Things to do

12 06 2006

As I am in complete procrastination mode, I thought I would quickly update my blog with the week’s goings on. Since my last post I had my teeth cleaned at the dentist and was relieved to find my hygenist was a doll and not a butcher like the last one I had. The weather has been fantastic for about a week now so my friends and I are all hoping for it to last until the weekend coming as we are off to Hyde Park to see the Foos. So so so excited about that.

This weekend just gone has been a real bitter-sweet mix. Saturday was much fun. England won their first match (against Paraguay) in the World Cup and our friends Phil and Kevin hosted a BBQ. We had a blast. Then on Sunday, Rich and I were very much looking forward to going to our niece Millie’s Christening. Unfortunately the day was marred by Millie’s father (Rich’s brother) Matt falling ill and being admitted into hospital. He seems to be doing OK and we are both wishing him all the best for a very speedy recovery. As well as being very poorly indeed, he must be so disappointed to miss Mille’s first ‘big day’.

The Christening itself was lovely though and our niece was incredibly well behaved!

Now I really must avoid the inevitable and help Rich get this house cleaned… we need a cleaner again!!!

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Working from home

7 06 2006

I am working at home today (yay) as I have a dentist appointment (boo). It is such a relief though as this is my first week back from a long holiday and I am exhausted from the jet lag. I used to work from home every Monday and Friday but now I am back to working five days a week in London which is 2 1/4 hours from my home… the commuting is not usually so bad but after a break I am out of practice and the past couple of days have seemed particularly tough.

After being away for 3 weeks it is actually quite good to be home. We have only lived in this house for a few months so now we are back from the holiday I think we have a ton of plans which we would like to work on so make the house our own. I love living where we do (hence the stupidly long commute) – especially when the sun is shining like it is today. Warwick is such a lovely town – so pretty. Leamington Spa is equally near to us and that is a great place too.

Lunchtime is over so I am signing off now so I can get on with my work.





What a novel idea

4 06 2006

Hey here is my second open university creative writing assignment. I used the start of a novel that I am trying (not very hard) to write – I have ideas but keep putting off actually trying to write anything for it for some reason. Actually the comments my tutor gave me on this were pretty encouraging so maybe I will take up the reins again on this one. Submitting this to my tutor was actually quite painful because I found it excrutiatingly embarrassing to share this but I guess I have to get over that so here goes:

Write one or two pieces of fiction with a total word count of 2500 words. I chose the opening chapter of a novel.

A Rumbling Ghost
Chapter 1
A breeze brushes my warmed face, feeling its way through the grasses around me. Where I lie on the sloped ground, the grass rises above my feet, my arms, my head and I am entombed by the soft green walls. The ground is dry but still quite soft, not yet hardened by the long summer ahead that has been promised. Soothed by far-off laughter, I start to drift into a daydream, willing my mind to be still just for a moment. Closing my eyes, the deep orange of the inside of my lids makes me feel even warmer in the strong sun. I should feel happy, totally relaxed. Instead I struggle to control the anxiety that is bubbling in my gut. I start to do an exercise that my psychiatrist has taught me. I visualise building a wall, brick by brick, to block off the anxiety, each movement slow and deliberate. As each brick is added, the anxiety grows fainter and more distant. I force myself to think of more immediate, mundane concerns. I wonder how long I have been lying there. I hope that I am getting a tan. I worry that I might burn. I can hear voices approach and realise that my embankment will soon be overrun by university e ating their lunch in the sunshine. I start to feel foolish. I rise from my grassy bed and brush myself down. Light-headed from the heat, it takes me a second to find my balance. I still have a couple of hours to pass before going to Mum’s house and I am quickly starting to regret promising to visit today of all days. As my head throbs with a now-familiar pain, I regret lying in the sun so long. The headaches are still frequent and strong and I ought to be more careful. Cursing myself, I head across the lawn to the busy road into town whilst my eyes adjust to the brightness of the pavement.
Two hours later, I am sitting in my mother’s sitting room, cradling a cool glass of lemonade in my clammy hands. The room is cozy with it’s low cottage ceiling and dark beams. The settees are stuffed to brimming and I can smell bread baking in the kitchen. The sun is lower now and sends shafts of orange light through the sash windows, the net curtains making speckled patterns on the opposite wall. Curled up in my favourite chair, Dad’s chair, I take a long drink and place the empty glass on the coffee table.
“Coaster, Megan!” I smirk at my mum, enjoying the fact that some things never change. “How are you anyway? You look shattered.”
“I feel shattered. I am not getting much sleep.”
She frowns with frustration and I know what she is going to say.
“You really can’t go on like this. I know I keep harping on about this and I know it must be hard for you but you must try to start putting things behind you. It’s been nearly a year.”
“It’s been exactly a year.”
Mum’s eyes flit up to the calendar and her hand reaches over to cover mine.
“Oh Meg, of course.” She sighs and I can see a thousand thoughts crash around her head. She is running out of words of comfort so she decides to concentrate on the practical. “When are you seeing Dr Brent again?”
“I don’t know, Mum. I haven’t had the time.” My voice is serious and quiet. I know I ought to take better care of myself but the nightmares are worse than the headaches and the exhaustion so I prefer to avoid sleep. Mum thinks that there is nothing she can do to help but I know different.
I walk over on my knees to where she sits on the settee. Her arms come out to me and once again, am wrapped up in her comforting embrace. I have needed it far too much this year. I may be twenty-eight but at this moment, I feel like a little girl again. I bury my face into her soft shoulder and breath in her perfume. The sweet musk is so safe and familiar that it brings tears to my eyes. I truly believe that if I could stay right here, in her arms, then nothing bad could ever happen to me again. I wish that she knew what her strength meant to me. I wish I could just wake up a different person so that things would just be normal again.
“You know this helps, don’t you, Mum?” I whisper to her into her neck. She squeezes me a bit tighter.
Mum takes me up to the guest room which I call my room even though I have never actually properly lived here. Mum moved here after Dad died seven years ago. At that time I was at University here in Manchester in my final year. As Mum was originally from the city, she decided that the best way to ensure that I finish my course was for her to be up here with me. She chose a small village on the edge of the Peak District, primarily for its idyllic setting but also because of the small village school where she now works as a teaching assistant. She tried to persuade me to apply for a post their when I graduated but at that time, the lure of the big city was too thrilling. Right now, I would be more that happy to work in a school with just 40 children of all ages but such positions are quickly filled and I doubt there will be a vacancy there for some time.
“Just try to rest, love. I will be right next door.”

