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bi-monthly magazine for writers, readers and all literary types

What the Dickens? magazine

5 Issue

the sunflower edition


Front cover illustration by Kit Palleson

Kit from RoyalKitness specialises in designing and creating one of a kind items to decorate both you and your household. Jewellery, magnets, trinket boxes, journals, signs, and much more are available at the online store: royalkitness.etsy.com. Check out her Facebook fan page for exclusive discounts and information: facebook.com/royalkitness.


editorial Hello! Here it is, the biggest issue yet of What the Dickens? Magazine! It just keeps growing and growing and growing some more! In this fabulous issue number 5 you will find lots of art, stories and poems on our theme of ‘Sunflowers’. You will be given writing tips and tasks, book and film reviews, art & craft, theatre, interviews, creative wisdom and lots of things to inspire you. Again, I WANT LETTERS for the letters page. We have also now set up a dedicated Twitter hashtag #wtdzine so you can send some thoughts over to us there and we will include some in each issue. We love feedback. Don’t forget COMPETITIONS! You will now also notice a new section at the back which is for listings. This section is FREE to be in and all details of this can be found on the website under the tab for advertising. We want to see this section bursting so get sending please. Now, the most important bit of news: we are aiming to get it printed! Yay! So, we have x2 themes and we want all your submissions in by the 15th September for both the October and December issue. The themes are PUMPKIN and JOURNEY and all details can be found on the website. We want you to SUBMIT like you’ve never submitted before, whether it be photos, non-fiction, art, fiction, tweets, jokes, thoughts, memories or anything. This magazine is all about creativity so get out there and CREATE!!! We are aiming to get the December issue printed so if you love the magazine, keep helping us to spread the word, tell everyone you know, add things to the listings, join in and buy the magazine when the time comes. It’s all going to be great! Busy... but great!

Victoria Editor

Twitter @writersgifts facebook.com/writersgifts veebeewriter.wordpress.com

Contents Letters, Jokes & Quotes............................4 Author Interview – Jane Rusbridge...........6 Art – Lauren Jonik.....................................9 The Life in the Name................................9 Re-design, Re-cycle, Re-love...................10 Behind the scenes of a writing website..12 Art – Karin Zeller.....................................13 Can writing be taught?...........................14 Desert Island Reads.................................17 Digital World...........................................18 Wall of Wisdom.......................................19 My Life in the Theatre............................20 Art – Christian Harrop............................22 Sunflower Writing...................................23 Art – Jennifer Hammell...........................57 The Summer Collection of Sunflowers..58 Art – Donna Staveley................................61 The Old Curiosity Shop..........................62 Help! The dog ate my manuscript!.........85 Art – Cath Barton....................................86 Film Review by Harriet Matthews.........87 Book Reviews by Lois Bennett...............89 Book Reviews by Alison Bacon..............92 Art – Cynthia Cioccari............................93 The Literary Market................................94 A bit of shopping with... What the Dickens?..................................95 Chapterhouse Theatre Company............96 Listings....................................................97 Competitions.......................................98

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letters

Letters, Jokes & Quotes STAR L ETTER Dear Victoria,

Hello,

I wonder how many submissions you receive? How do you select? Do you read every article, consider every phrase? Do you reject or do you take all comers?

Just wanted to drop by and thank you for producing this smart, informative and entertaining literary magazine. I found your digital publication via Twitter and I have to say the format looks great on my iPad. I have just read the latest issue from Actually, do not answer this... in writing... you cover to cover and immediately headed to Kindle may in thought, of course. store and purchased all available remaining issues. I have also gifted one to a friend who shares my For the writer, each submission is a challenge, an love of literary magazines as I know she will love adventure, a journey. it too. We never know what we are up against, it could be hundreds of other submissions, as well as the deadlines you set and we set ourselves. Each piece has to be better and different from the last. It has to meet those deadlines, your criteria as well as surviving our own personal judgement. Then, it is that ‘hold your breath’ moment, at the point of pressing send on the keyboard and then the wait for publication confirmation when we can exhale with relief. So my letter to you is really a thank you letter. A thank you letter to my headmistress who taught me that it is important to write enough to turn a page and to you Victoria for not turning the page away... so far. I love the new challenges, I anticipate what they might be, and am always wrong. A blank page sits before me for a while and then the fun begins and new stories and images arrive on the page and in my head. Sometimes I have to go out walking to compose a situation, sometimes I have to sleep to dream up a storyline or a phrase or a character. Many a time I talk to myself. But what appears as madness to some, is just creativity for me. So thank you for giving me the permission and opportunity to embrace my madness and have fun. Caroline Auckland

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Regards from Australia Jenny Snell

Did Shakespeare stare at the Queen? No, it was more of a Lear. #wtdzine Send us your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag above!

