The end of an affair

The End of the Affair

Their story would have a beginning and an end. For Lara this much was clear from the very start. She wondered at times whether Adam had known it too, or whether the realisation had crept upon him incrementally, with every forgotten promise, every angry word, every moment of guilt and remorse that went unshared.

She could have borne it all, just about. She would have found the strength to accept it and move on, if only it she could rid herself of that sneaking suspicion that he didn’t love her. Not fully. Not as she craved to be loved. Her pride was hurt by the thought of that imaginary offence alone. If she had made no sacrifice, it would’ve hurt less. But she gave up her sense of self to become his, and to think him indifferent was crushing.

She loved more. She would hurt more when it was finally over. And there was a perverse desire within her to make him pay for the difference. If she couldn’t make him love her, then she would make him hate instead. Anything was better than indifference. If he hated her, she would be remembered. And that was something.

There would be an end. All things end after all. Perhaps for him, who believed in eternal life and damnation, that sense of an ending was more difficult to grasp. But then again, he was unaware of the beginning too, shocked to discover himself complicit in the affair.

She dreamt of making it last once. In her most daring moments of playing at make-belief, she envisaged their leaving together, hand in hand, into the somewhat dreary London sunset. She was almost, almost able to see a couple of blue-eyed lookalikes filling their later years with the clamour of childish laughter. Wasn’t that the greatest proof that there had been love: that desire to authenticate it, to cement it in flesh, replicate it generation after generation?

They were naïve, those dreams… impossibly farfetched. So she let them weaken and die, and with the death of hope, came unavoidably the slow decay of love.

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Daily Prompt: Obstacle Course 

Fellow Blogger – Vic Briggs from Shards of Silence

Suzy has kindly included Shards of Silence in her current series of interviews with fellow bloggers. Thank you, Suzy both for inviting me to take part and for sharing with us the blogs you love.

Her questions were fun and some delved deeper than expected. It gave me an opportunity to think through what writing in this medium means to me and I found it a great way to discover what makes other bloggers tick too.

Please follow the link below for her interview with yours truly.

Fellow Blogger – Vic Briggs from Shards of Silence.

If you are on the lookout for new blogs, Suzy’s interviews are a very good place to start.

 

The Blurb Offence

Let’s Talk Opinion in conversation with The Daily Post

Disclaimer: Things written in the heat of the moment may unintentionally cause offence to the reader. In such cases the reaction may range from minor irritation to shock and severe disapproval. If read on an empty stomach, possible side effects include a scarlet face, foot tapping and finger drumming. To minimise any lasting damage, please take with a pinch of salt.  Contact the author immediately if symptoms persist. 

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I’m not one to get hot under the collar, not even when I’m wearing one, but today’s Daily Prompt managed to get me there. I felt skin prickle uncomfortably and fingers itching to have their say. Admittedly, the fact that I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a while and things are stalling on all fronts did not help, but still. Here it is:

“Write the blurb for the book jacket of the book you’d write, if only you had the time and inclination.” Daily Prompt: BYOB(ookworm)

After reading and re-reading it several times, I had to consider the following options.

  1. Get upset and do nothing. Since smiling is infectious, I can’t be sure that the opposite is not. Do I really want to risk being ground zero for a writer-fueled rage-binge on WordPress?
  2. Assume that Michelle W’s choice of phrase “if only you had the time and inclination” is indicative of a broader problem and attempt to address it (at least in part) by writing an article on the subject.
  3. Let it go. Choose to believe that Michelle’s prompt comes with a wink to those ‘in the know’; something along the lines of: “How many times did you hear that one, hey? Watcha-gonna-do…”

So here we are.

Now I hope that you are not staring blankly at this point wondering what on earth could have gotten me irate about this prompt. It’s straightforward enough. What kind of problem could I possibly have with it?

Let me explain.

There is a reason why when a stranger asks what it is that I do, I tend to waiver. More often than not I will say that I’m a postgraduate research student. Why? Well… Because on the few occasions that I was asked and said that I am a writer, I got one of the following reactions:

— Oh, yes. I’d write a book myself if only I had the time, but you know… Got more important things on my plate at the moment.

