Message In A Bottle: Looking for a home on the news stands

It is a really frequent occurrence. I’ll find myself standing in the magazine aisle at a supermarket or in a newsagents, desperately looking for something that I can feel speaks to me. I’ve probably spent hours from my life disconnected with the contents of the news stands. Glossy magazines, whilst beautiful, seem to be so light on real, heartfelt content. Gossip magazines hold no appeal. Creativity seems to find itself represented by cross stitch magazines, adult colouring books and home and gardening magazines. There seems to be nothing that reflects my interests of creativity, progress, family, current affairs and culture (I’ll be honest I miss the Marie Claire of the past which fulfilled many of these needs). Generally, if I come away with anything, I come away with a copy of New Scientist and Private Eye, often after a long time standing, puzzled, yearning for a short read home that seems not to exist.

Yesterday I took the twins out for a wander in the car. My partner works from home and often needs a little bit of quiet to go about the work he has to do. So, being on maternity leave and always looking for a new adventure I drove out after the girls had eaten their mid-morning snack.

I’m a believer in the art of Zen navigation (in the style of Dirk Gently – “I rarely end up where I intended to go, but often end up somewhere that I needed to be.”) – today I set out to go to one nearby shopping centre. Instead, via some interesting countryside landmarks and a short stop in a layby to write down some ideas for blogs including this very one, I ended up at Rushden Lakes shopping.

This is a big out of town shopping development and, with its array of high street names, isn’t somewhere I really aim to be. I’d much rather potter around quirky old towns, but that wasn’t where I needed to be it seems. I drove around the perimeter, with an idea in my head to get some lunch with the babies then return home once everyone was fed, and saw the sign for one of the stores – “Magazine World”. Ah – kismet! I had been pondering the lack of viable reading material and lo, the universe doth provide.

I realise this is the fulfilment of a small need but, the buzz of validation in my zen choices, I was in awe. I went through the glass doors with a sense of apprehension and excitement. What I found was truly overwhelming. It was difficult because I didn’t even know where to start. I saw so many things I wanted to read, to touch and consume. I could only spend about ten minutes in the shop because I had two chirping babies ready for food and I wanted to read EVERYTHING. So I grabbed three magazines that caught my eye – the advertisement-free womankind, illustrated short story publication Popshot Quarterly and women’s writing magazine mslexia.

I’m going to have to come back to you on whether or not I’ve found my perfect match. What I do know is now there is a place I can go back to and try to find my light-read home.

Ruby Inks: The First Return

So, you all gave me your time and your consideration and read Ruby Inks: Just Five Minutes.

Many of you were kind enough to choose your favourite from four prompted pieces of five-minutes of writing and 37 per cent of you chose Story 2: Gifted to be extended out into a fully fleshed short story. I then had a self imposed 24 hour deadline on making this piece a reality.

Having taken the step of putting out my little five minute pieces was a bigger step than I think some might imagine. I was putting myself out, not only to criticism but also, to accountability.

It is really easy to just write for yourself and to keep all your half baked efforts to yourself, hidden in numerous notebooks dotted around your home, or on laptop hard-drives never to be seen again. As many of you know, I’m a mum to a herd of children, most notably a pair of eight month old twins, currently teething, so it is relatively easy to make and excuse for not putting out an effort, to keep the words hidden for as long as possible to avoid judgement.

First of all I apologise – this piece of writing is NOT a short story – the words became something a little beyond that. I don’t really know what these presume to be but, as promised, 24 hours has elapsed and here are the fruit of my labours in their raw and uncut form.

Please be kind, but be honest.

Secondly I thank you all for reading and encouraging this mad little endeavour. I hope you all continue to encourage my efforts, hold me accountable and keep me motivated. You are all lights in the world, for which I am eternally grateful.

Finally thank you to Ineke Poultney and my James for getting me this far.

Now, please read and critique if you have the time:

Gifted

Martha said she wasn’t much, wasn’t important, but shimmering light trailed in her wake.

