Obscure Writing Prompt Responses

A year ago, near enough to the day, Belfast Writers’ Group started up again after too long apart. When we got the gang back together, one of the first things we did was work on a crazy series of prompts that, first time around, had me writing about a dead body in a chocolate scullery. Because we’re wildly obscure like that.

Purely by a coincident of timing, we tried the same writing exercise again last week. This time I was to write about rotting turnips in an interview room made of platinum. Below is the madness I came up with.

Being the most expensive palace in the world that no one’s ever heard of, Killasia had its own version of everything – its own swimming pool and helipad, naturally, but also it’s own prison system and jail.

The only thing it didn’t have, until now, was anyone actually trying to break in – it’s difficult to have people after your goods if they’re secret, after all.

Even so, it was fortuitous that the eventuality of a criminal had been thought of and prepared for, because when Mickey Keystone Lennon happened upon the place and decided to try his hand at breaking and entering, the guards had somewhere to put him.

His eyes were wide as he looked around the interview room with its shiny, cold-to-the-touch walls. He wasn’t entirely sure but, if pressed, he would guess they were made out of solid white gold or platinum.

There were no windows in the room – not even one of those fancy two-way walls of glass that allowed people to look in on interviews – just some air vents stopping the space from being completely closed in.

Even the door had a seal around it.

Mickey was too surprised by the placement of his predicament to be worried; at least, at first. After what felt like an age but was probably an hour or two, he began to sweat.

He’d expected to be released soon after his capture, as soon as they figured out he hadn’t got very far into his crime and hadn’t actually managed to nab anything. The place was so big, after all. A palace the size of a country must be subscribed to the Geneva Convention or UN human rights laws or something, right?

By hour four, he was no longer feeling so hopeful. Not only was he not offered a representative, still no one had actually come to question him. That was bad for two reasons: his increasingly urgent need for the toilet, and the turnips he’d hidden in his socks that had been in contact with the heat of his skin so long, the started to rot.

Mickey cursed his decision to raid his neighbour’s allotment, and his stupid urge to follow the hidden path he’d found under a trapdoor he’d found there. Just look where it had landed him – eternally tapped in a platinum-coated interview room with nothing to occupy him but rotten turnips.

Not exactly your usual Thursday.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Attention (Microfiction)

This is the final piece of writing I did during Bernie McGill’s fiction workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School. Short but, I hope, still able to strike a chord. Based off prompts given in the class.

She always said I was useless, though she never said it to me; never looked at me long enough to realize I was there, and could hear.

The worst decision I made was to make her aware of my presence.

I find myself now in the cupboard under the stairs, the door locked.

I am here because I couldn’t stand it anymore. I needed attention. I needed her to look at me.

In my pocket I am carrying the hair she pulled from my head when I spoke to her.

When people look at me, they see my bruises. They gasp and look away again. I hear them whispering.

The truth is, I think maybe I deserve to be here. I think I must be the worst kid in the world. Why else does my grandmother hate me?

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

My Problem (Microfiction)

Another short piece written during Bernie McGill’s fiction workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School, based off the prompt, “A time the teacher caught you doing something you should not have been doing.”

Talking was always my problem. Well, that and maybe not listening. I think that’s what they always used to say anyway. I was always being told off for something. If you ask me, my poor hearing was part of the problem. But, well, no one did ever ask me and apparently it was no excuse anyway.

Anyway, this one day, my ears were real fuzzy – like never before. The teacher was looking at me and I could see his mouth moving, but I thought to myself, surely he can’t be telling me off, I haven’t said a word!

Well, as it turned out, the homework that day was to work on an oral presentation and I’d forgotten. The one time I was actually supposed to say my piece, and I got in trouble for keeping quiet.

Bloody typical!

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Babies and Broken Skies (Results from a Writing Prompt)

Today, I want to share another short piece I wrote during Bernie McGill’s writing workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School. We were given a list of first lines from existing stories, without initially being told what those stories were, to see what ideas we could spark off them.

From the list, we were only supposed to pick a single line to start, but of course I broke the rules from the off and took two different lines and put them together.

Here are the lines I used:

From ‘The Pram’ by Roddy Doyle: “Alina loved the baby.”

From ‘A Priest in the Family’ by Colm Toibin: “She watched the sky darken, threatening rain.”

And here’s the resulting story:

Alina loved the baby. She watched the sky darken, threatening rain, trying to focus on it and not the churning inside her.

The mum had the baby out in his stroller, rolling it back and forth in front of Alina’s house as if she knew what torture it was to her and was inflicting it on purpose.

Didn’t she care that it was going to rain, and the baby would get wet and cold; or that she’d been trying – really trying – for more than a year and just couldn’t do it; couldn’t make her body work to the same result?

It was cruel. Alina decided that the mother was a right bitch and didn’t deserve to have a little one. She cast her eyes to the clouds again, squinting at them as temptation warred within her.

It was safe to focus on the cool of the day. It helped her balance out the heat of her blood, for a while, but at the end of it, the tempest still raged.