— It’s nice that you have the time to do it. I’m too swamped with work, kids and everything else to indulge.

— Aha. Everyone’s at it these days. God knows where people find the time.

You see? It’s the daily prompt in a nutshell: anyone would write a novel “if only they had the time and inclination.”

I don’t imagine that people in other professions get that line. Imagine being at a party, the conversation flows as well as the [insert beverage of choice here]. You go to the counter for a refill and can’t help overhearing the following snippet of a conversation:

“So what is it that you do, Gill?”

“Oh. I’m a paediatrician.”

“You know, I’d try my hand at it too, but I just never get the time. Busy-busy-busy,” said no guest ever.

When it comes to most professions, the assumption is that one would require to put in years of work in order to become proficient. When it comes to writing on the other hand…

It is true that writing a novel takes time. I won’t dispute it. Many an hour that could be spent raising children, shopping, doing the housework, meeting up with friends, making money and what have you, will have to be sacrificed if one is to be a writer. 

What I take issue with is the idea that writers have magicked up spare time for themselves in which to do the work, time that others occupy doing things that are far more important. I don’t write because I have time that others lack. It is not an inclination that I choose to indulge. I write because this is my vocation, and I trust that this is the case with all writers.

Do I believe that there is a book in everyone? Absolutely. We are all story-tellers. Can anyone be a writer? Sure. Anyone can be anything they want to be if they have passion and determination, and if they are willing to put in the necessary work and learn the nuts and bolts of it. This is the case with writing as much as it is with anything else.

The art of writing is more than the sum of free time plus inclination  It is the exhilarating ambiguity of a world yet to be created. It is about finding your original voice as a writer. It is the arduous task of plotting and characterisation, learning the art of description and dialogue, building the story scene by scene until at last the first draft is ready. It is a matter of constantly working at improving one’s craft so that the words we sent into the world may not ring false or empty. 

Writing is fun – yes – but it is also a lot of hard work. We write, rewrite, revise and then rewrite some more. In the words of Kingsley Amis: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s trousers to the seat of one’s chair.”

I’ve said my peace.

There was of course a fourth option in reply to the Daily Prompt. That is, I could have simply added my blurb and be done with it. Alright then. Glove taken.

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FINDING SWIFT

September 7th 2011. Jane Swift wakes up to a shocking reality: she has no memory of who she is, where she is, or what brought her there. He was her only visitor, this man who brought her to the hospital after her collapse, yet Jane cannot shake off the feeling that Cedric Stewart is hiding something from her. And then there is Gray… Where do you start when you’ve lost your past?

Armed with an iPhone and little else, Jane begins her journey into the unknown. The more she delves into her past life, the less sure she is whether it’s worth burrowing further.

She feels haunted by the life of a woman she is getting to know, but not like. 

Should she allow her past to dictate her future?

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Let’sTalk Opinion posts engage with issues that are important to other bloggers, connecting with others on matters close to their heart. If you like a topic and would like to contribute, please feel free to add to the comment box, reblog, share, email or message me on Twitter @shardsofsilence.

Or if you happen to be a fellow Hogwartsian send me a letter by owl. ;)

#BenedictCumberbatch | An Unexpected Meeting

“Sure I came to see your play.”

“How come you didn’t stick around after?” he asked

“Something came up. Sorry.”

“I know exactly who that ‘something’ was. I’m surprised at you, Vic.”

It was Friday. James and I were having a drink at the Lab after work. I hadn’t seen him at all in the New Year, what with his constant rehearsals and my writing commitments leaving little time for social encounters. So when he called earlier that day to ask if there was any chance I may be free that evening, I did not hesitate. Call it a guilty conscience.

“Sorry. What?”

“You haven’t mentioned him in two hours,” James said, watching me over the rim of his Pornstar Martini.

“Is this a guessing game or will you tell me who you mean?”