She had met Grant from the underground, having arranged to meet him on her way home from work and before some class she hadn’t specified. For many years they had communicated by Twitter, the odd humourous exchange, the occasional retweet but, as she said, he’d never thought of her as much, not important. It was only on the day his father died and he could only manage a mention of his loss that Martha came into her own and stepped forward from the murky shadow of social media irrelevance. It was weeks before she suggested they meet for this coffee on her way home and he hesitantly excepted, still fragile from his loss.

The coffee shop was unremarkable, the coffee bitter and old, and he could not remember of what they spoke, but he left that day feeling lightness and – for the first time in weeks – he felt hope. He couldn’t describe why but there it was, nonetheless.

It was only as he followed Martha from the cafe – as she went back to the tube and he started to walk back towards his office – that he saw the irridescent air behind her. As Martha passed people by none of them seemed to notice, but their expressions changed as the shimmer caught their space and frowns and blanks turned to smiles.

He looked confused for a moment, uncertain as to what he was watching, before being shaken back to reality by a homeless man sitting close to his own feet spoke.

“Some people don’t realise how gifted they really are,” he said.

“She’s something else,”gasped Grant, tossing coins into the man’s upturned hat, as he watched Martha make her way towards the tube steps. He tried to absorb every detail of her being, her short brown curls, the strong and balanced line of her form, athletic for her middle age and her diminutive height, her lilac eyes, dark skin and slightly off centre smile.

“Not her,” said the man, coughing. He began to stand himself up, shuffling the cardboard boxes beneath him and gathering up his layers of clothing.

Grant was still smiling, the after effects of his proximity to Martha. But as she disappeared the spell broke and he looked down at the man. Grant had rather taken his sudden and momentary presence for granted, but as he woke to the full effect, he noticed that the man was not as dirty as he seemed. The layers of clothing he presumed to be rags were actually woollen winter greatcoat and a three piece tweed suit. As the man tipped the coins from the grey pork pie hat into his hand, he raised his eyebrows as if peeved at Grant’s generosity. He was standing on the cardboard in a pair of buckskin derby boots. Grant crushed his forehead down into a chevron of wrinkles and tilted his chin up and back, both confused and annoyed at being pulled into the odd little deceit of unnecessary spare change donation.

“What do you mean not her?” he said, sniffing.

“Buy me a coffee and I’ll explain.”

Grant remained confused as to how he had ended up agreeing to coffee with the up-market “tramp”. His grief left him a little confused by most situations at the moment, his father’s funeral had been a little less than a week before, and he was still left as if he was waiting for something else to happen. but found himself with a large ceramic coffee cup in his hand having, to his chagrin, paid for both their drinks, listening with rapt attention to the odd tale being woven by the man.

“You see, we’re what they used to call guardian angels,” he said in a cut glass English accent, peering up at Grant with his pale blue eyes, anomalous within the dark, dark skin of his face and not matching, to Grant’s mind, the long greying dreadlocks which flowed from their tie at the back of his head, all the way down his back. Ezekiel, as he had introduced himself to Grant, had been waiting for some time to speak with him.

Ezekiel paused. “This is too much. I’ll start with the girl, what’s her name?”

“Martha,” said Grant curtly.

“Martha, you see is a Lumen. Lumens are…how do I explain this…like saints. They are people who are inherently good, only not in a holy way, not in a religious way.

Ezekiel paused again, perceiving that his frenetic speech patterns were not being followed by an increasingly lost looking Grant.

“They are just good, even when they make their mistakes they make them only with good intent. Without them there is no hope, because outside of them is chaos which seeks to be sated for its own sake, it means that things just happen and there is no rhyme or reason. Lumens bring order because they bring a capability for empathy. Empathy did not exist before they did, kindness was absent. That was why She created them. She saw all her other creations spinning around in a never ending tornado of birth, fucking and death and wanted to make something more of the world.”

“She? You mean Martha?”

“No, She, you know the creator.”

“What? Like God?”

“Yes, but no,” sighed Ezekiel. “More like Gaia – you know Mother Nature. Anyway you’re missing the point of it – we’re the only ones who see them, the Lumens, so we are the only ones who can protect them. She made us to protect them so they could give balance to the world. I for one am not religious, so I wouldn’t know what to call us. My grandmother used to call us ‘schutz’”

“Protect them from what?” Grant started to become quite aware of his own Brummie accent and tried to tidy up his vowels in a vain and odd attempt, given the circumstances, to match the BBC diction of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel looked to either side of himself, before leaning in and whispering: “From the other. It has found a way of taking them, consuming them and using them to grow.”

