Welcome to VORTEX, the University of Winchester student creative writing magazine. VORTEX originated several years ago, and was initially produced by a dedicated group of English students. Now it has become a full-colour production, with its own Editorial Board, and with a commitment to introducing (as far as possible) English and Creative Writing students to some of the processes and conventions of the wider world of publishing. Each piece of work that is submitted to us is thus reviewed, and feedback is given whether or not the piece is ultimately published. Two of the pieces, by Fiona Skinner and Rosamund Murchie, are published as the most promising creative writing submissions of the academic year. This edition of the magazine includes a variety of materials. There is poetry, short ďŹ ction, and even some work-in-progress. Each piece is also accompanied by its own review, written by a member of the Editorial Board. The intention is both to assist individual students in the development of their writing through such feedback, but also to illustrate to all readers of the magazine the sort of expectations/ judgments reviewers will be making. This is a timely moment in the development of the English Subject at the University; the English programme itself is very healthy, we have three successful MAs, and the growth of the new undergraduate Creative Writing programme means that there are more students than ever on campus studying writing in its variety of forms. VORTEX is an important part of this subject expansion, providing our students with a valued outlet for their creative work. With the support of those who buy the magazine, we hope to be able to provide this outlet for many years to come.
Neil McCaw Programme Director, BA Creative Writing Chair of the Editorial Board
Contents page 03...
Rosamund Murchie, ‘A Place Called Home’
Vanessa Harbour, ‘Writer’s Block’
Keri Withington, ‘Blood Roses’
Kara Mallery, ‘Lab-Coated and Bearded’ & ‘Bare Faced’
Jennie Wilkinson, ‘Works in Progress’
Anne Clegg, ‘Walking to Work’
Fiona Skinner, ‘The Glass Apple’
Editorial Board Neil McCaw (Chair) Andrew Melrose Judy Waite Amanda Boulter Joan McGavin Tom Masters (Student Rep.)
‘A Place Called Home’ The building sat at the bottom of a sloping driveway. It was darkened by the tall, shadowy trees which stood either side of it. On windy days, their branches swayed rhythmically, as if they were whispering secrets to one another. But today, the branches were still. Two of the dull structure’s three ﬂoors were visible from ground level; each one was marked by a series of windows, which peered down onto the barren, grey driveway like so many pairs of eyes. Inside, on the middle ﬂoor, a row of armchairs crawled around the edge of the largest room, in which ﬁgures in white tunics ﬂitted from here to there, contrasting the inertia of the sleepy occupants of the chairs.
In a much smaller room downstairs, Ben deposited his sandwich, barely touched, into the bin. The residents’ bathroom sat directly opposite the staﬀroom, separated only by a narrow corridor. Airless, sultry days such as this day worsened the stench which ﬁltered in and Ben could not bring himself to eat. Then came the shrill ringing of the telephone. Ben felt his pulse quicken.
‘Hello ? Ok. Go ahead. Thank you.’
Edna replaced the receiver. Ben was still for a moment, standing inches from the bin. He felt redness spread from his neck up to the roots of his hair, as he prepared himself to address the head nurse. Edna had a disconcerting habit of glaring at you as you began to speak to her. Her eyes would narrow behind her thick glasses, and her lips would form a thin, ﬁrm line. Ben cleared his throat, needlessly.
‘Edna ? Would it be ok if I – if I went up ? Upstairs, I mean, to help with – with May.’
Ben felt his blush deepen, as he watched the steam dance above the rim of Edna’s coﬀee cup.
‘Unless – unless you think I shouldn’t. Unless you think I’d just be in the way.’
Edna observed Ben before she replied. He stood, hunched, holding his hands in front of his chest, the nail of his left thumb tearing at the skin of his right.
‘No, go on up if you want to. But I won’t be able to extend your break.’
‘No, no, I mean – no. Um, I’ll come back down as soon as – soon.’
Ben made his way down the corridor, passing rooms containing residents too ill to leave their beds,
from which soft groans would occasionally emerge. Edna’s words echoed inside his head. ‘Go ahead,’ she had said. It was time then.
‘She’s not stupid,’ Karen had said, two days ago. ‘She knows something’s going on.’
And May had seemed worse, lately, Ben thought as he walked, more like the irate, terriﬁed character who had arrived six months ago, whose fear could be seen in the wild movements of her wiry limbs, and heard in her time-weathered voice. Always occupied, always animated, May contrasted those around her, those who drooped and seemed to wilt into a half sleep. Ben’s thoughts turned to the day he had begun his job, the same day that May had sent the contents of a cup of tea ﬂying through the air in his direction, staining his white uniform brown on one side. Thirty minutes later, he had found himself crouching, picking up bits of food from the ﬂoor surrounding May’s chair, where they sat like pieces of broken glass. May had reached down and ruﬄed his hair.
‘Lovely boy, int ya,’ she had said.
Inside May’s mind, the darkest times of her life were replayed, over and over. They made their way out, they were torn out, Ben thought, from somewhere deep inside her, crashing like a furious wave which soaked the silence. Again and again throughout each day May was beaten as a girl by her mother, and as a young woman by her husband, and again and again her baby was taken from her. May shouted and cursed over the sounds of gurgling saliva and wrenching coughs. Sometimes May was quiet. Ben had watched her holding her arms in front of herself, cradling and rocking the baby she had lost so many years ago. Tears fell from her eyes, through the absent baby, and onto the bony structure of her knees, soaking through the thin material of her dress.
Karen strode across the residents’ lounge. Ben paused before approaching her, deterred by the tension which seemed to ﬂow visibly through her rigid limbs, and pool in her steely eyes. Karen stalked back and forth across the large room, pausing only to tear cups and saucers from tables. Her eyes fell upon Ben, who hovered mistily at the entrance of the room. She beckoned with her head for him to join her where she had come to a stand still, before lifting her hands to remove the beads of sweat which glistened on her forehead, exposing a damp circle under each of her armpits.
