposing a 100 word limit, and we produce, memoirs, love stories, and humour.
R texts J to let her know, and she stops churning long enough to respond that she is delighted.  We talk about emailing them to her to print off and use as wrappers, but I don’t know that she has the time for that!

Sectret Sundae- on Saturday 16th July at Broca Foods SE4

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

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The Arsonist’s Demise


National Short Story Week is coming to a close, and with it all my good intentions to do some writing in honour of the event.  Having a house full of builders isn’t conducive to creativity, even when they are charming, careful and considerate, which they are.

I did however make it to Spread the Word’s Genre writing day Guilty Pleasures last Saturday. This was enormous fun, and had I not put my notebook down somewhere I no longer recall, I would now be blogging in more detail about the event… it’s probably under a dust sheet somewhere, so the introduction of my new character, Peggy Marsh will have to wait until the builders go and I unearth her.  (and at some point I might blog about the importance of stationery to the writing process – or not!) Peggy resulted from an excellent workshop on Historical Fiction run by Imogen Robertson.  Imogen supplied us with packs of source material – letters, diaries, pictures from a century we were not already researching, and asked us to come up with a character study.  I didn’t read them very carefully, a flick through was enough – Hogarth’s painting of his servants, Mary Granville recommending boiled snails for a cough, a passing reference to Dr Johnson, a snapshot atmosphere from the lighting of one of the paintings and the cacophony outside the musicians window in one of Hogarth’s prints; my own knowledge of Hogarth’s connections with Captain Coram’s Foundling Hospital (a place chock full of stories) … and it worked, but I can’t find it, so that’s for another day.

John Cooper of Bratton

In the spirit of that exercise however, another genealogy letter. This one stems from a memoir written by my partner’s great-great aunt Sarah, about her grandfather, John Cooper, who was a Baptist preacher in the southwest, and for a time kept a school, which ended in disaster.  Sarah was something of a fantasist (her version of the family tree goes in an unbroken line to William the Conqueror, skipping three generations where she  had nothing to rely on) but Cooper was a genuinely fascinating character who married three times and had nineteen children; more happened in his life than he can possibly have deserved, and one of these days, I will write a doorstop sized family saga about him and his prodigious family.

So this ‘letter’ is written by John Cooper after the second time his school has burnt down, and the culprit has been apprehended.  I image him, sitting at the desk where he later wrote sermons, writing and re-writing this letter, aware that he has very little time, but must  get the tone and the wording absolutely right, to mitigate the shock and distress of his message.

The Arsonist’s Demise

To await R- S- Esq., at the Bear Hotel, Devizes.

For his immediate and private attention.

Bratton, Wilts

23rd Sept. 1789

Sir –

I beg you forgive me, I write in haste, being unable to bring you this terrible news in person, and concerned that you receive it away from the public regard.  I wish I need not add to your already grievous woes, but I fear I must.

Sir, your Son is no more.

Being taken before the magistrate and committed to Devizes Prison upon his confefsion, he begged me to visit him in that dreary spot, with which, as his Friend, and ‘In Loco Parentis’, I complied most willingly, and lent him my kerchief against the chill in that place.  To my great horror and regret I find myself the unwitting instrument of his demise.  The child has strangled himself with the self-same kerchief, lent him, so I believed, as a comforter.

Whilst my distrefs cannot be compared to that of a grieving parent, nor to the anguish of the boy himself, believe me Sir, quite overcome at this dreadful turn of events.  Although through your Son’s actions, I and Mr Williams are now quite without resource, and indeed Mr Williams and family without domicile, the child was dear to us both.  I wish we had understood his wretchednefs sooner.

I pray for you and your wife, and for the poor boy’s unhappy Soul.

Yours, Sir, in any service I may do you.

J o. Cooper

more genealogy letters here The Imposter and One Finger Typing

copyright Cherry Potts 2010

Dark and Stormy


Dark & Stormy
A Halloween piece … Winter, spicy gingerbread, slavery and marriage to an insanely jealous man … another exercise from WOOA, sparked off by not having got around to submitting anything on the Dark & Stormy theme to Liars’ League, and for once I didn’t come up with a story.

I keep dark Muscavado sugar in a supposedly airtight jar. I bought that jar in the mid seventies from the Reject Shop in Tottenham Court Road. The jar is square and has a Victorian engraving of ladies in a teashop on one side, which is what attracted me to it, in a very seventies-Laura-Ashley sort of way, but practical- air-tight unbreakable. On the other side of the jar the picture is of child slaves cutting sugar cane.
I often think about throwing that jar away, I’m not comfortable with that image, and I’m not comfortable with my fourteen-year-old self who bought it. It isn’t that airtight either; when the weather is humid the sugar melds itself into a brick. But it stays on the shelf with equally disturbing coffee and tea caddies and every time I reach it down I am reminded of the true price of sugar.
Every time I make this kind of cake – not often these days, but still, when I do – I think of Demerara and Barbados and plantations, especially if the recipe requires rum.
And while I am trying to hack the gritty dark brown brick into manageable weighable pieces, for some reason I think of pale slender ships scudding across dark green waters, threatened by storm clouds the size of continents. Breaking the sugar-brick requires a heavy knife (though not as heavy as the machete the child-slave wields), a clean cloth, and a rolling pin. The knife is laid edge-to-sugar the cloth goes over, to prevent flying shards ricocheting about the kitchen, and the rolling pin is used to hit the back of the blade.
It makes me think:
Breaking rocks in the hot sun (and sometimes I sing it)
Oscar Wilde in Reading jail
and
a story from One Thousand and One Nights… in which a jealous sultan believes (wrongly) that his wife is unfaithful, and plans to murder her in her bed. She gets wind of his intentions and when he comes to cut off her head in the night, raising his scimitar and bringing it down on what he believes to be her neck, there is a crack and his mouth is suddenly filled with sweetness. He falls to his knees sobbing in repentance, and she steps from behind a curtain and reveals that the headless body in the bed is a sugar effigy.
I am usually melting sugar and butter and rum and ginger together at this point, and as I stir this thick warm liquid, that looks like tar and smells like Christmas and late summer in the same breath, I think about that woman, watching her husband trying to kill her.
How can she forgive him, how can she trust him? How can he bear to even look at her when she reveals the truth? I wonder if they ate the rest of that sugar wife.
I only make this cake between late September and Twelfth Night. It is a cake for Halloween and inky afternoons where the sky turns from cobalt through Prussian blue and only the blackbirds sing; a cake for eating with the lights on, and the fire lit; and whether the curtains are drawn or not, for rain against the window.
Cakes like this, they take time and thought.
They weigh heavy: occasionally on the stomach, but mostly in the mind. Dark and stormy: the smells of nutmeg and cardamom, cinnamon and mace, cloves and ginger, raise ghosts; but the first bite of still warm crumbling richness is the taste of distance and long journeys, of security, and of home.
Copyright Cherry Potts 2010

Many Merry Mermaids


This is just a bit of nonsense, based on a writing exercise in which every word in a sentence must start with the same letter.  Stops you using ‘the’ and ‘and’ and ‘I’ unless you are very clever, which I’m not… perhaps with a bit of practice!

Many Merry Mermaids

Many merry mermaids making mischief make mariners miserable.

Slowly sinking ships sail sluggishly south, sad sailors send semaphore signals shoreward.

We welcome wistful westerly winds – whistling wordlessly, we watch white whales while walking with witches who wonder when we will wake.

Dawn dreamers don’t dally: delve deep, drown deeper; drink deadly draughts, dance delicately down.

Full fathom five.

Bone by bone.

Many merry mermaids make much mischief.

copyright Cherry Potts 2010