Star letter each month receives a ÂŁ10 National Book Token!


behind the scenes of a writing website

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author interview

Author Interview Jane Rusbridge

Jane Rusbridge has lived for most of her life close to the Sussex coast where her husband’s family have farmed for generations. She was born in Bexhill-on-sea, and for 30 years lived in the Witterings in West Sussex, where she brought up her family. Jane wrote her first novel, The Devil’s Music, in a house just across the road from the sea. She is published by Bloomsbury and her second novel is ROOK, out this month. What is your writing background so far? I have always been a reader and English was my best subject at school. I was a quiet child, not confident, but I vividly recall the whoosh of pleasure I felt when I was 10 and Mrs Spencer wrote ‘GOOD’ on my weekly ‘composition’, even if it did mean I had to read it to the whole class. I did an Education degree originally, and once I had a family and was teaching, writing disappeared from my thoughts. It wasn’t until I went back to university as a mature student in my 30s that I rediscovered that yearning to write. When I won the university’s Philip Lebrun Prize for Creative Writing it was an enormous encouragement. I stayed on for an MA, and soon found myself swapping preschool work for lecturing at the University of Chichester, where I have taught since the late 90s. In my 40s, I had success with short stories and poems in national and international competitions, and was published in various literary magazines and anthologies, but it is novels I love to read so it was a novel I hoped to write – eventually. As the children grew older there was time to fit in the longer periods of writing required for a novel. My debut, The Devil’s Music, was published in 2009, when I was 52. So, that makes me a bit of a ‘Late Starter’! How long does it take you to research and write a book? A long time – but I’m a slow thinker, and thinking for me involves writing it all down as I go along. As I write, ideas evolve and mature. Mine is a chaotic process, but rich.

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I love research. For ROOK I researched rooks (obviously), the cello and cello music, 1066, the Bayeux Tapestry, King Canute, Saxon words for mud, pregnancy and babies, aspects of law, running, ageing… many, many things. I read through archives at a local church, and met many interesting people – policemen, cellists, a history professor, a woman who counsels grieving parents, a willow coffin maker, an archaeologist and several very elderly ladies. I find all this gives me creative energy. Often, if I’m stuck, I’ll dive back into more reading around the subject, and discover a gem, a nugget of information which will spark new ideas and get me going again. So writing and research go hand in hand. For me they are both part of the creative process. Writing and research for The Devil’s Music took about 6 years – but it’s important to add that, at the time, our 5 children were teenagers and I had a demanding job so was not writing full time. In fact there were months at a time when writing got squeezed out completely. Was the road to publication bumpy or smooth? The stage which often takes the longest was swift for me. When I first sent out The Devil’s Music it went to 3 agents, 2 of whom loved it and phoned to say they wanted to represent me. It was an exciting time! One of the first publishers my agent sent the manuscript to was Bloomsbury, who offered me a two book deal. Having said all that, it took quite a while, and a whole lot of perseverance, to get to the initial stage of sending a novel to those 3 agents…