‘They’re here,’ Karen said, ‘taking her cases to the ambulance. Two of them. A Bloke and a woman.’
‘Yeah, someone phoned down to Edna. Is it – d’you mind if I help?’
Some of the stone in Karen’s face, the stone which was making her look like someone quite diﬀerent, eased as Ben spoke.
‘Course you can help Ben,’ Karen replied, placing a hand in the middle of Ben’s back, as if to steer him forward. ‘Come on.’
May’s complexion was sallow, her eyes damp, and the skin of her bare forearms seemed fragile as a moth’s wing. As Ben approached May, no smile brightened her face, despite the routine which had been in place between the two friends for some months. Instead, her face was stern, and her eyes alert. Her small frame, made angular by folded arms and an unusually straight spine and neck, seemed to reﬂect the tension of those around her, and anticipate what was to come.
‘Hello May !’ Karen was booming now, as if she was hoping that the volume she gave to each syllable would drown her dread. But her eyes, now, were stonier than ever.
‘May, would you mind if myself and Ben here moved you into this wheelchair ?’
‘Nope,’ May replied ﬂatly.
Ben and Karen stood each side of May, but as they leaned in carefully to coax her into a standing position, she shouted, ‘What they comin’ for me for ? I ain’t done nuﬃn’ !’ Clearly May had not understood Karen’s question.
‘No, I know you haven’t, sweetheart,’ said Karen quietly, and then to Ben, ‘I’ll get the frame, give her something to hold onto.’
As he waited for Karen to return, Ben sat on the arm of the chair next to May’s, awkwardly. In an attempt to soothe her, he picked up May’s hand, which was dwarfed by the blue veins which seemed to jump beyond its skin.
Four seats away, Dorothy’s eyes darted like rodents, from Ben to May, and back to Ben again. She raised her eyebrows, and put down the novel she had been reading.
‘Fussing around her again, are we ?’
Ben quickly looked away from Dorothy’s hard gaze, and ﬁxed his eyes instead upon the dusty, forgotten ornaments, which cluttered the window-sill beyond his accuser’s seat. China clowns stared back dumbly, from eyes set deep within huge white faces.
Was it unmanly for a boy to cry? Ben silently asked himself, as he stared at the clowns. May could no longer distinguish between the past and the present, between reality and fantasy. Dorothy’s coherence, however, seemed indestructible. Dorothy responded to the distress and hurt of the people who cared for her in the same way that May responded to a smile, or a friendly word. As the months spent in the place which had become her home had seen May became calmer, happier even, she had begun to hold out her hand to the familiar ﬁgures who approached her, wanting contact. May never had any visitors, but on her good days, she had greeted everyone who walked past her chair. Dorothy thrived on the days on which Karen’s ashen face
was given colour only by the grey semi-circles which shadowed each of her eyes. On these days, she would spit out her venomous remarks. Karen had cried more than once at Dorothy’s threats to have her sacked. Ben remembered the hot, hard lump which had formed like a ﬁst at the back of his throat weeks ago when Dorothy’s words had fallen, thick and heavy, into his earshot.
‘It’ll be a time before he has any luck courting, I don’t doubt,’ Ben had heard Dorothy say loudly to her daughter who visited her daily, as he carefully made the bed belonging to the resident who occupied the room next door. He remembered perfectly how he had raised his hand to his face, tracing the angry red bumps which littered his forehead with his ﬁngertips, hating them, hating them for proving Dorothy right. Ben felt he had little to oﬀer the world, but he enjoyed his work. He enjoyed listening to the deep, gravelly sound of Mr. Price’s voice as he told him how he had met his wife in an air-raid shelter during his leave from the war. He enjoyed helping Mickey eat her Sunday roast every week.
Dorothy’s spite lingered, however, seeping into each of Ben’s days. The malice in her voice gave her comments a leaden tangibility. Over recent weeks, Dorothy’s hatred had created a sheet of darkness which had hung over the workers, blackening each already gruelling shift. Today, it began to descend.
Karen returned with the frame. ‘Let’s try again, sweet,’ she said. Now the numb booming in her voice was gone,
and instead, the end of her sentence seemed to be taken away from her by a strange squeaking. Twenty eight years in the same profession had given Karen an unblinking conﬁdence, but Ben observed the way her hands shook
as she struggled to position the frame correctly in front of May. Still, May stood more easily now, and, with the help of Karen and Ben, she found her way out of her armchair for the last time.
‘Good riddance to her, I say. ‘Bout time I had some peace and quiet. Good riddance to her and her bloody racket.’
Dorothy’s words sprouted like weeds into the room. Karen swallowed, her jaw moving wildly as she did so, and her lips clamped the colour out of themselves entirely. The darkness descended a little further.
It had started with complaints to her daughter. Loud, hard complaints, like sand paper, voiced only when a
member of staﬀ was within earshot. Letters to the manager had followed; letters from Dorothy’s daughter, from Dorothy’s son, from Dorothy’s niece. A catalogue of judgments had quickly materialized, swelling knowingly: May shouted, May swore, May had thrown a plastic cup.
And now May sat in the wheelchair, a tiny ﬁgure, silently rocking her baby. Dorothy sat regally in her chair. The snapping sound of her laughter soared, ﬁlling Ben’s ears. May would leave now, and in her place the thick clot of Dorothy’s authority would grow, becoming harder and duller, like layer upon layer of concrete. Without warning, it occurred to Ben that he was staring at Dorothy; he was staring directly into her eyes. The thought fell with ﬂimsy insigniﬁcance from his mind, and he did not look away until Dorothy shook her head, and returned
her eyes to her novel. It was as if she had literally shaken herself free of May, Ben thought. No, surely it was more than that. She had pushed May out; she had deprived this lonely, isolated person the opportunity to live the ﬁnal years of her life in a place in which she felt safe, perhaps the ﬁrst place she had known that she could think of as her home.