“The other? Lumens? Schutz? This is crazy,” Grant snapped, raising himself up from the chair.

Ezekiel picked up his coffee cup, drank from it calmly as Grant looked at him as if to elicit an explanation, and said with a sigh. “You can’t be told can you? Want to see what looks like crazy?”

Grant tilted his head to the side and narrowed his eyes as the coffee shop melted away and they were surround by light.

***

That conversation felt like a world away, two months later, as he wandered the streets of a pre-Christmas London, tracking Martha’s movements as she went from shop to shop, oblivious to his presence and to the danger he was now all too well versed in. She had been easy to track that day as she left work, in her pillar box red coat and heels. It had been hard in those few weeks to stay back. Martha’s very being drew him in, but he had to stay back or he could not protect her, Ezekiel had warned him.

It was in the last half hour of tracking her that he had noticed the man paying attention to her as she went in and out of the shops in Covent Garden, endlessly browsing. He’d seemed non-descript at first. A man close to Grant’s own age, with an ill fitting high street suit on, finished with a pair of shining Italian leather shoes. He wore an ill fitting wedding band. Grant’s instincts were not distracted by the little idiosyncratic details which the soul sucker had taken on to pass as a part of the world around him.

As he looked towards the man Grant saw pluming smoke and flames around the line of his body. He knew others didn’t see this, not the theatre goers in the queues for the performances, nor the policemen looking out for ticket touts, as he followed Martha, then the creature down the side alley away from the crowds of people milling about in Drury Lane that evening. They were pressing on through the streets at a brisk pace. Suddenly their company dived into an alley and the three of them were alone and Grant ducked between the shadows in an attempt to stay out of sight. There would be another, he knew that much.

Grant paused, he’d mentally and physically prepared with the guidance of Ezekiel for weeks for this possibility, watching from the shadows and waiting for the appearance of these soul suckers, but as he watched the creature, in its Top Man suit, close in on Martha, all helpless and alone, he froze. His hands stayed in his pockets, a solid grip on the weapons he had been given and he felt he could not move. The soul sucker came nearer and nearer to the now visibly effervescing Martha, her light starting to be drawn into the widening vortex that whipped around the demon. Then, from the back of his throat, Grant uttered a strangled grunt, in a higher pitch than he felt was becoming for man of his age and bulk. The soul sucker span and turned towards him, the weight of its cloud-like presence upon him, red staring eyes burning his reflection. As the cloud overcame him, Grant saw Martha, rolling her eyes in a weary fashion, to the left of the creature, moving quickly as he himself fell to the floor in a dead faint.

“I’m here to protect you Martha,” stuttered Grant as he started to come around and Martha helped him to his feet. The soul sucker was gone and it was just the two of them in the alley. “I must protect you. I’m a Schutz and you’re a Lumen, its my duty. Wait!”

Grant started to look around for the tapping noise he had picked up. “They usually hunt in pairs!”

“I’m fully aware of that Grant,” she snapped. “Generations of my family have been both Schutzengel and Lumens. I’ve been trained to be both for the best part of 38 years. As far as I’ve heard you found out about this two months ago, so how you’re speaking of this with so much authority I do not know. Duck.”

Martha flung the knife at the second soul sucker, wearing the form of a narrow man in his twenties in a fitted leather jacket, which had appeared behind Grant, the blade nicking Grant’s cheek as he staggered out of the way. The blade thudded to a halt into the chest of the soul sucker, on target and deadly. He evaporated into a red haze, back into the Never

“God, give me the confidence of a mediocre, white man,” Martha muttered as she walked past Grant to collect her knife and the jacket left with the remnant vapour of the soul sucker. “Hmm,” she smiled. “I’m having this, it’ll go well with jeans. Now come! I’ve got to get back for the sitter.”

Grant, still dazed, stood and dabbed at the blood on his cheek before trotting after Martha as she strode through the garden archway beyond. “Sitter?” he echoed. “I didn’t know you had kids.”