author interview and views of the Sussex countryside from the What inspires you? The writer Flannery O’Connor talks of ‘the windows. extraordinary magic that lies in the everyday’. Why do you write? That’s what inspires me. Because there’s nothing like it. Which books have influenced you the most and Do you indulge in any other creative activities why? Contemporary writers, but too many to list; if I and if so what? start I shan’t stop. People like: Michael Ondaatje, I enjoy music and singing, and gardening – but Ian McEwan, Jon McGregor, Rose Tremain, Helen nothing else captivates me in the way writing Dunmore, Jill Dawson, Hilary Mantel, Maggie does. As for dancing, I’d love to learn to tango… O’Farrell, Aminatta Forna, Lesley Glaister, What are your plans now and what’s coming up Jeanette Winterson, A.L.Kennedy… next? See? The list is endless. But you get the gist. My daughter has just had a baby, my first grandchild, so I plan to enjoy everything this new Where and when do you write? Morning is best for me, and when I’m in the grips arrival brings. All our children live close by and of a project I regularly wake at around 4.30a.m. family life is very important to me. This is a new It’s as if my unconscious mind won’t let me sleep. stage to enjoy. With my writing, there’ll be a few months Insomnia is not unusual for writers. I used to write in a shed at the bottom of the ahead now when I’m busy with author events and garden and I quite miss that since we moved. At promotional activities for ROOK, but the next the moment I write in a small upstairs room with novel is nudging at my skull. I need to give in and sloping ceilings, walls I have painted cobalt blue pay it some attention before too long. The Devil’s Music (Bloomsbury, 2010) It is 1958 and five-year-old Andy has a new sister, Elaine – a baby who, his father insists, is ‘not quite all there’. While his parents argue over whether or not to send Elaine away, Andy sleeps beside her cot each night, keeping guard and watching as his mother twists away into her private, suffocating sadness. But one day, at The Siding – the old railway carriage that serves as the family’s seaside retreat – Andy is left in charge of his baby sister on a wind-chopped beach, where he discovers that not all treasures can be kept safe for ever. Three decades later Andrew returns from self-imposed exile to The Siding, the place where his life first unravelled. ROOK (Bloomsbury, 2012) Nora has come home to the Sussex coast where, every dawn, she runs along the creek path to the sea. In the half-light, fragments of cello music crash around in her mind, but she casts them out – it’s more than a year since she performed in public. There are memories she must banish in order to survive: a charismatic teacher with gold-flecked eyes, a mistake she cannot unmake. In the village of Bosham the future is invading. A mesmerising story of family, legacy and turning back the tides, Rook beautifully evokes the shifting Sussex sands, and the rich seam of history lying just beneath them. We have a copy of each book to give away to one lucky reader! For further details please head to the Competitions page.

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art

Based in Brooklyn, New York, Lauren Jonik is a freelance writer and photographer who specialises in nature, landscape and cityscape photography. Her work can be viewed on: shootlikeagirlphotography.com and you can find her on Facebook here: facebook.com/ ShootLikeAGirlPhotography.

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the life in the name

The Life in the Name Caroline Auckland

S U N F L O W E R S

Sunflowers were seen as a symbol of the Sun God by the Incas. University of Manchester where Alan Turing worked on the Fibonacci number sequencing of seed heads of sunflowers. Nutrition is provided from the seeds of the sunflower- niacin and protein. Family of Asters or Asteraceae or helianthus, all other names for sunflowers. Liverpool Sunflowers: Supporting people living with Cancer in the Merseyside Area liverpoolsunflowers.com Oil from Sunflowers supplies Vitamin E William Blake wrote the poem ‘Ah Sunflower’ in 1793 Eleven, the number of paintings of Sunflowers completed by Vincent Van Gogh. Russian National Emblem ‘Sunflower Seeds’ work of art by Ai Weiei made of 100 million replica sunflower seed husks. Exhibited at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

All little seeds of information about the word ‘Sunflower’ compiled by Caroline Auckland. Caroline loves to look at words and ideas in different ways. Caroline writes stories, reviews books and researches with pen and camera. Caroline’s blog can be found here newtonhouseltd.blogspot. co.uk.

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re-design, re-cycle, re-love with Ellie Ellie

Re-design, Re-cycle, Re-love with Ellie Ellie

Paper Rose Brooch – easy peasey rating! (5 minutes) You will need:

An old book (preferably full of nostalgic memories!) Scissors Ruler Pencil Glue gun with glue stick (If you don’t have a glue gun, other glue is fine) Brooch Back (local haberdashery store)

Hello and welcome to my first how to guide... As our theme this month is sunflowers I thought I would follow suit and show you one of my favourite paper crafts; a beautiful rose, it’s so quick and easy to make (yes even the kids can join in, just make sure they don’t use the glue gun) and looks so effective. I have chosen to use one of my favourite books from my childhood; an Enid Blyton story book. I have some really great fond memories of my mum reading this book to me at bedtime and therefore it has such sentimental connections with me so I would love to see it get reused and made into something to be appreciated on a regular basis. If you don’t fancy cutting up your favourite childhood book (I understand it goes against everything we are taught!) pop to your local charity shop and pick up a book which looks a little sad and would love to be made into a beautiful paper rose!