He sipped from his glass, took his time replacing it on the counter and glimpsed around the bar to ensure that no one was listening in.

“Cumberbatch, who else?”

I nearly choked on my vintage Mulata. Just like James to introduce the topic when he knew full well that it would set me off-balance. I had to tread carefully. How much did he know? There were those pap snaps in the Saturday edition, but even if he saw them… My face was out of focus as I disappeared behind Ben’s towering frame.

“You’re getting a reputation, you know. Aren’t you going to tell me what happened?” he insisted, when I pretended to be too busy with my drink to answer.

“There is nothing to tell, James. Honest.”

“I see.”

He ordered another round and changed the subject, but I could tell that he was brewing something. I’ve known him for long enough to be certain that one way or another he would find it out.

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It was James’ West End debut. His first night on the big stage. There was no question about my not being there. When the curtain went down I headed to the stage door to wait for him. I sparked up and was leafing mindlessly through the programme when a familiar voice disturbed my musings.

James was right. The something that came up was Benedict. I did not expect to see him at the theatre that night, nor did I expect to… I suppose all things Benedict do tend to be rather unexpected of late.

“What did you think of it?” Ben asked.

For a moment I thought it was a trick of the light. What was he doing there?

“It was… good I suppose,” I said.

“I didn’t much like it either,” he smiled and asked whether he could borrow my lighter.

“The lead is a good friend of mine,” I said, somewhat peeved.

Alright. It wasn’t the performance of the century, but that is rarely the case on a first night. I was sure that with a little trimming here and there the play would do just fine. In all fairness I felt rather guilty discussing it with anyone, before I had a chance to speak to James about it first.

“I got your letter.”

I froze. Dropped my cigarette. Felt the blood drain from my cheeks. My throat constricted.

“You are mistaken, I’m sure,” was all I managed to say.

I avoided his eyes, lest he would read the truth in mine. Fumbled through my pockets for another cigarette; when I finally found my pack it was empty.

“Have one of mine,” he offered.

I took it. Needed something to keep me occupied. Wished James would hurry the f*** up. Perhaps Ben could sense the disturbance he’s caused, or perhaps he needed some time to consider my answer. In either case, I was glad to continue in silence.

“I know it was from you,” Ben said after a while.

“What makes you so certain?” I couldn’t help asking.

“Every writer has a signature phrase… or expression. It was an easy enough deduction to make.” That knowing smile again.

“I think you’ve taken your ‘getting into character’ a little too far, Sherlock,” I laughed, my mind gone into overdrive. A signature. I had a signature phrase. What could it be? How on earth could I not know about it. I must’ve read and re-read that letter a dozen times before sending it. It was supposed to be anonymous and yet…

“Give us a smile, Benedict!”

Damned paps. Where did this one come from? I pulled the scarf up to cover my face just in time. The flash left me momentarily blind. Next thing I knew I was being dragged away from the scene at full speed.

“Wait! I’m supposed to wait for my friend. Ben, wait!”

“We need to get out of here,” he said, speeding up his pace.

I stumbled and nearly lost my footing, but his clasp on my elbow was strong enough to prevent my falling over. A few minutes later, he was handing me a safety helmet. I was about to protest, but he would hear none of it.

“Look. We have to talk. You’ll meet up with your friend another time. Or do you fancy seeing your face all over the dailies tomorrow?”

Ben got on his bike. I wavered. James will never let me live this down, although… what he doesn’t know…

 

Daily Prompt: Blogger of Repute

Show | Don’t Tell

You’ve just finished work on a dreary day. You may be a commuter in need of a read for the train journey home. Here is a lovely bookshop enticing you with a multitude of offerings, but which will you pick? You may be tempted to go straight for a tried and trusted genre, but even after narrowing it down to this, your job is not yet done. You will have to leaf through a few books until you find the right one for you. How will you decide?

