Hope this finds you well.
I’m writing this in a sun-chequered room. It makes for a dozy warmth but I hope I can still get this done.
These are my responses to the free writing prompts that I published on the blog two days ago.
Reading through the pieces now it seems as though Saraswathi Sukumar’s suggestions must have set me off on a real roll that day. It’s strange how sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. I think it’s connected to the amount of sleep I’ve had the night before, and the strength of the coffee that morning – there’s usually time for at least one large cup before we start at 11am.
These sketches, like the rest I’ve written, are all to do with the story I have in my head. They may, or may not, become part of it but they do help to shape it in some way, usually by filling out the characters. The more developed the individuals are, the freer I can let them be to take their chances as the plot progresses.
That’s the plan anyway. I hope that your plans, if you have any, are going well, and that if you don’t you’re still able to enjoy the spaces in between.
Here’s the writing.
1. Thief (five minutes writing): What’s a thief? Rudd pondered. Didn’t everyone steal? Each man’s dreams take another man’s time. Each man’s time is used to build…families, systems, art… and each one of those demands time from another. Is time a thing? Does ‘doing’ make it more or less valuable? Does what he did with the hotel make his use of time less theft and more give, or did its demands create more theft of time, talent and treasure from others? Was a dreamer a giver or a taker? Was anyone counting?
2. Pick a character from your novel. Your character has something that is most dear to them – it can be an object, a person, a cherished memory, or anything else you can think of. Describe this thing, go into as much detail as possible and ensure that you answer the following questions in your description:
- What/who is the thing most dear to them?
- Why is it most dear to them?
- What does it look like?
- How did they acquire this thing?
- When did they acquire this thing?
(twenty minutes writing)
The yellow hat: Rudd saw it on the back of the door by his jacket – his father’s hat. How many years had it hung there? A decade at least. The one thing, the only thing, he had kept when they’d cleared out the cottage for him to move in. Didn’t know why he kept it but he did know that he had not been able to throw it away, give it away even. Couldn’t imagine anyone would want it. It was huge. An old fashioned oil skin hat, probably naval hat in fluorescent yellow. Would make any average person look like a daffodil but his father wore it like a beacon, like a lighthouse. Anyone could see where he was on the property, and everyone knew what that meant. Sooner or later he’d be coming their way and they had better get on with whatever they were supposed to be doing. He’d asked him once where he got it. Something about an old sailor on a container ship who he’d met at a bar in Cape Town. They’d had some kind of bet and he’d come away with the hat. Power symbol … even over an old seadog. Rudd feared the hat – a bit as he’d feared his father. He’d never been good enough. Never had the balls to wear at hat like that. Here? Zimbabwe? But his father had. Always. Kept the sun off he said. Kept the rain off he said. Let them know he didn’t mind if they could see him he said. He wasn’t scared of anything or anyone. But he’d gone when they’d come for his land. He’d gone when the constant night attacks had pummelled his mother to exhaustion, and he Rudd had wet his bed night after night after night. That was what had drained the life from his mother. Her anxiety for him, her shattered nights trying to keep him calm and clean and his father in ammunition behind the sandbag on the porch. He’d left then. Left to save them. And left his hat on the hook. They’d come in of course, trashed the property, taken what they could … some had stayed … became a brothel later then abandoned. Then Rudd had come back … on his own. And he’d found the hat. Not on the hook but at the bottom of a pile of rubbish outside the back of the kitchen. It had given him such a kick to find it there. A big punch of hope, defiance … of shoes to fill. And the hat had gone back on the hook. One day he’d said, one day, when things were running well he’d wear it, but not until then … and that day was still not here, but the hat was. Still here, still on that hook, with the exhausted soul of his mother and the angry determination of his father … still here, and it looked like nobody had had the courage to wear it since. One day, he kept promising himself, one day he would and people would remember. One day he’d put that hat on his head, take a photograph of himself outside the entrance to the hotel, and he’d send it to his father. The old whip handle had better not die till then. Rudd wanted to show him, to send the proof that the hat, and the courage to wear it, had not gone anywhere. He looked at it on the hook … tried to remember the name of it. His father had told him once, but most days it was just the hat. Like a collapsed bucket of a thing on top with a huge brim … half a hand width round the front, and at least ten times that round the back. Thick, plastic fabric – like the macs the workers used but heavier still, and with a strap to go around the chin. He remembered trying it once as child and he’d just disappeared. Dropped all floppy right down over his eyes, and it smelt funny … a mix of rubber and sweat – Dad’s sweat. Given him nightmares that night – he’d dreamt it had suffocated him and he couldn’t get out from under it. Somehow it had got even bigger in his dreams and he’d been tying to climb out but couldn’t see and it kept tipping over.