1. Choose your material

Having looked through the book, I have chosen a page which has not only text but a beautiful illustration which I think will look beautiful made into a brooch – have a look through yours and pick the first page which grabs your attention – we only need a small rectangle for our brooch so it can just be a segment of a page.

2. Mark your area

Once you have selected your area, using your pencil mark out an area of 7.5 x 10 cm (you can make these roses as small and as large as you want – but this is the perfect size for a brooch)

3. Cut out

Carefully cut out your rectangle and make sure you have removed all the pencil markings around the edges.

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re-design, re-cycle, re-love with Ellie Ellie 4. Round off corners

Round off the corners, to make a slightly more circular shape.

5. Cut a Spiral

Starting at one of the corners of the rectangle, cut a spiral in the paper with your scissors starting small, getting slightly bigger towards the end (leaving a 1cm to 2cm circular disc in the centre).

6. Roll the rose

With your finger tips start rolling the paper from the outer edge (where you first started cutting) into the central disc, making sure to keep the straight edge straight and tight.

7. Let the tension go

When you have reached the centre release the tension and allow the rose to fall into place.

8. Glue the rose in place.

Being careful squeeze a small amount of hot glue gun glue onto the central disc (adults only please) and hold the swirled rose into place. Allow to dry for about a minute.

9. Glue the rose to the brooch

Finally place a small amount of hot glue gun (again only adults please!) onto the metal disc on the brooch blank. Immediately place the completed paper rose onto the disc. Allow to dry for a minute.

10. Wear your brooch with pride! Why not experiment with all sorts of different papers; an old map, comic, music score sheets, newspaper; the varieties are endless and always unique! Play with scale; what’s the biggest rose you can make? What’s the smallest? Make some big, some small, put them together, see what you can make. You don’t have to make your rose into a brooch either, that is just my favourite (I don’t think people wear enough brooches these days! Join in the brooch revolution!). You could try making into a ring; all you need is a ring blank, perhaps a hair clip; you could used any from the high street to embellish (TIP: just be careful not to wear in the rain! If you want to protect your rose from the rain simply coat it with a bit of mod-podge sealant before making!) or how about attaching the rose to a ribbon and use it as an additional extra to a special gift wrap (Valentines, mother’s day?), how about making hundreds of them and turning them into a table centre piece or a Christmas wreath? (so sorry to mention the ‘C’ word so early!) The possibilities are endless and can be taken as far as your creativity can take you. Send your snaps to ellieellie@wtd-magazine.com and the best original use will win an Enid Blyton Sketch Book.

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behind the scenes of a writing website

Behind the scenes of a writing website Part

5

Richard Hearn

H

aving discussed Paragraph Planet in previous issues of What the Dickens? Magazine, this month I thought I’d turn to a new website I’ve been working on called Writing Workout. It’s still in the testing stage, but hey, I’ve let the digital cat out of the HTML bag now and you can find it here: writingworkout.com. (I should stress that Paragraph Planet is still very much alive and kicking.)

two paths I could go down involved an antidote to writer’s block (but ‘unblock’ was likely to be filed by 118 under drainage solutions) or a gym for writers.

I’ve obviously settled on the latter, but quite a lot of similar names were taken. The Writing Gym had gone, as had Writing Fit. It was The Lit Gym for a while, but eventually became Writing-Workout First, let me tell you about the origin of the idea. (with a hyphen). Logo wise, you should be able to Contributors to Paragraph Planet had told me see it somewhere on this page. It quickly became that while the 75-word challenge was good at the middle bar of a set of weights, ending up as kickstarting their writing day, it also sometimes a drawing with the letters adapted so they are all proved a distraction to their own work in of equal height. Oh and there’s a shadow. (As I’m progress. As a website’s lifeblood is visitor traffic, writing this column at the testing stage, I reserve I wondered whether there was a way of turning the right to still make tweaks!) this around, and making any challenges work on the two levels: be the starting point for new writing, but also to offer a fun way for an author to reflect on their own existing projects. Therefore, the site is essentially a set of exercises with these two outcomes in mind. And to add a bit of pressure, each random task has to be completed against the clock. I think of this site as being what Stephen King in his book On Writing, calls ’writing with the door closed.’ This is the creative stage where you should write unhindered by any thoughts about your readership. In that spirit, unlike Paragraph Planet, the results on WritingWorkout are only seen at this stage by the author.