She couldn’t really do it, could she? Was it abduction if the child needed rescuing and was calling her? Wouldn’t that make it a mercy mission?

The wind picked up, rattling the window, and the mum looked to see where the noise came from. Alina ducked from her line of vision.

The mum took the baby inside as the storm began in earnest.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Dystopia in the Modern Day?

While at the John Hewitt International Summer School, I took a three-day workshop with Bernie McGill and, over the course of those three days with her, I completed a few different writing exercises. Below is what resulted from one of those. I was given a photo prompt and some starting words. I’m not sharing the photo for copyright reasons, but you should be able to gather from my description what it depicted.

I read the final piece at the JHISS Showcase at the end of the week and it got some really strong reactions. It was labelled dystopian and I suppose it is but I think, for some people, the word dystopia conjures up the idea that it’s set in some distant or alternative future where everything has fallen apart, but that’s not where my mind was when I wrote it. Maybe not here in the west but, as far as I understand it, the things I mention can and do happen here on earth, in this reality, in the modern day. In a lot of ways, I think that makes it more striking. But enough preamble, here is the piece. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

I can’t remember my name anymore and I don’t know where I am. I don’t know what age I am, or how old she is either, though she’s smaller than me. She can’t talk, but she clings to my side. We stay together on the streets and I keep her safe from the dogs and the bad men.

I wasn’t born on the streets, but in a house. It had one big room, and there were many of us. It was always warm, and there was always a fire.

It is still warm outside, the sun making the dust on the road rise up and burn in our throats. We cough and, despite the heat, cling harder to each other.

I like her close to me. I like to think of her as my sister, though I don’t know where she came from. She was never in the house with the rest of us.

I don’t like that I don’t know where they went –– all of my real brothers and sisters from the house. The night they were taken, everything was dark and loud. I ran and hid until the sun came up. Then I found her.

The last time I saw my mother, she was stooped over the fire, stoking it. She didn’t look up at me and I can’t remember her eyes, but I dream about them. The girl has nightmares, most nights, and I try and tell her about my dreams; about my mum’s eyes. She stills and listens to my voice until her breathing slows again.

I wonder if I’ll ever see my mother again, or if I’d recognise her. I wonder if she’d take my sister in, too, if she came for me.

I remember one day my brother found a dog and brought it home –– it wasn’t angry like the rest of them. My mother said we couldn’t keep it and my brother cried. She hit him for ‘acting out’, then told him to leave the dog and go fetch more sticks for the fire.

I watched her kill the dog and mix the meat in with the rice.

I have always wondered if my brother knew. He didn’t ask for the dog after the first time, when she hit him again, and he didn’t eat dinner that night.

I was angry with my mum for doing it, but when I look at my sister and hear her stomach growl, I wish we had a dog I could kill for her. The ones in the street now are too big, though. I worry they’ll get us first.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

The Chocolate Scullery (Flash Fiction)

During the September meeting for Belfast Writers’ Group (which has finally got back together after its long hiatus!), we did a writing exercise in which we wrote something based on three prompts: the name a room, a luxurious material, and something that rots. Pictured above are the options I was handed, and below is what I made of them. Heads up, it’s about to get weird.

Dark chocolate wasn’t the material you often found rooms made out of, but this room – a scullery on the side of a cliff – was no ordinary room. It had three walls, half a roof, and only one other room attached to it: a kitchen.

Inside the scullery was a large dining table, also made out of dark chocolate. On it were three matching candlesticks made out of white chocolate, and a centrepiece of lard.

Having only three walls, there was no need for any windows, but it had six anyway. It was soon discovered after the room was built that if you didn’t keep air flowing inside, it would melt. Enclosure didn’t help with the dead body smell, either.

The source of the dead body smell was, as can be expected, a body. That was dead. It belonged to the owner of the adjoining rooms, a man in his fifteen-hundreds who didn’t like you to point out the smell or oddities of his dwelling, thank you very much.

All in all, it wasn’t the weirdest thing about him.

Some people (for, yes, there were frequent visitors) thought the fact that he was lactose intolerant was the weirdest thing but, nope, they were wrong too.

One day – a very hot day, in which half of the kitchen (which was made out of Philadelphia cream cheese) – fell into the sea and the dead body (let’s call him Jim) decided he’d had enough, and melted the chocolate scullery to the ground/rock face.

It got stuck, which made Jim even angrier, and the skulls didn’t like it much either.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

My Shadow (Poem)

Recently, I shared a piece of flash fiction about shadows. Now I have a poem for you, on the theme. It was inspired by this video.

Now, normally, I shy away from prompts. I have so many story ideas, I already can’t keep up, but poetry’s different. Because it’s so much shorter, I can have an idea for a poem and jump on it right away. They don’t build up, so I have none in reserve.

Since I’ve been writing a lot of poems lately, and I want to keep that going, I have been actively looking for inspiration for poems. As such, I’ve found this site which is quite good.