Ben suddenly became aware of a woman who entered the room, and crouched in front of May. She held one of May’s hands in both of her own. She smiled and looked up at May, talking softly to her, but May jerked her hand free of the stranger’s loose grip, while voicing her distress in a series of increasingly frantic murmurs.
Ben sprung forward.
‘May’s a bit wary of people she’s not familiar with,’ he said to the woman, whose soft face oozed into a kind smile. ‘May doesn’t have any family to visit her, so we’ve been buying her sweets. She likes chocolate buttons best.’
The tightness Ben had grown used to which sprung up from his stomach and wrapped itself around his tongue when he attempted to speak was dormant. Instead, his words had materialized, crisply and brightly, with a new yet alien ease. Your voice was the most important thing you had, Ben realized, your voice could be powerful, if you let it. A voice could create darkness. On the other hand, a voice could get lost; it could get weighed down by a past so destructive that its worst times extracted themselves and became the horrifying present.
As May was wheeled away to her new home, Ben felt reassured by the calm slowness which seemed to follow the woman who would take over her care. He walked over to Karen, who sat far away from the armchairs, blowing her nose angrily. He sat down next to her. From where he now sat, Dorothy seemed featureless, like a small smudge. A voice could also become distracted by insigniﬁcance, he realized. It was not his acne which mattered, nor was it his tendency to blush and stutter. What resonated was the outrageousness of one human being’s utter victimization of another. Dorothy had succeeded in corroding away May’s chance to stay in a place where she had begun to feel safe. Dorothy had cruelly exploited May’s defencelessness, and in doing so, her voice had been stolen too; it had been distorted by the creeping darkness. It struck Ben that ultimately, a voice was a gift. A voice, his voice, could challenge the opposition created by people like Dorothy.
‘I think she seemed nice,’ he said, handing Karen a new tissue. ‘We’ll visit May every week,’ he continued, ‘We’ll make sure she’s OK, and if something doesn’t seem right, we’ll say.’
_07 Rosamund Murchie: Single Honours English, Year 2 (2004-5)
Reviewer’s comments on ‘A Place Called Home’ In any short story, the setting and opening, establishing the characters and the location must be undertaken with an economy which does more than just introduce us to those elements. This piece succeeds in opening very well. For example, after the initial scene setting the hesitancy and uncertainty sets up a parallel with the overall tone of the piece – and the task to be undertaken. Juxtaposing the authority of ‘Edna’ over the regime in the residents’ home, and her added warning ‘She’s not stupid... She knows something’s going on.’ , with Ben’s hesitancy, allows the reader to be on guard very early on – there is a story already unfolding, even as it is being set up. This an impressive opening too for the way in which very early on we are not only introduced to Edna and Ben but to the absent presence of May – and indeed the ‘problem’ of the piece (for good or ill – soon to be revealed). This is also extended with the idea that the three have a special relationship (indicated fairly early too). At this point the tension might have been heightened a little with little eﬀort. Urgency can be introduced by simply shortening the sentences to make them tenser, cutting back on the use of the ‘broken-backed’ sentence. For example, these two sentences:
‘Inside May’s mind, the darkest times of her life were replayed, over and over. They made there way out, they were torn from her, Ben thought, from somewhere deep inside, crashing like a furious wave which soaked the silence’
could have been broken into shorter, sharper bites to better emphasise May’s fragility and Ben’s obvious concern. Nevertheless, this is a minor point, already erased by the sparse and believable dialogue.
The compassion of Ben and Edna though is also well balanced by the bitter (and characteristic) bile of Dorothy which gives the piece excellent symmetry, serving only to emphasise further the plight of May. Her demons are not just internal! But it’s the ending that resonates. The plight of May, marked by the compassion of Edna and Ben, who see their job as more than just a means to a pay check, oﬀers hope for us all and thus it’s a great way to wrap up an economical but complete story, which, to use another broken-backed sentence, is to be commended.
‘Writer’s Block’ White virginal paper, lying there in anticipation. Waiting for a stream of unconsciousness Poured. Onto. The. Page. Waiting for words on a sheet that portray innermost feelings. Punctuation and grammar altering emotion Vulnerability, rawness, confessional, a folio of quips Fictitious or real, who knows but me. Dreams of a career wrapped in letters Disappear amidst a fog of uncertainty and inability Only to reappear as the ﬂoodgates open and the text ﬂows
Vanessa Harbour: Single Honours English, Year 3 (2004-5)
10 Reviewer’s comments on ‘Writer’s Block’ The poem uses the layout to help convey the sense (form and content being indissolubly linked) eﬀectively. It’s interesting how a missing word or words is/are suggested after ‘unconsciousness’ – using the blank space to suggest absent meaning. The use of capital letters at the beginning of lines is interesting, especially if it was deliberate. It raises questions because the rest of the poem doesn’t use conventional punctuation or layout, suddenly to have the traditional convention of capital letters for each new line.
The use of speciﬁc vocabulary works well: mixing abstract words and concepts with ‘real’ things like the sheet of paper. The phrase ‘a folio of quips’ is a lovely idea. The ambiguity of ‘a career wrapped in letters’ is good too. The way the metaphor works itself out is well handled. The key is to bring something new to what is, in all honesty, not a particularly new subject matter.
various poems that use the idea of the blank page being printed almost involuntarily – most notably Ted Hughes’s ‘Thought Fox.’ The metaphor here isn’t quite the same, and the page has been literally printed, using typographical possibilities.
The use of ‘white’ and ‘virginal’ is perhaps overkill / tautology. ‘The ﬂoodgates open’ risks being slightly clichéd – but perhaps it works in the context of the extended metaphor. The use of the word ‘portray’ might be revisited, particularly as it relates to the water/ ﬂowing metaphor.
Overall, the poem is working really interestingly, showing an obvious commitment to language and form.