With a logo which was a mixture of scribbled drawing and text, the question was then: how much to echo this design choice through the site? And how much to try to tie together my gym and literature themes? Thoughts turn to scribbled animations of Tolstoy doing press-ups, Shakespeare with a sweat band and Austen working on her upper arms. How annoying – and distracting – could I make it?

The new website was at one point going to be a section of PP, but it didn’t quite feel right. To Be Continued…. Although PP has subsidiary sections – interviews, a writing group map, and author pages – I think Richard has written for magazines including of these as circling the daily paragraph, rather Prima Baby, The Artist and Car Magazine. He than overwhelming it. Adding a whole new set of recently had a short play performed in the exercises seemed to unbalance the concept. Brighton Fringe and writes the ‘Distracted Dad’ column for Brighton magazine, Latest It was definitely appealing to create a new site. Homes. I liked the idea of giving it a different look, so I therefore needed a name and logo. The main

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art

Karin Zeller has loved to draw, ever since she started school while still living in Germany. Her mother always encouraged her by saving any scraps of paper for her to draw on. Early drawings were inspired by fairytales, nature and imagination. You can view more of Karin’s work on her webpages at karincharlotte.deviantart.com or karincharlotte.redbubble.com or simply google “Karin Zeller”. Karin can be contacted at kczeller@yahoo.com.au.

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can writing be taught?

Can writing be taught? Bridget Whelan Bridget Whelan is a novelist teaching fiction and non fiction in London and Brighton. As the new academic year draws near she asks: Here’s my answer to the most common arguments that would-be writers face when they admit s soon as a child walks, she dances. As soon as they’ve enrolled on a course. she has a crayon in her hand she draws and as soon as she understands words she wants stories. The great writers of the past didn’t need to attend evening classes or study at university Pretty soon she starts to tell her own stories. before they started writing. Creativity is embedded in our DNA and brings pleasure even when we can’t produce anything Courses are another way of doing something worth the attention of others. Bad dancers love to writers have always done: share their work gyrate to the beat just as much as those with happy before sending it out to the wider world. In the feet and nimble knees and – with the right tuition past it might have been through exchanging – can grow to become the best dancers they are correspondence with friends and mentors, or capable of being. Good dancers can become great reading aloud to the family, or by meeting up with other like-minded acquaintances in a smoky pub. dancers.

Can writing be taught?

A

None of this is controversial. In almost every area of the creative arts, theory and practical application are respected areas of study, which is why we have dance classes, music lessons and art schools. Writing is the exception. The debate about whether it can be taught still rages nearly 80 years after the University of Iowa first gave students the chance to learn from established writers through their pioneering postgraduate programme. Just over 40 years ago the very first creative writing Masters in the UK was established at the University of East Anglia with novelist Ian McEwan one of the first graduates.

One of the most famous examples of this kind of literary workshop was The Rhymers’ Club formed by the Irish poet Yeats when he was living in London in the last decade of the 19th century. He and his friends met at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese just off Fleet Street and, like writing groups today, they (self ) published two anthologies of poetry in its ten-year existence.

There’s no doubting the popularity of such courses. In 2013 over 500 UK university courses with creative writing in the title will be on offer and hundreds more available from other education centres. The same pattern is repeated internationally.

University courses have academic standards to maintain and it is perhaps not surprising that they tend to focus on literary giants, but that’s not a bad place to start reading in a creative way. When they focus on less literary genres – for the example the new MA in Crime Writing at City University in London which starts in autumn 2012 – critics mutter darkly about Mickey Mouse degrees.

There’s a demand, but does it deliver? Can you learn to become a writer or is it like charisma – you either have it or you don’t?

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Tutors push a limited selection of writers as models and students succeed if their output increases. The result is one size fits all “pastry cutter” literature.