The thing (or the who) that you described in the first challenge, is stolen from them. Write the scene and in the scene try to answer the following questions:
- Who is the thief? (Be creative – in the instance of a stolen memory for example, the thief could be disease or drugs or a knock on the head etc etc)
- Describe the thief – what do they or does it look like, and how do they behave?
- Why has the thief stolen this cherished thing?
- What are your character’s emotions? Do they see the thief steal? Or do they find out long after the thing (or the who) has been stolen?
(twenty minutes writing)
Hat gone: It had been a spur of the moment thing picking up the hat. He’d seen it on the hook by the door beside his jacket, and he’d grabbed it. Obvious really with the storm barreling around like an electrified drunk out there, and the rain drenching down. This was its moment! Surely? This was what it had been waiting for. This storm. He put it on, adjusted the strap and stepped out on to the verandah to join Tendai and Innocence. It was that look that shook him – that look on their faces – shock and laughter – that had cut him. He was not the six foot three his father was, nor the width of a cupboard … all hat and no ship. He would have sunk right then if the wind hadn’t pushed them all down the edge of the house. Whipped their hesitation away and sent them towards where the groaning, earth-tipping sound had been. So wet. Not deep but wet everywhere and the wet tugging and flapping the brim of the big hat. He tried to bend the front up away from his eyes but it wouldn’t stay. Every time he got the fold the wind would slap it back down … toying, playing, mocking him. In the end he’d taken it off, rolled it tight, slipped it under his arm, and splashed after the others towards the gap in the hedge. Then they’d seen it. The chaos of rocks and crushed metal. Tendai’s torch had flicked on and traced out the jumble of rocks, of cars twisted and flipped, of trees snapped. At first it had been like trying to see through a shower, so smudged it was hard to believe, and then the the rain had begun to stop, and through the lifting curtain of wet the rockfall spread out in front of them. Not one of them had said a word. They had been so lucky. The rocks had fallen directly on to the car park, and washed up to within feet of the front entrance. Cars smashed and broken but no lives lost. The shock silenced them, slowed time to a crawling inch, then turned them at last back towards the kitchen. No rain but the mud and wet, and still the whip of the wind. It was only inside that Rudd realised the hat had gone. At some point it had slipped out from under his elbow. He swore, bitter and angry. Let it go he thought, let the damn thing go. The storm could have it. That’s where it belonged. Not on his head. Out there in the foul dark night, flung into oblivion. He didn’t care. He was glad it was gone. All the fury and humiliation writhed inside him. Worrying about a hat was the last thing he needed. As if he even cared. Twenty cars were smashed out there. The whole place was being ripped apart by the wind. His guests were all cramped up like damp cats … alive thank god … but miserable. Simi was half drowned. And his staff thought he was joke. He straightened up and squelched through to the dining-room.
Sneaking (five minutes writing): That was one thing – he’d never been a sneak. He’d been wet, a wimp … still was he thought … maybe that would never change, but he wasn’t a sneak. He was what he was. Did what he could, never pretended to be what he wasn’t. He had never seen the point in that. Other people came and went, especially up here, perhaps the remoteness attracted them. They came in clumps, foreigners mostly, and chatted in dark corners until the early hours. They paid the bills and were perfectly nice but something about them smelt of vultures around a rotting carcass and the carcass was his country … and he didn’t like that.
My thanks, as always, to Saraswathi Sukumar for her thoughtful prompts and for letting me pass them on … and to you for joining in. If you would like me to put any of your free writing up on The Phraser, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Thanks to all for your company. In a fortnight or so I may be back with something completely different – it should be my first attempt at a podcast, and the hope is that it won’t turn out to be as difficult as I think it’s going to be!
All the best for now, and for whatever lies beyond
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2020