Drifting into that state between being awake and being asleep, I start to think of a time when life was much simpler. I had started my first teaching job at a pretty normal Manchester primary school. Sadly, St Joseph’s was normal in that there was inadequate funding and poor facilities. It did have some wonderful staff though, including a wonderful man called Kieran Matthews. I hated those first few weeks. I felt like I was fumbling through the school day and that each and every member of my class could see my inexperience and sense my fear. As the weeks went on though, I started to forget about where I should stand or what the children thought of me. I became at ease in front of the class and in fact started to enjoy the lessons. I was officially hooked by the teaching bug.
The first time I actually saw Kieran is still vivid in my mind. I can remember every detail. But then I have thought about this day so many times this past year, I am now not quite able to distinguish between what actually happened and what I have embellished in order to create a better memory. Kieran was standing in the staff room after classes, looking out at the playground. The shouts of the emancipated children in the background were punctuated with an occasional squeal. The autumn rain had poured for a while and the low afternoon sun drenched the asphalt with an amber wash. Kieran was silhouetted against the warm glow. His frame was solid and tense. In the dark atmosphere, I felt like an intruder. I considered turning round to leave so as not to disturb him. I felt awkward because I had been standing in silence for just a moment too long. I considered clearing my throat just to announce my presence but as I was about to, Kieran turned and looked at me. There was no surprise in his face although I was sure I had made no sound coming in. He looked directly at me holding my gaze with a look of slight disdain.
“I take it you’re the other new teacher then.” It wasn’t really a question, more a declarative statement. “Miss Taylor isn’t it?”
I took a couple of steps further into the room and as I did, he turned his face into the light. For a moment I froze. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. His eyebrows were perfect arches; his eyes were piercing green. His mouth was delicious and even the furrow of his frown was exquisite. I stared at him both startled by his good looks and stunned by his unnecessarily brusque manner.
“Erm…yes. I’m Miss Taylor, I mean Megan.” I stammered. I was suddenly aware of the sound of my heart beating; the noise was pounding in my ears, fast and loud. I realised that I had been holding my breath and tried to release it slowly and quietly.
“Who are you?” I asked, for at this point I did not connect the fact that our new Year 6 teacher was starting today and that there was a strange man standing in the staff room. It was as if my brain was foggy and I didn’t recognise my own voice as I spoke.
“I’m Kieran O’Connelly. I am 6B’s new teacher.” He turned back to the window and sighed. “God I hate the first day.” His voice had a luscious Irish lilt.
I walked further to the window so I was at his side, feeling that if I didn’t move soon, my feet would take root in the worn carpet.
“Is something wrong?” I was tentative. He was not sending out the sort of signals that would encourage conversation. Normally this sort of attitude would irritate me. I usually cannot stand arrogance or aloofness in people. But this beautiful man had me captivated. He turned to me again with a scowl.
“This place is a dump, the kids are little scumbags and I can’t even have a decent cup of tea because the milk’s off.”
I looked at him eyes wide at his little outburst and for some reason, I felt a giggle rise up in my chest. I fought to stop it emerging as I didn’t think this would go down well. But the sight of this impressively built man practically stamping his foot was so ridiculous I couldn’t help myself. The giggle reached my throat and before I knew it, I had burst out into full laughter. I clamped my hand over my mouth only to see Kieran’s expression turn from a scowl to a smirk to a broad grin.
“Hey you can’t laugh at me like that!” He exclaimed indignantly. “It’s all true!”
“I’m sorry,” I gasped. “You just sounded far too much like one of my pupils.”
While I had wished this exchange would continue for hours, Kieran was obviously not aware of its significance. I myself felt that this man was definitely going to spend the rest of his life with me. Kieran on the other hand bade me a cheery farewell and left the room, leaving me I staring at the doorway.
It seems to be such a pathetic start to a romance really. I yearned for him for weeks and weeks, perfectly aware that I ought to have more dignity. I manufactured reasons to bump into him and kept him talking whenever I could. After a while we became what you could call good friends but still there was nothing more. Every now and then I caught glimpses that he could feel for me as I felt for him and I suppose they kept my hopes up. It just seemed so odd to me that only I could feel this electricity crackle between us. It is true that I would sometimes catch him looking at me in a certain way or that he would call me in the middle of the night just for a chat. But he would also push me away and eventually this is what I grew used to. The glimpses were becoming fewer and fewer and I think I was finally starting to be resigned to the fact that, despite our chemistry, this love was definitely unrequited.