Writing classes motivate by triggering ideas and setting deadlines. The result is that would-


can writing be taught? be writers stop writing in their head and start writing for real – that’s not something for which they should apologise.

poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem.

And as for same-old, same old being produced… it never ceases to amaze how students respond in distinctive and original ways to an identical source of inspiration. There is nearly always someone who produces an idea that confounds us all, forcing us to re-think assumptions.

He’s right: peer review doesn’t mean expert review. New students often worry that they aren’t qualified to give constructive feedback, forgetting that as a reader they are the very person the writing was aimed at. Sometimes the most useful comment is also the most straightforward such as I don’t understand. Very often it is the easiest thing for the writer to fix and the hardest thing s/ he can see without a nudge.

Classroom exercises are too artificial to be useful. Yep, the real writing happens away from the classroom when you have thinking time as well as writing time. When you can reflect and revise and your writing is part of something bigger. However, exploring a literary technique with a pen in your hand is a good way of understanding what it can do and being forced to write against the clock can produce exciting results. The poet Ted Hughes described it as a crisis which rouses the brain:

Answering difficult questions (such as why did character X do that? Why did character Z refuse?) can help a writer discover many things including that the story he or she has written isn’t the story they set out to write. None of this will necessarily make someone more publishable, but it will make him or her a better reader of their own writing.

But not always. Ten minutes can seem like an awfully long time when it’s the wrong exercise, you’re in the wrong mood or you’re saddled with the wrong tutor. (It happens). Even that experience is an important lesson for writers, however. We are too ready to beat ourselves up if a passage of writing refuses to sing. What we need to do is accept and move on. Writing classes attract weird students. Work through it. Write. And that is exactly what you have to do in class. Sharing work doesn’t produce better writers.

Illustration by J. Whelan

“The compulsion towards haste overthrows the ordinary precautions... Barriers break down, prisoners come out of their cells.”

Screenwriter and author Hanif Kureishi, of My Beautiful Laundrette and The Buddha of Suburbia fame (and who actually supervises creative writing students at Kinston University) clearly feels that there is something suspect going on.

Author and editor Louis Menand writing in the New Yorker in 2009 was deeply sceptical about “The writing courses, particularly when they have the traditional workshop method. the word ‘creative’ in them, are the new mental Creative-writing programs are designed on the hospitals.” theory that students who have never published a

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can writing be taught? That comment was part of a provocative speech made at the international Hay on Wye book festival in 2010. A year later he helped to launch the new Writing School at Kingston that brings together courses in journalism, English literature and language, translation, publishing and… creative writing There’s no doubt that some write as a form of therapy, but there are worse reasons for being drawn to formal classes. One or two students I have encountered were looking for an audience without risking performance or publication. They didn’t want to experiment and were indifferent to feedback because they had no intention of changing anything. I haven’t come across many that fall into this category, but they are as easy to spot in adult life as they are in the school playground because they only come to life when the focus is on them, the rest of the time they just sit, waiting for their turn.

The vast majority of students share two important qualities: great courage – it takes guts to expose your writing, first draft mistakes and all – and the desire to tell stories in the best and most imaginative way they can. That makes the classroom a very interesting place to be. One size does not fit all. Taught courses are not right for everyone. There is only one certain way to learn the craft of creative writing and it applies just as much to the post grad student as it does to the retired factory worker who left school at 15 and has no intention of going back. Write as much you can. Don’t think about doing it, do it and remember that the first draft of anything is usually rubbish. Read as much as you can.

Others arrive convinced publication is guaranteed; enrolling in the autumn, they imagine that the first We learn from other writers – generations are draft will be done and dusted before Christmas, a waiting to meet you on the shelves of the library. few adjectives added or taken away, and hey ho! into the hands of an eager agent by Easter. On a 10-week course they rarely make it past week two.