But that’s enough preamble. Here is my poem.

My Shadow

Light slips through
the dark cracks
They are substance
in themselves
Forming a mosaic

Cold parts are next to warm
there is every shade of color
Everything that is me
reflected

My shadow is what I will
leave behind

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Into the Dark (Flash fiction)

At writers’ group last night, we set ourselves a challenge to write a story that included three prompts: a telephone, a black overcoat, and a Post Office. Here’s what I came up with:

Jack stumbled in through the door of the Post Office, tripping over the welcome mat on his way.

“Honey, I’m home!” he declared, sounding cheerful at first, but finding himself unable to stifle the catch in his throat over the word ‘home.’

It was an old Post Office from the 1940’s, no longer open the public. The place his grandfather had worked in all his life, and now the place where Jack lived. The ‘open’ sign still hung in the window, though it had faded beyond all recognition.

Staggering past precariously high stacks of books, Jack made his way to the small working kitchen in the back. The door fell off the fridge when he opened it, making the glass milk bottle in the door shatter, and two-week-old milk flood to the floor in clumps.

Two weeks. Was that really how long it had been? God! Jack sank to his knees, his head bending to the floor as sorrow weighed him down, before snapping up again as the smell of the milk clogged his sinuses. It sobered him, a little.

In the other room, behind the old customer counter, the phone rang, and Jack got to his feet once more. He took his time crossing the distance – pausing to wrestle his overcoat off his shoulders – having no doubt who would be calling him.

There were only two people in the world that called Jack, and one of them was gone, never to call him again. A fresh stab of grief jabbed at his breast, threatening to knock him down once more, but Jack fought it, managing to stay upright. Just.

Finally in the back office, he lifted the receiver and slurred a ‘hello.’

“Hello,” returned the voice on the other end of the line. The voice that could not be. That could never be again.

“Bernie?” Jack whispered, not daring to believe his ears.

“Yes, Jack, it’s me,” said the voice.

“Bernie!” Jack repeated, this time an exclamation. His face became animated, eyes focusing for the first time in a fortnight, before he paused. “But how?”

“Never mind that,” said Bernie, “It’s time.”

Jack smiled, making the corners of his eyes go up along with the curve of his mouth and releasing tears down his cheeks and onto his dried lips.

Slumping to the floor as he held the receiver to his chest, he recited Bernie’s name over again, reverently as his eyes closed.

“Bernie. My Bernie. You came back.”

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20

Hel and Rebelle (Flash Fic)

Hel and RebelleI recently signed up to be a writing mentor for children and young people as part of an organization called Fighting Words Belfast and, in training for this voluntary role, a group of us went through the writing exercise that we would normally set the kids, to get a first-hand idea of what it’s like.

The gist of it is this: people suggest ideas for a main character, a secondary character (the best friend of the MC), a desire for the MC, and the MC’s main fear. These ideas then get voted on, and a story begins to be built around whatever combination of details that were picked.

My idea of a story about a pink-haired warrior princess with a helicopter for a best friend wasn’t picked, but I decided to write a little story about her anyway – mostly because my partner, who’s also a volunteer, was a little dubious about it…

Behold:

Rebelle was the last in a long line of warrior princesses, hailing from a tiny island, just off the coast of Estonia.
Insurgent groups had just overthrown her parents, and now she was fleeing for her life.
Her best horse was galloping at top speed towards her other best means of a getaway – her best friend, in a lot of ways – a helicopter, affectionately nicknamed Hel.
If grown men could love cars and spaceships, referring to them with female names, Rebelle saw no reason why she couldn’t do the same.
Hel was like a miniature, one-pilot version of a black hawk – completely Rebelle’s own design. A black sparrow, she called her. One of a kind.
But none of that would matter if Rebelle couldn’t make it to the waiting copter in time. She’d voice-activated it, via her wrap-around headset, and the blades were already whirring around – Rebelle could hear them even over the sound of Jasper, her horse, panting, and over the roar of the mob. Many of them were mounted on quad bikes, and Tracktor-Xes. If she didn’t keep up her pace, they’d soon steal her sliver of a lead.
Hel couldn’t come any closer to Rebelle by herself, obstructed by the forest as she was, but the engine was warmed up and ready to go.
Closing the final distance, Rebelle stayed on Jasper until the very last second, at which she had to jump from the horse directly through Hel’s open door. Her high ponytail got sliced off by a chopper blade in the action, leaving Rebelle’s pink hair to fall down over her eyes in a fringe.
With no time to mourn for it, she slammed into her seat and rose into the air even as her seatbelt came around her waist.
Jasper continued running, off towards the horizon, and she missed him already; knowing that she likely wouldn’t see him again, and hoping that he wouldn’t be caught, or trapped.
Rising higher and higher, the mob was now only a series of dots to Hel and Rebelle.
The princess flipped them the bird as she took off towards the freedom of another land.

fb-share-icon0
Tweet 581
fb-share-icon20