‘Blood Roses’ ‘Blood Roses’ ‘Blood Roses’ ‘Blood Roses’
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14. lips met b towards the appetizer. Sh ‘Wait,’ Eve’s v for matches, lit a cluster of sand-colore ‘Bela Lugosi’s dead.’ Four minutes into the so to unzip her boots. Eve was still on the bed, breathing heavily. Pop bed to rub Eve’s toes and feet. Her hands mas reached the edge of Eve’s skirt just above her kn ﬁngertips, then slipped her hands undernea feeling the soft hairs on her thigh them turned P ‘Please,’ Eve said quietly, ‘I can’t.’ ‘But I waited.’ Poppy’s hands closed ﬁrmly a atin, she noticed as she began working her ﬁn e’s hands down her own pants and against he er, tearing her bra-strap. She buried her hea ard peach candies, and they tasted both sw eel Eve’s ﬁngers in her.
tong ve’s v nibbl on Eve’s s
Reviewer’s comments on ‘Blood Roses’ This is an interesting piece – a sinister twist to the idea of a younger woman searching for a father ﬁgure through a sexual relationship.
The main character (Poppy) has had her mother die in childbirth, and this appears to have left Poppy with an insatiable need to develop relationships with older women.
The plot has been well thought through, with much ﬁne detail – even the names of the characters have relevance - and throughout there are touches and phrases that show the level of control that has been applied.
The writing itself is tight, moving at a seductive pace in keeping with the subject matter, and there is little either wasted or told, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. In addition to this, there is always an undercurrent of the sinister; signiﬁed initially by the title and from this shadowing the narrative throughout.
The ghost references are a little ambiguous, and these scenes could have ﬁrstly been given more clarity, and secondly perhaps been balanced more throughout the piece as they do aﬀect the overall tone and structure which, in a short piece with such an understated style, demands everything be very carefully knitted together.
However, in broader terms the writing is both competent and beguiling – right from the ﬁrst line the reader is drawn in, and this interesting and complex idea has been subtly and thoughtfully explored.
â€˜Lab-Coated and Beardedâ€™ Dressed like a mad scientist, long white coat and dark crazy beard, I saw you on the ladder putting in windows. Just installing windows in some house not your own. I remember waiting in line that one night. You were signing playbills, making fans, quietly stealing hearts. What happened in your life that brought you to this afternoon looking like a mad scientist who can only put in windows ?
Kara Mallery MA Creative & Critical Writing 2005-6
‘Bare Faced’ I’m wearing my bare face tonight. If you walked by, you’d see me plain like day bleeding like juices from crushed daises sweet, thin, sticky traces that I leave everywhere. Please walk by and see my bare face. I have to tell you that you still have my heart I might need it back.
Kara Mallery MA Creative & Critical Writing 2005-6
Reviewer’s comments on ‘Lab-Coated and Bearded’ & ‘Bare Faced’ ‘Lab-Coated and Bearded’ begins with the surreal, with the man-in-the-white-coat cliché cleverly put to use in another guise – performing as the man putting in windows in an unidentiﬁed suburban semi. The sleek cleanliness of the (implied) UPVC setting works nicely alongside the whiteness of his attire. The voice is unsure, confused, seeking answers. This eﬀect is ampliﬁed as the poem switches time and place, moving to a moment before and a suggestion of fame (infamy ?) in the hidden life of the lab-coated one. The reader is enticed, despite being kept largely in the dark.
The enigmatic quality of the piece works really well, and the subject of hidden lives or lives lived out in tragic quietness is interesting. What is needed, however, to accentuate this aspect, is more information – the reader needs to be given more of a basis for connecting with the implied human stories.
‘Bare Faced’ is an apparently straightforward love poem, that uses the hanging sense from line to line (and stanza to stanza) to create the eﬀect (rather well) of a version of the stream of consciousness/ direct address to a lover. The notion of the ‘bare’ face, which carries with it implications of its own (in terms of its status as a cliché) is toyed with, inverting the pejorative sense of the term and instead
positing bare-facedness as a valued quality, one to be appreciated.
The language is vivid (‘crushed daisies’ / ‘sweet, thin, sticky traces’) and eﬀective, and in keeping with the apparent simplicity of the poem’s central message. The ending works well also, and there is a pathos/vulnerability to the ﬁnal line which leaves the reader with a strong sense of the human reality that lies behind the poetry.