I imagine that each of us has a different way of going about it. For me the first page is key. I will open up the book and often discard it after the first paragraph. If I’m not caught yet, chances are I won’t continue reading. If the first paragraph makes for good reading, I will continue on until I have finished the first page. In most cases, my mind is made up by the time I’ve turned to the second.

In view of this, I was not surprised to discover that 99% of manuscripts submitted to agents and publishers are dismissed on the basis of the first five pages.

Five pages? Really? Is this all the space and time we are given to prove our worth? Apparently so.

'The manuscript is 'green' because it's typed entirely on the backs of rejection slips.'That is not to say that  an agent will take an author on the basis of five good pages alone, but this is the window of opportunity to impress and to persuade them to continue reading. The writing tips I’ve shared so far were geared specifically towards this:

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— Immaculate presentation that follows the rules set by the agent or publisher in question.

— Well constructed sentences and appropriate use of punctuation to create the right sound.

— Avoiding the trappings of unsuitable style.

— A manuscript that has been purged of excess adjectives and adverbs.

— Nurturing specificity and rich vocabulary when using comparison.

— Mastering the art of writing great dialogue.

Now that our overworked agent/publisher is caught, we need to keep them on side. Would be a pity to give them an excuse to eliminate us from their must reads after a good start. They’ve made it through those five pages. They are intrigued, but their brow is knitted still. Lips pursed and pen tapping hurriedly page after page, they are searching for a weakness, something that will justify them in setting this manuscript aside and moving on to the next – there are hundreds more waiting after all. What are they looking for?

Ah yes… that good old tell-tale sign of lazy writing: too much telling, not enough showing.

SHOW | DON’T TELL

This is one message that I shout to myself every time I come across an instance of unnecessary telling in my own narrative. Telling works just fine for outlines and drafts, but when it comes to publishable stories, it simply won’t do. Let’s break it down into the Wheres and Hows:

Easy places to look for telling that ought to be showing:

A. When introducing characters or settings,

B. When giving characters’ backstory,

C. Where there are a multitude of events following one another in quick succession,

D. In the gaps between major scenes, where what happens is described rather than happening,

E. Anywhere in the narrative where there is information instead of action.

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Next, some ways in which to figure out how the telling is done:

1. Character description: This is where the fault line begins. Writers are expected to describe their characters, give an indication as to what they look like and who they are. While in the past authors could get away with paragraphs upon paragraphs of this, that is no longer the case.

When it comes to physical description light brushstrokes are preferred to in depth characterisation. For the protagonist we may get away with more, but it is still better if the description is sprinkled here and there, rather than concentrated in one place. For all other characters: pick one main feature that would set them apart from the crowd and leave it at that. Three at most if you must. If a character’s traits are all average then describing them will hardly paint a memorable picture: “Here’s average Bill meeting average Mary on an average day for an average exchange. Blah.”

To tell a reader what characters are like, on the other hand, is a big NoNo. If they are kind, catch them in the act and show them doing something that would imply to the reader that this is how they are. If they are brutal or a liar, then we must see them acting with brutality or lying through their teeth, and so on.

The same goes for places. Showing what a place or a setting is like is much more difficult that telling, but do it well and a reader will feel like they have seen it instead of reading about it in a substandard tourist brochure.

Show and let the reader come to their own conclusions about characters and places.

2. By interpreting we make the story our own. When a writer tells the reader that their character is an alcoholic then the reader has no other option than to accept this. There is no room for interpretation. On the other hand, if the reader sees the character drinking again and again they might try to find other explanations for their actions:

  • the character may be undergoing some physical strain and trying to numb it with alcohol, perhaps they were a soldier and those old wounds are still bothering them on a cold day;
  • the character may be under emotional strain: why did that phone call with their ex make them take to the bottle?
  • s/he may use alcohol to relax: are they about to take a major decision and need something to take off the edge?
  • …or to chase away bad memories. Did something happen in their past that they can’t get over? Are they drinking to forget?
  • Perhaps they are an alcoholic, but what got them there in the first place?