“A kid,” she snapped back. “It’s about time you started listening Grant. You’ve more to learn than you really ever had to say. You really aren’t your father’s son are you.”

Ruby Inks: Just Five Minutes

Through the struggles of finding time, energy and inspiration to write I have been gifted with the help of many good friends.

On top of that I’m a sucker for a challenge. Aren’t you? I loved the 100 Burpees challenge – even though my abdominal muscles initially screamed in low-key hatred for my self-improvement seeking soul. I relished stepping out for 10,000 steps a day for Care International’s Walk In Her Shoes. I’m a persistent volunteer for mud runs and charity races – even though I hate running with a fierce passion.

Competing with yourself has to be one of the best joys – to push yourself and see what you can do.

Casual chats with dear friend and trouble-maker Ineke Poultney (@inkyworld on Twitter) triggered my latest challenge to myself. Bemoaning my lack of ability to actually sit down and write a book Ineke suggested, nay volunteered, to put me through my paces with writing prompts to help shift my writers block. Just five minutes a day of writing to stretch my imagination and force the block through by just writing.

Just five minutes.

I have to admit that, at the beginning, I was scared. Scared that the short compositions would reveal me to be lacking in imagination and short of storytelling capabilities. Just five minutes seemed to be too long. I was not sure that I could even sustain just five minutes a day for a week, never mind fifty days.

I’ve been very fortunate to have Ineke in my corner, her industrious and determined nature have kept me on track in our project. A keen writer in her own right, Ineke’s unique world view has informed some fascinating and creative prompts which flowed with a level of consistency which has exceeded the amount of energy she might have been able to give on any single day. For fifty days she provided a line to inspire a little moment of writing. For fifty days she offered kindness and support, gently coaxing and chasing me into working.

The result has been fifty pen pictures. Fifty beginnings. Fifty places from which bigger worlds could be drawn – I hope.

So today I offer four of these beginnings to begin the next phase of this creative project. I want to extend my writing, open myself up to more criticism, more challenge. Can you help?

I need just five minutes.

You have a day to choose one to be the next beginning of a short story, dear reader, then I will take 24 hours to turn around the beginning of your choice into a longer story.

Are you up for the challenge? Please, if you can take just five minutes, read these four beginings and make your choice by voting on the pinned tweet at @RubiesB4Swine.

Thank you. I just hope I’m not wasting your time…

Story 1: Show You Care

“The best way to show you care about someone is to allow them to be themself around you, you know. That is how he has been able to do all this,” said Simeon eyeing his brother whilst sipping the Malbec.

George was at the end of his own jetty with Eleanor sitting atop his shoulders, her little arms wrapped around the top of his head, preparing to climb aboard his own boat..

Rosalind blushed and softly spoke: “Wasn’t he like this before?”

“No,” said Simeon. “No he was not. George was just anger – fury and rage. He never seemed to settle before. I’d expected he would have managed to kill himself before now, or someone else. He was a walking death wish before you. Now look how he has changed, he has softened so much. I thought there was no way back for him after Dublin.”

“Dublin? What do you mean Dublin?”

“You know, after the incident,” nodded Simeon as he waved at a happily shouting Eleanor.

“What incident?” said Rosalind, genuinely baffled.

Simeon picked up the wineglass, gulped from it and looked towards George then around to his mother in the house behind, as if looking for a person to help.

Story 2: Gifted

Martha said she wasn’t much, wasn’t important, but shimmering light trailed in her wake.

She had met Grant from the underground, having arranged to meet him on her way home from work and before some class she hadn’t specified. For many years they had communicated by Twitter, the odd humourous exchange, the occasional retweet but, as she said, he’d never thought of her as much, not important. It was only on the day his father died and he could only manage a mention of his loss that Martha came into her own and stepped forward from the murky shadow of social media irrelevance. It was weeks before she suggested they meet for this coffee on her way home and he hesitantly excepted, still fragile from his loss.

The coffee shop was unremarkable, the coffee bitter and old, and he could not remember of what they spoke, but he left that day feeling lightness and – for the first time in weeks – he felt hope. He couldn’t describe why but there it was, nonetheless.