‘Works in Progress’
(1) Hearing the hum of blood in his ears, he sped through the forest, slipping on wet leaves underfoot. He couldn’t
see, it was so dark, and he prayed to God that the house was near. With every jagged breath, he could hear the footsteps just behind closing in. His eyes were wide with fear. The house was so close now. He needed speed, just to be able to pummel ahead to save himself but, nauseatingly, time seemed to have slowed to a sluggish crawl. It was the adrenaline surging through his body, making his feet heavy, his eyes red and his head throb. He’d never felt so inexplicably alive. His heart was thrashing in his chest, likely to burst through his ribcage and fall to the ﬂoor with an acrimonious slap at any moment. He truly expected it to happen at any moment. The trees suddenly cleared, the wet branches stopped scratching his face and he saw the cabin. He ran up the open-air wooden staircase, taking two at a time, fully aware that at any second he could, or even would be grabbed and slice open. He was aware of nothing but the oak steps in front, and the open door up ahead. Outside of that, only a misty blackness was distinguishable. There was breath on the back of his neck, and scrambling just that little bit more could have saved his life. But with a black dread in the pit of his stomach, he felt the hands close in around his waist. He struggled frantically, for one ﬁnal time against the grip, but the ﬂash of silver in the corner of his eye made his stomach churn knowingly, and once more his actions began to slow. As the knife punctured his side, a curious blackness that had begun in the pit of his stomach rapidly took over his whole being. There was no pain, just a devastating comprehension that he was dead, now and indeﬁnitely. A weight bore down on his chest, and he found himself struggling with what seemed an outside force, something that was there, but unquestionably not in the physical sense. It was in his chest. He felt himself turn, thrashing his head from side to side, as he found himself in his bed. He struggled to wake himself. The pain in his chest remained, but he was unhurt. And yet, something was still wrong. He wrestled with his subconscious to release him from the horror he’d experienced, but it was a slow process. It would be, with someone stepping on your chest. Gradually and painstakingly slowly, he roused. It was still wrong nonetheless, something was amiss. The dull feeling in his chest was still there, clouding his judgment of reality. He got up out of his bed into the darkness with great diﬃculty, realising that it was his bed, but wasn’t his bed. It had been once, eons ago, but not anymore. And everything seemed to be just the way it had been when he had once slept in it every night: the bed sheets, the curtains. Something was bad, very very wrong. He sensed that someone was there, but there was no one in the room that was his but not his. Outside. That’s where the problem was. His head still in a muggy haze, he lurched towards the memorable curtains that were his but not his. The black dread returning to his stomach (had it ever left ?) turned inside him as he reached his hand out to reveal the secret he knew was being kept from him by the familiar drapes, the drapes that knew something that he didn’t, that were his but not his. It was snow. Against the window, against the cool blue backdrop, there was snow stuck to the pane, stopping him from looking out but allowing the blue light to come through, highlighting the whiteness. This was wrong, still very very wrong. It couldn’t be real. The only way to tell was to touch the glass, to feel the chill on his warm ﬁngertips, to conﬁrm that it was real. He lifted his wrist and the hand followed. It was cold, but what he felt was not glass. It was not the smooth coolness he had expected. Instead, a wet and icy blizzard hit his hand. It was on
the inside. The snow was on the inside. How could it do that? He panicked, nothing making sense to him, and he grew tunnel-visioned in his anxiety. He turned quickly, confusing himself, and made for the door. Everything was wrong. I’ll go and tell my parents. But something stopped him from opening the door. There were noises. There were people outside. No, that was wrong, there was someone outside. And they had a knife. And they would kill his parents. And they would kill him. He was torn between being killed again and staying in the snow, in the mysterious room that was his but not his. The pressure on his chest grew once more, this time heavier and more constant. The blackness overwhelmed him, spreading from stomach to head at an alarming rate, and he turned around and around, a scream piercing though his skull. Too much, it’s too much. On one side was the mysterious room, and on the other was his bed. He needed to get to his bed, his actual bed, where he was sleeping. And then he realised. But it was still so hard; he was still in the room, the blackness upon him, the weight on his torso. It was like waking from an anaesthetic, thrashing around to stop the nightmare, to stop the horrendous image, to end the anguish and pain surging through his upper body and down to his belly. He began to be in his bed more often than in the room. He began to hear his breathing, rattling in his ears, pulsing up through his throat to escape. The picture was fading, but the pain remained, and his eyes began to focus on the familiar images of his room. His room. Forcing them with all his concentration, his limbs started to move, albeit against their will. One so far as to turn the lamp on at his side. He blinked and exhaled as if he’d been holding his breath for the whole night, as the room came into focus. His heart pounded in his chest, once again threatening to break free, to spit itself out of his throat, to be coughed up onto his bed. He needed to move, but he was too afraid to rise. He was dehydrated, but so terriﬁed of leaving his room. There could be someone waiting for him. He had to physically shake his head to remove the pictures from his mind. But still he did not move. He was frozen in terror as his foot hit a bitterly cold patch, and he saw the mound of snow on his bed.
(2) I am unfortunate. I am torn away from love, and Love seems a curse. It consumes me, controlling my thoughts and running my brain. It’s pervasive, a siren blasting in my head, appearing before my eyes like a constant sunspot obstructing my vision. It surges through my veins, making my body perform its every whim. And when the lover is away from me, I am desperately alone, the siren blaring in my ears, the sunspot blinding me, my veins forming clots to prevent me from existing. I am consumed with Love and life stops. They say ‘what is a life without Love ?’ but should it not be ‘what is a life when in Love but without it ?’ It’s no life. Existence stops when Love absconds. It’s a half-life, a half-love is. Love is truly an infection, stopping my body from functioning, killing my cells. I cannot simply walk down a street. When IN Love, I jump. Every step is a leap. But IN Love without the lover, and the feet thicken. The pavement becomes mud, the atmosphere humid, the air sticking to my lungs dragging me to the ground with a heavy chest. A grave mist swirls and condenses behind my eyes. Reality becomes a dream. Life is a hallucination. Tripping as I walked I thought of you. Stumbling through the door I thought of you. Typing work I thought of you. And in my bed tonight, sticky with heat, I’ll be thinking of you. Love consumes me, and to me you are Love.
Jennie Wilkinson MA Creative & Critical Writing 2005/6
Reviewer’s comments on ‘Works in Progress’ These two works-in-progress explore the way in which words can be used to evoke atmosphere and emotion. The use of short sentences in the ﬁrst untitled piece and repetition in the second works very well. The pace and rhythm of the writing reinforce the feelings of fear or love that the character experiences.
The ﬁrst piece begins with sharp short sentences, suggesting the breathlessness and anxiety of the main character. The reader is drawn into the action by this staccato pace. This is something that can be developed in the rewrites. It will be important to continue to manipulate the pace of the piece as the chase ebbs into dream and horror, so that the rhythm of the writing carries the emotional impact of the story and many of the adjectives and adverbs can then be cut. The images here are at their most powerful when we see the starkness of the character’s nightmare surroundings, and his confusion in this world that is his and yet not his. Paring back the writing yet further in the rewrites will make this sense of uncanny horror even more powerful.
The second piece really captures the consuming passion the lover feels for the beloved – the repetition at the end which neatly evokes the joyful, insatiable feeling of being in love, works particularly well.
