Hello from London where the streets are quiet – no sirens, no laughter, just lonely telephone calls taking their exercise in the sunshine. No shortage of sunshine either, soft and fresh, with a moon that gets bigger each night.
We’re all still indoors, households everywhere living separate ways of life, but hearing each other more loudly. It’s disconcerting – we’re together but apart, each of us caught up in new ways and in not knowing what’s next, while every day the media is full of trauma and courage.
Routine, they say – that’s what we need – so I do still try to get to my desk, to remind myself about the book I’m trying to write. The biggest help is the free writing sessions we do each week.
Last week we had a few more creative prompts from Saraswathi Sukumar. These ones really got me thinking. They weren’t the easiest to write but that can be helpful, and my responses, exactly as they were written, are below. Hope they’ll entertain, and may even inspire you to have a go.
The first prompt, was a warm up for five minutes: circus. The piece I imagined is part of a conversation between some of the characters in my not yet finished novel.
Circus This government is a circus – a smoke and mirrors jamboree, where we’re stuck in the seats, and the ticket prices pour out into the caravans behind. Complete glamour bubbles, while just being there – mandatory for almost everyone by the way – costs more by the day. Some people get walk on parts … that’s exciting. Stops us noticing that the show itself is getting more pathetic by the minute. Sponsors crowding in to get their logos on the lions, while the popcorn runs out and the elephants begin to vanish. Then the tent starts to leak …
The second prompt was to think of a setting and to describe it using all of the senses. We had twenty minutes for this.
The office – London Always that smell as you approach the front door, spices from the takeaway on one side, as they prepare the dishes for the day ahead, and then that faint drift of coffee. Like the sound of a flute, not easy to pick out by there, pulling the world along by a thread. Then the guff of diesel from the delivery van. Every day parks opposite this spot to offload … don’t know what the pub goes through but it seems to go through a lot. And the bus stop, just beyond doesn’t help. Turn the key, open the door and shut all that out. Still. The rumble of accelerators, the ping of lights at the pedestrian crossing, and the hurry of footsteps gone. Just the carpet … those square … grey and a little tired, and a few envelopes scattered on the floor. Wouldn’t think this was a high end travel agency but it was. Most business done over the telephone now so they didn’t mind the carpet, they did not have to creak up the narrow stairs, turn the key in the lock … usually worked first time but not always … and step inside. That was the good bit. The wooden floors – not proper wood but it did look like it – warm browns in wide bands and just the two desks. All neat. One neater than the other always but that worked. Nice to have photos to look at even if not yours. Family, suntanned, and always laughing in. Upright, serpentine sculpture on the other. So smooth and indefinite, and hard to resist touching. The stone smooth and cool, curved into shapes … heavy … but that keep the only paper pile safe. Top jobs for the next day, stacked in order of importance. Most urgent at the top. Two screens … one on each facing desk, screens back to back. Privacy, just a touch, and each desk with a telephone – public boundary breaker, rich with laughter, encouragement, concern, excitement, careful detail, instructions for payment. That’s how it worked. That was why people kept coming back. The two pictures on the wall backed up the mood, made it easy. Both huge, framed photographs. One infinity pool lipping over towards a wateringhole. Backview of a female sitting in bikini on the edge, in a soft focus corner leading to the elephants beyond. Then in the other a beach – miles of white sand and turquoise sea. A hammock in the distance, just toes and a sunhat showing with a waiter appearing, drinks tray in hand. Africa – the wonder and the space. The window itself not big but this London back street was not the point, not the adventure these clients wanted. They were dreamers, born to sup on cream and float above reality … not in it. Chairs were comfortable. Had made sure of that. Both on rollers, both Queen Mother blue, both simple style with light arms and a mesh back. They made you see sunshine.
The third prompt, again for twenty minutes, asked us to put a character into this setting, then imagine that it is haunted. I took a few liberties with the haunted part and imagined instead that my character, Simi, is trying to adjust to coming home after her visit to Zimbabwe.
Simi settled into her chair. The blue lifted her mood, cut out the grey sky outside the window. She was glad to be back. She knew that, deeply relieved to be home, to be safe. Every cell in her body, each stitch in her kaftan, belonged in London. These were the streets that raised her … not Africa. It was Hani down the road who always chose her fabrics, who made her kaftans. This was her … and yet … she stared at the photograph on the wall opposite her desk. Where was that? She couldn’t remember, and now it bothered her. Namibia? Botswana? She’d been there. Maybe not swum in that exact pool but she knew that every room at that lodge had had one just the same. All perfect. All glorious. But Africa? Hmm. She pondered the thought, happy that Karen was out of the office on the coffee run, but also longing for the kick of caffeine to ground her morning routine, to drag her back to reality, to the Disneyland World of the Africa she sold, away from the haunting hardships of just three days ago. She reached out her hand and stretched for the dark stone sculpture on her desk. She had never known what it was supposed to be but when she’d seen it in that market … and that she knew was Botswana … it had spoken to her, not through her mind but through her soul, her gut, the earth beneath her feet. She lifted it off the pile and turned it slowly. She still didn’t understand but there was something in its form, in its instinct, that was truer now than it had ever been. This was the soul of things to come and of how they had always been. This was what she had not needed to know in London, in the 9 to 5, in the rush to have the stuff to prove what she knew now she had never needed to find in the first place … this was the meaning of the defiance of life, of its force, its unwillingness to be shaped and controlled. This was the reality rooted so firmly in Africa, the whole, the evolving world, beside the struggle of man the newcomer, desperate to find his place. She sighed, spun round on her chair. The beach … still there, irresistible … no trace of a storm, of the power of the waves, of the thrash of the trees in a wind, of the pounding noise of rain, of thunder cannon. She turned back, her heart pounding, and tried to steady herself. To cut out the fright. She put the statue carefully back on its pile, the palm of her hand suddenty tight over the wound, as the throb began. She probably shouldn’t have lifted that.
Then we had a final five minutes of writing around the word graveyard. Took me a while to think what I could write for this until I remembered another character in the book – Uncle Fred.
Graveyard Not ready for the graveyard! Uncle Fred had said that. That cheeky grin of his, as the warmth had slowly come back to him. He was lucky. So lucky … but it wasn’t just luck. He’d kept his friend close all his life, and then, when the storm hit, it was his friend who’d saved him. Who’d pulled him to the dry. Luck? Perhaps? Maybe it was more to do with stubborn enthusiasm. Just that keeping on happy attitude. That love of little pleasures.
I hope you might have a try at some of these – I’d love to see anything you’d like to share.
All the very best wherever you are
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2020