It was only as he followed Martha from the cafe – as she went back to the tube and he started to walk back towards his office – that he saw the irridescent air behind her. As Martha passed people by none of them seemed to notice, but their expressions changed as the shimmer caught their space and frowns and blanks turned to smiles.

He looked confused for a moment, uncertain as to what he was watching, before being shaken back to reality by a homeless man sitting close to his own feet spoke.

“Some people don’t realise how gifted they really are,” he said.

Story 3: Fighting Fires

Neil nodded his head sagely and added: “According to our Risk Assessment you do not need to alert the local fire brigade.”

“Who wrote the risk assessment? Guy Fawkes,” said Barry cynically. “There’s a fucking twenty minute indoor pyrotechnics display in the middle of the set. You wanting to have us all razed to the ground?”

“Barry, you know better than anyone that we’re working to a tight budget and that, where we can save we must. We simply can’t afford to pay for further work with the fire brigade, especially not after the cost of the fireworks each time.”

Barry grunted and shrugged. He knew he couldn’t just keep pumping cash into this tour. He was borrowing now just to keep venues on side, having maxed out several credit cards on ordering the “merch”. He pondered, for a few moments, scrapping the fireworks all together but decided that he liked the sparkles after all.

“Just make sure the roadies clear away the backstage area for crap before we go on.”

He then walked over to the curtains around the back and side of the stage, tripping over speaker cabling as he did, and lifted a piece between thumb and forefinger.

“These are fire retardant right?”

Story 4: No Names

“Maybe a name is not the best way to identify someone?”

“What do you suggest – numbers? Barcodes?” asked Sadie, baffled.

“It’s just so…non-specific. I’ve grown up with three Chloes, four Lauras and a total of six Gemmas,” said Hayley. “I have never been to a single educational establishment where I haven’t been the only Hayley. How are you supposed to feel unique in a world where you’re just so…so nondescript, so similar.”

“Is this truly about names?”

“Perhaps not,” sighed Hayley. “But I think I might be finished with the name Hayley Jones. I’m thinking of changing things up.”

Sadie tilted her head, with her mouth slightly open.

“So what? You’re going to became Regina Philange now?”

“Maybe, maybe not, but I need to shake off this life, this town.”

• Remember please vote for your favourite beginning on my pinned tweet @RubiesB4Swine – if you’re not a Twitter user feel free to vote using the comments below!

A Year To Save A Dream: Laying the Charges

“There’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

 

Ernest Hemingway

It’s been really easy to let the days pass by with the doing of the things. Time can pass so swiftly and, before you even know it, it is the end of the day of good intentions, where you are surrounded by chocolate wrappers and fighting sleep into the wee small hours to watch the last moments of a streamed TV series you’ve just binged. No productivity, having only the unsatisfactory sensation of having lost the time without even feeling it.

In the warm the time passes on a glacial but heat-stifled gauge during the days, until the sudden realisation that the sweeping in of darkness is when they call time at the nearby public house. Even sat at a desk in front of your keyboard in the sunlight leads to easy distraction – my mind often tethers itself to the lone cloud in the sky, soaring beyond the horizon with my attention. I’m learning even a brightly coloured top can prove a distraction to my brain, the reflection in the screen alarming to my eyes as I push through to see the display beyond and it becomes difficult to reign myself back in and push on.

This is where discipline comes in. You have to sit down and just write. Just get on with it. I have made the space of my desk and tidied, then re-tidied the area. I just have to write.

Just write.

Hemingway was right. Some times it flows easily. A few weeks ago, after fitful and anxious sleep, I woke and felt an urge to sit and write. I was emotional about the passage of time and, feeling myself so very small and powerless in the forward torrent of time, I was able to anchor myself and weave the upset into words. It flowed and was release. Happy enough with the piece that emptied itself from my fear, I took courage and put the story forward for a competition.

At the moment I have set aside my drilling equipment and I’m having to lay the charges. Not an idea to be seen and all efforts feel disingenuous and full of artifice. But I am writing.

As long as I have the passion enough to get up each day and sit down before the computer screen, to open the file and to set down words to tell a story, even if it is just my story, it is enough. It is all I can ask of myself.