‘Walking to Work’
‘Walking to Work’
it’s uphill all the way to Winchester, legs stuttering, stopping, starting again, it’s uphill all theof way to Winchester, arms hiking up bags books, legs?stuttering, starting again, too many today ? stopping, unnecessary arms hiking up bags doubt, of books, weight made heavier with
too many ? today ? unnecessary weight made heavier withwork, doubt, thinking, going overtime, hard
brain’s theories too dark to see in entirety, overtime, hard work, thinking, seemsbrain’s easy going till you try, handing in projects, theories too dark to see in entirety, is this what was wanted, uncertainty clouds seems easy till you try, handing in projects, the ﬁrst ﬂush of conﬁdence is this what was wanted, uncertainty clouds
the ﬁrst ﬂush of conﬁdence
chest, protesting, knocks out Morse code for stopchest, andprotesting, rest, slow down, knocks out Morse code sit like students on the stones, near but for stop and rest, slow down, never part ofstudents them, on blue sit like the jeans stones, aside near but and nevernever mind the hair part of them, blue jeans aside and never mind the hair
leisurely in the library re-thinking leisurely inwho the library re-thinking group dynamics, sits where whothen sits where in class, wegroup waitdynamics, our turn tell in class, wait our turn then tell our thoughts outweloud, our tutors nod and our thoughts out loud, our tutors nod and of course, they’ve heard it all before smile of course, they’ve heard it all before
fast forwarding two years the ﬁnish line fast forwarding two years the ﬁnish line zooms in too soon, keep ﬁngers zooms in too soon, keep ﬁngers pressing keys, eyes focussed as we pressing keys, eyes focussed as we keep the keep writing ﬂowing seamlessly, the writing ﬂowing seamlessly, repairing repairing the holes our the in holes in dreams. our dreams. Anne Clegg MA Creative & Critical Writing 2004-5 Anne Clegg MA Creative & Critical Writing 2004-5
Reviewer’s comments on ‘Walking to Work’ Arranged into ﬁve neat ﬁve-line stanzas, this poem is nevertheless highly kinetic. This sense of agitated motion, so central to the poem’s theme, is achieved through a variety of techniques. Firstly, there is the uneven syllabic value of the lines, which allows for a ﬂexible, ‘organic’ cadence; secondly, there is the repeated use of caesura (e.g. ‘legs stuttering, stopping, starting again’), which captures the punctuated breaths of someone struggling uphill; and thirdly, there is the repeated use of enjambment, which allows line to ﬂow into line and stanza into stanza, creating a sense of breathlessness, of eﬀort. The form of the poem is integral to its theme, an architectonic reﬂection of the experiences described. Perhaps one of the poem’s greatest strengths is its immediate accessibility. Anyone who has been a student will be able to relate to the poem’s sentiments of a brain ‘going overtime’ and ‘theories too dark to see’. The image of the hill is an apt metaphor for the ‘uphill’ struggle of the student. Yet in spite of these generalities, the poem also presents something particular: an individual’s isolation. The lines, ‘Sit like students on the stones, near but/ never part of them’, reveal a sense of dislocation.
The persona of the poem does not feel
that they belong, either intellectually or socially. However, this is belied by the repeated use of the adjective ‘our’, something that draws the persona back into the collective student experience of seminars and deadlines. Despite being alone in the crowd they try and repair ‘the holes in [their] dreams’, and thus the poem ends on a reassuringly positive note. There are ﬂaws: the form of the poem is designed to mirror its theme, and yet (strangely) the sense of motion is maintained throughout the third stanza, when the persona has sat down. The pulse never slows. There is also an odd compression between the third and forth stanzas in which we are suddenly uprooted from the image of ‘hair’ to being ‘leisurely in the library re-thinking/ group dynamics’. This needs either punctuation or explanation. Something similar occurs between the forth and ﬁfth stanzas in which events fast-forward ‘two years’. The context of time is lost, and whilst the last line is good (if a little sentimental), the general impression of the ﬁfth stanza is that the poet wanted to end the narrative as quickly as possible. When walking uphill it is best to set an even pace.
The Glass Apple
The Glass Apple ‘Th e Glass Apple’ The Glass Th eTh Glass Apple e Glass AppleTh 25 e The Glass Apple Elizabeth’s eyelids were bleeding pleasantly, very nicely, all over everything. It was a jolly scene; in the wily late spring afternoon shin bones popped extravagantly in her brain and teeth leapt past her fancy, hammered back into their pillows with kaleidoscopic vigour; everything was just, lovely. She was contracting silently in the sun, publicly, ravished by it. A baby’s jammy yells were sticking somewhere or other, splattering the green and blue with globules of pain. Perhaps it would go on like a gassed canary until its lungs caved in and it realised, damn it, I haven’t even lived. Gosh I expect so, she thought drowsily. A bag of guts, the product of some poor woman’s turmoil and silent, resistant squelching. She frowned elegantly and thought of old liver sliding reluctantly, painfully into the toilet. How awful! Just plug it darling; that’s what mother would have said, her deﬁnitive solution for practically everything. Every so often she’d say you’ll want to plug that. Stopper it, darling, or a bag of dead puppies...yes, don’t be disgusting dear. Clench hold, that’s right. She still was, honestly mummy.
The heat of her gold chain was closing about her neck; as last year’s birthday treat to herself, it made her feel rather put upon, like a slave. Elizabeth submitted to the familiar desire which came along uninvited at all hours of the day. He was a brute. Shut the fuck up, tart or I’ll kill you was just a sample of his horrendous warnings. Just do it, (she fell tenderly into hell) and I’ll love you all the more for it being over with and I’ll never feel the thrill again, and you’re right, absolutely right to punish me for the dirty bitch that I am but I. It was the voice of shattered glass, pleading you see, and then the vacuum would come when it was all hot peddled breath and she could barely breathe, there was a hand over her mouth and the liver being pushed back into the lamb with an awful rip. Her numbed mind screeching repetitively in a reverse of birthing, turning in on itself until it was a speck of tormented silence, trembling and sore. Breath pumping in useless cycles against her rib cage; she was chaﬁng in the dirt, pinking like a prawn. How brave. So small the wrists. The poor thing, she looks so young. The smell of antiseptic was a day at the pictures when a smaller worm would wiggle and the glove would expand until it was hot red a ...a cough. Well, that was the problem now. No peace from anyone. Elizabeth sighed and turned over onto her front, twisted like a prone twig. Of course, if she were male and homosexual then it would be forever hamsters. She had heard that in captivated disbelief from a radiographer friend; on him there had been a bigness
which she could smell and she was, yes, quite intimidated actually. His neck was a stubbly cobra, she could imagine being quite hypnotised by it. That was always the risk, to become a ghost in front of a man. If your eyes were a ghost, they would penetrate you without knowing how much
Apple Glass Apple
you existed. Elizabeth yawned. It had been a possibility of course. Really had pushed him to the absolute limit! The police were...possibly a mistake. He had never actually...well, she did wonder about him now. I wondered mum. Mummy might have said he was on the wrong team. Couldn’t keep a woman in line darling. After all, her legs were rather beautiful, even now.