Even if the reader reaches the conclusion we want them to reach, by having to think about it they make the story and the characters their own. They will endow the characters with their own life experience and rich internal life. It would be a mistake to rob them of this opportunity. If the story is theirs, they will keep reading.

Show the reader a character who starves their child and they will not need to be told that the guy is a heartless good-for-nothing villan.

3. Tell and all you have is description. Show and you’ve got yourself a scene. Scenes are what make up a novel. In telling what should happen rather than showing it in action, we describe events instead of allowing them to unfold, so that the narrative reads like the outline of a story rather than being one.

It is impossible to experience something that does not actually happen. We can only get into the character’s shoes when we live the story alongside them. By showing, by going into some detail for both inner and outer life, we pull the reader into the world we’ve created.

Of course, it is impossible to dramatise every single event, so it is key to pick carefully those parts of the story that render themselves to becoming tense, conflict-filled, therefore dramatic scenes.

4. There comes a time when telling is in order. Of course, it is impossible to show everything. Some things need to be told, but when we do it with a purpose in mind it is possible to strike the right balance between the two. Here are a few examples of good places where telling is a necessity:

  • To establish narrators and viewpoint characters,
  • To allow a character to give their opinion about someone else in the story (this can be a good way of “showing” that character’s point of view, giving their perspective.)
  • To establish conflict between what a character tells us, either about themselves or someone else, and what their actions show us to be the truth (great for establishing an untrustworthy viewpoint character)

More on characterisation to follow… but if you are curious about a villain’s fate or are in the mood for a laugh perhaps Despicable Me will oblige 😉

Writers… we are all Outsiders

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A stranger to the moods of the land where I first saw the light of day,

An alien to every place where my foot has left an ephemeral imprint since,

I’ve learnt a long time ago that I do not belong…

An outsider.

Once I believed this lack – an affliction. I searched for the certainty of a home,

The security of an identity that is fixed, immutable.

Not so today.

I’ve made of this prison an ocean; for its shell I have fashioned a sail.

Hear the tempest howl. Listen to the silence shatter. 

Shards cutting deep, until words pour crimson from my fingertips.

A soul adrift. A writer. 

A world in flux. Its secrets – ours to unveil. Its pain – ours to render intelligible.

It is a beautiful place when a crisp line makes it so,

A torrent of despair when ink carves through its darkest corners,

Bruising out truths we would rather forget.

Yet every line is enveloped in precarious indeterminacy –

It is here to be read for a moment only – a glimpse of light

Before the night sets in.

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Daily Prompt: The Outsiders

My lifeline

Truth or Dare.

I have been writing less of late. Physically restraining myself from opening up my blog and adding a new piece of myself to it. If there is no post then there is no dated, time stamped evidence of it. Nothing to be thrown back into my face as proof that I am shirking my duties elsewhere.

It is an obsession, I am told. An addiction.

obsession (noun) 1. Compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety. 2. A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion.
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The need to write is a visceral one. I am a writer only if I keep writing. If it is an obsession, I can think of none better or more reasonable for a writer to embrace.
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addiction (noun): the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity. a. The condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or or involved in something. b. An instance of this: had an addiction to blogging.
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Weaving Grace_DiasporaMy life is a succession of vicious circles. There are good days and bad. Those are easy enough to bare. What I struggle with is that empty space where apathy creeps in. It has ceased being a question long ago. Now it visits me only as a statement: “There is no point.”
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Late at night. In the light of day. Its grip is relentless. This is why I started writing. A writer adrift. In search of fulfilment. No. It is so much more than that. It is a lifeline. The one thing that keeps me breathing. Gives me something to wake up for every morning.

It is beyond comprehension to me why anyone would want to make me feel guilty for it.

Is there a distinction between writing and blogging? Perhaps… I see blogging as an extension of my development as a writer. It keeps my writing muscles flexed. It keeps me working, creating, even when I am not inspired, so that when the muse does visit she can find me ready, pen in hand.

I am back. Guilt-ridden. Fractured. Emptied out. Yet here. For another day at least.