I am brought out of my thoughts by a gentle tap on the door. Mum slowly opens it bringing with her a steaming mug of tea. She is smiling tentatively and walks over to the side of the bed.
“How are you doing, love?”
I smile at her in reply and take the mug in her hands with gratitude.
“Tea makes everything better.” Our old family adage was a brave attempt to reassure her but I knew it would take more that Tetley’s best to sort out my head and my life for that matter.
She perches on edge of the bed and places her hands on my forehead, pushing my hair back so she can see just my face. There are tears way back in her eyes.
“You still look just like my little girl. You haven’t changed a bit. You’re still my baby. I’ll always call you that.”

Word count: 2154

Notes on plot:

After learning more about how Megan and Kieran get together, the main story begins in earnest whereby they go on their honeymoon (? or some other romantic getaway) and whilst staying in a remote Cornish cottage, are terrorised by a poltergeist. Kieran may or may not survive (I haven’t decided). Megan clearly does as the story begins with her a year on, still dealing with the aftermath.

Commentary

This is my first attempt at writing a story that I have been playing with in my head for some time. I decided on using a first person narrative early on as I wanted the experiences to be very intimate and detailed. I also wanted a very clear voice for Megan and to see the events from her point of view. This is partly because I want to celebrate her strength (both physical and mental) and also because the immediacy of using this narrative style would hopefully accentuate the horror of the events to come later in the novel. For this same reason I chose the present tense for the part of the action set in the present and the past for that set in the past to clearly mark the difference and to make the present day action seem immediate. I wanted Megan’s voice to be very natural, not too poetic but also quite romantic as she is definitely an incurable romantic (as perhaps am I!). Her turn of phrase is definitely taken from mine. Whilst I have drawn on my own life experiences, there is also a lot of invention.

My main concern about how this has started is that things seem to move along too quickly and I feel like I need another few drafts of this before getting close to how I intend it to be . I realise I ought to have done this, but lack of time has prevented me from doing so. As this is largely setting the scene for the rest of the novel, I am not sure I have included enough ‘showing’ – much of the exposition being told rather than shown. There are a few times when I have been really stumped at finding the right way of expressing myself. To me, these phrases seem rather clumsy and the harder I try to think about what to write instead, the harder it becomes to find the right expression. An example of this is “that state between being awake and being asleep”. I know precisely what I mean but I cannot phrase it in a neater way.

I also think that the foreshadowing I have employed is a bit clunky. I want to signpost that something very bad has happened to pique the reader’s interest but I am not sure I have achieved it in a subtle enough way – perhaps it is a bit laboured? This again comes down to the feeling that I am still a few drafts away from achieving what I want to achieve. My favourite character in this draft is Meg’s mot her. She is loving and caring but also still a bit bossy which I think a lot of people can relate to in their own mothers. The fact that she knows her daughter is severely traumatised does not stop her from chastising her for not using a coaster!
In my initial draft, the description of Kieran was very ‘teenage’ and immature. I still think it is a bit cliché but that in part is intentional. As I have already mentioned, Meg is an old-romantic who has read far too many saga romances. I hope that this comes across.

Word count: 531

Mark: 71% – Level 2 Pass