A pair of blank canvasses waiting for the red paint. Her arms (she inspected them closely) were new sheep. I’m lucky really. She said it out loud, tickling God. The sun scalded her wonderfully with his liquid heat, a divine punishment branding the skin, a cuttle-ﬁsh . He was her brute for now - heat was always the ﬁrst impression. She pulled out a hair, light, still living. Do stop that racket dear. I said stop it Liz, you are becoming a bore. That’s. Enough. Unconsciously Elizabeth clutched the burn, the scar. Perhaps here was the deep ache, the thrust thermometer when, after days chained, whispering constipated sorrys...but how disgusting. She couldn’t possibly think of such things. She stretched out, her legs just a little wider. Although, lying here like this she must appear terribly vulnerable. And anyone could. Well it didn’t bear thinking about, not for a moment. Elizabeth plucked sharply, dreamily at her conversing veins. Dragged in muﬄed agony towards the. She’d try but. There was once a story of a man here, but who paid any notice to that kind of thing? It was just a fairytale. And it was terribly oppressive just lying here. She got up, brushing the grass away. Tiny white impressions danced over her body; how funny! What prickles! Beaming she decided - perhaps a nice stroll in the woods?
She sauntered. Alone. It really was very beautiful, with the romantic, spiritual dappling and soft tang of wild garlic. I’m rather a dryad ﬂitting about in here! Part of the natural, unthinking cycle. Something ﬂeeting to plunge through with fucking bitch and don’t make a sound and one word and I’ll; really very pretty. But something wasn’t right. The birds were chorusing in innocent rhapsody and her ﬂoating skirt was just a little too thin for the deepening shadows but...no, really; this wasn’t the....plan. It wasn’t corresponding with...fate. There was already movement in the undergrowth, and she thought she saw...the movements became more frantic. The leaves were coming to their time, fertilized by occasional snatches of reddening ﬂesh which hammered back and forth like a nail’s last ﬁght. Elizabeth bit her lip, the taste of solder sharpening her ears and eyes. This is really. Quite. Unfortunate. She became vaguely agitated, her senses disarming her disarmament. Perhaps there they were, stealing; another small pink leaf gently sobbing in the dark. She had often imagined it for herself. Happening to herself and this possibly could be just too much. Obviously in her vulnerable position she would try not to think about it...not that she actually grasped. Remember, darling...But it was too late. Elizabeth closed her eyes and thought of their delicate blue
lids, as fragile as death. She breathed in and held it there like an emerald, turning and reﬂecting the inner gusts into the perfect night sky. That one, cunt, and she sifted the limbs out, took them
The Glass Apple e Glass Apple TheTh Glass Apple The Glass Apple
back from the raw, meaty membrane...Often when it was dark and the veined walls were naked and
cold she felt pressed by a wonderful terror of her own small wrists. They were destined to be thrust
a skinned and crawling carcass riddled with scars. Forever they wormed between her spine whispering his footsteps... it was awfully dramatic. It was...terrible.
She had seen something similar on Taggart (those awful programmes!) – with the lights out they had watched those moments together but he hadn’t stirred. She had a vague reﬂection; it seemed
that he had been... respectful. The Merlot menstruated beautifully into his glass with a small splash, mutilating her full cream skirt. Bagged in clear plastic it still hung untouched by her window, a new favourite. She grazed him with the bottle. Wasn’t angry, not for the moment! The on-screen
devil played his way towards a climax of hot pounding. Goodness, this wine! She had yawned, a
cavity, reclining into the glow, a picture of unsuspecting innocence. He had listened: I shouldn’t you know. I don’t expect you worry too much? I do hope I’m not being too annoying! Not many
visitors. Sometimes this house is so quiet...I worry because of the neighbours you know. It could so
easily be me on there, but there you are, we must trust I suppose! A small smile, half regret at this
terrible world, half good-humoured ease... and he had...coughed. Having crumbled on the brink of consciousness, she had awoken to silence and felt deeply chilled as she clutched her breasts
above and behind, because he, the brute, told her so and then did it, roughly so she was merely
and noticed an ominous note, crisp and white on the side. It was a block of ice: thank you for
dinner. I’ll call you. She was perfectly safe. Or perhaps... she picked up the phone. The digits made her vagina bleed.
Stealing. Elizabeth’s ﬁsts clenched and she considered entering the bushy sanctum within the trees.
Branches were thrashing, snapping in a previous decay; decorated with skin; ﬁlled with ﬂesh. A
sharp scream became a disappointing guttural silence. Not one real word or violent verbal diuretic. She needed to, there was still her cameo, perhaps even the main part. In the distance the baby
had stopped crying. Her nipples blindly felt their way upwards – bravely, very bravely she felt. She
could sense the trauma hanging in sweaty ravished ringlets. She still was an awful weakling when it came to it, (I am very weak). Even after the warnings. She was too trusting really, that’s what it was. I am too trusting. That is what it was because she didn’t realise...You are an innocent darling. The
movement suddenly subsided. Within the clearing the air was a cat’s determined eye. He had
slipped away, for a second looking around, right at her. Naturally his face was a blur, she would
scrub it away later until things started to seep. Perhaps, perhaps he’d come back? He must realise
that it was wrong. He’d got it wrong and soon the terror, awful, degrading would be hers. Mine goodness what a thought! Don’t. Say. A word. She could smell him, a burnt penny. The leaves parted easily but their branches were not as willing as Elizabeth forced her way inside.
The girl’s face was a perfect waxing moon. Elizabeth pursed her lips. So ripe, not even a crease. Shaded from the sun, the scene was devastating; she drank in the soft caress of wrist and pelvis, the
Apple ThThee Glass Glass The Glass Apple
clammy push before some bristling chin took a bite out of her, a slow dying torture, heavy. Elizabeth drifted – the air rushed around her head in satin folds, blinding. She’d take a bite. I’d take a bite, I think. Perhaps I’d bite so hard into him that if I died there would always be a part of him between my lips. Gracious! That’s what must happen, have happened. They’d ﬁnd it later, sniﬃng and say
my God, the poor tart. Gruﬀness diluted by regional charm, the noble combination of detective sensibility. A signiﬁcant look by a possible lesbian, her stomach stronger (we’ll catch the bastard, sir) and they’d all feel like they were dying inside, just for a moment. On the skirt there would be a heart rending petal of blood which even in death would be striving to bud... Her hair was fanned out in perfect pink gold disarray against a pillow of leaves. Oddly autumnal! Elizabeth frowned and brushed her ﬁngers against the sensitive pale neck. Thoughtlessly she rotated her thumb against her own small wrist. It really was so very small. If the curtain of death lifted she would be stronger for its weight.
Perhaps a cup of tea would be nice, handed kindly, and she would, I’d say how kind. How kind, thank-you. A gloved hand; please try to relax. Elizabeth shifted over the girl, secretly weeping from another place. I am such a horrible weakling, but they’d exchange looks (it’s all in the eyes) and it would be clearly communicated; how brave she is; how disgusting this world; how small her wrists. Respect for the tiny shivering bird, embedded in the tearful uniforms. They’d let it go, a broken wing wafting dignity over the police force in general. Her vision swam – I am a little cottage tower! She became a mist, she was all settling. There were his eyes, burning on the very inside. Right there when she would eventually again take that plunge, perhaps years later, and there he’d be, looking out at others. Staring them out. Not just plugging, the brut! Elizabeth glistened delicately. She remained crouching over the girl, her eyes still fuelled and burning more holes. To be, she thought; I want you.
Gently again she touched her; a glass apple; a poisoned slipper. She smoothed and manipulated. The sticky blushes were buttoned up, sickening in the shivers of diluted light. Eyes were Venus and Mercury; Elizabeth was burning hard with a cold ﬂame. It was hungry, licking her internally with its savage tongue, breathing; you are so beautiful so fucking submit or I’ll fuck you in two; that kind of thing. Despicable really. Rabid. The tender area beneath the dolls ears led to those full lips, such exquisite slugs. She crept along them, her hand suddenly heavy. She rested for a moment over the sculpted nose; its nostrils were very disgusting. They are just...horrible! The moistness was corrosive, a warm distant sunshine murmuring, nibbling at her ﬁngers; just, just. Elizabeth pressed, becoming the leaves rippling overhead. Tenderly she removed her hand from the mannequin’s face.
Serenely she scratched at her own eyes- my blood vessels must look like cooked strings of rhubarb. How awful.
Watered, the panic grew; it looked like a plastic spoon expanding in her throat. She was gagging; an ark of vomit looped exuberantly over the quiet replica. There was no choice but to fall to the ground;
the dirt got in everywhere, it was brown and black and red. She scrabbled for a moment trying to regain herself, mustering for strength amongst the slimy trails as time crept overhead in gravening rainbows. What would mother say! The shame really was too much to bear. She had heard about the shame. I know about it mummy. It’s terribly dramatic. Liver you know! On the tumbled earth, ﬁnally pinking she ﬁngered at her dirtied weeds. Oh look, a hole. Oh dear. She pushed herself up – such deep-wrought courage. As she ran, sobbing with an ethereal dignity Elizabeth clutched at the blossoming tare. It was really growing quite large. Expanses of her shrinking, woken breasts were exposed and reaching. Running was quite authentic really. See me run! I’m going to fuck you till my cock breaks oﬀ your head were the words that echoed comfortingly as she raced towards the baby’s tears, and wiping at her own mouthed: yes darling, I know; me too.
29 Fiona Skinner: Single Honours English, Year 2 (2004-5)
Reviewer’s comments on ‘The Glass Apple’ Once of the greatest compliments you can give a piece of writing is that it incites a reaction. It makes itself impossible to overlook. It stirs something inside the reader that makes them want to comment on what they have just read. ‘The Glass Apple’ is such a piece of work. It jars, it’s spikey, it confronts the reader with language and images and ideas and it makes them feel uncomfortable. For MOST of the time. But, most importantly, it doesn’t let itself be ignored. It tweaks your nose and refuses to give you an easy time of it.
As a consequence there may well be a variety of reader responses to the story. Some readers will ﬁnd it too confrontational, some might be alienated by its register; however just as many others will delight in its eccentric use of symbolism, or smile at its dry wit. What should not be doubted, however, is that this is a compelling, vital piece of work. It is teeming with life, demanding attention, displaying a joy and love of language that is admirable. Writing that so clearly delights in the simple sounds of words in the mouth is a true marker of real potential, and ‘The Glass Apple’ is exactly that – a marker of true potential for the future.
For further information on Vortex contact: Neil McCaw Faculty of Arts University of Winchester firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright ÂŠ Vortex 2005 ISSN 1749-7191
VORTEX originated several years ago, and was initially produced by a dedicated group of English students. Now it has become a full-colour pr...
Published on Sep 1, 2017
VORTEX originated several years ago, and was initially produced by a dedicated group of English students. Now it has become a full-colour pr...