Playing with language

The novelist Kate Mosse says we should practise writing in the same way as a musician practises the scales. Here’s an exercise I often set in the first week of term and you could easily do it instead of a crossword or of watching a television programme you don’t like. Describe a room, real or imaginary in just one sentence using as many words as you can – count the words afterwards, see how many you can fit in while still making sense and obeying the usual rules of English. Tip: lists can be useful and before you start think about the words we use to link parts of a sentence such as: although, unless, so, but, while, because… Here’s an example of the kind of thing I have in mind (but you can probably do much longer – if in need of inspiration pick up any Dickens’ novel. He’ll show you the way.) Long The gilt picture frames that decorated the walls of the guest bedroom were set on fire by the early

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morning sunlight shining through the stained glass window and brought the collection of oil paintings to new, vibrant life while transforming the swathes of muslin draping the four poster bed into an opal waterfall of translucent colour. 56 words. Now describe the same room using sentences just six words long or less. Example: The light shone through stained glass. The oil paintings came alive. Dawn set the picture frames alight. Ancient gilt turned into gold. Muslin turned into water. Do exactly the same – one long sentence followed by a paragraph of very short sentences – but this time write about: • someone recently bereaved • a man running away from an angry mob • a dull Monday afternoon in a care home


desert island reads

DESERT ISLAND

with Bridget Whelan Each issue a guest writer recommends up to ten books that they have read, reread and would willingly read again. I’m kicking this series off because it was my idea…

READS

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll I got it the Christmas I was seven and as soon as I finished I turned back to the beginning – the adventures in the looking glass are far superior to those in Wonderland, by the way. I, Claudius by Robert Graves I was 16 and working as a trainee reporter when I went into a bookshop with my first week’s wages. Staff assured me that, although it looked very high minded, I shouldn’t worry, it was really a Roman soap opera. They were right....in a good way. The next week I was back for Claudius the God. The Color Purple by Alice Walker The plot is clunky. Things that shouldn’t happen do happen and I wouldn’t change one word of it – page one made me cry. Proof that a great writer can do anything. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving Owen is one of the most memorable characters in contemporary literature. Short – the size of an eight year old when fully grown – intelligent and charismatic, he kills the narrator’s mother with an ill timed baseball and claims to know the date of his death.

The Men Who Built Britain: A History of the Irish Navvy by Ultan Cowley A superb example of social history that is also a very good read. Rich in photographs, original material and humour, it describes the gaiety of the Irish dance halls and the desperate loneliness of men far from home. Carrying the Elephant by Michael Rosen This poetic memoir is written with Rosen’s characteristic simplicity about the death of his 18-year-old son. It doesn’t have to be heroic couplets to stir the soul. Down by the River by Edna O’Brien I could have chosen almost any of Edna O’Brien’s 20+ books. She’s a novelist who selects words with the careful authority of a poet. This one stands out, however, for a half page of spare prose. It is a description of a brutal sexual attack that is so vivid it hurts to read it, but there isn’t one word that is gratuitous, offensive or sexually explicit. Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Hoeg Published long before the present craze for Nordic who-dun-it’s (of which I am a big fan) this novel combines complex characters and a compelling plot with Greenland/ Danish politics and a lot of snow. There’s also a glacier as an added bonus L’Assommoir by Emile Zola Zola is an extraordinary writer whose subject was poverty and deprivation and what it does to people. This is a masterpiece among the many he wrote. It’s my favourite because even when Gervase loses everything, even when it’s her own fault, Zola remains half in love with her.

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digital world

S

Digital World Ben Ottridge

SELFSELFSELF

A paradigm shift Paradigm shift n. a radical change in underlying beliefs or theory.

T

hat may sound very overblown and pretentious but when it comes to eBooks I think it’s very apt. The shift from thousands of years’ worth of ‘analogue’ communication, from ancient Egyptian papyrus to my latest Terry Pratchett paperback (big fan, hi!) to the new digital world is nothing less than a radical shift in form and maybe even content. Even now, after several years of development, the ramifications of this are still rattling around the publishing industry. Being able to observe from the inside the rapid changes needed to keep up, from learning new eBook formats, to promotion on social media (unheard of even just back in 2006 when I started!) has been an enlightening experience.

comes to eBooks, in particular the big two file formats, mobi (Kindle) and ePub, it is important to remember that they are reflowable. They are based on web standards, created using HTML language. There are no ‘pages’ any more, although chapters can still be present. Comparing your eBook to a website is a good way to think about it: the site as a whole is your entire ‘book’, each page of the website is a ‘chapter’ and the individual content of each webpage is your written material. It’s a hierarchical structure. The look and design of the book (chapter headers, images and so on) are stored elsewhere. With digital, it no longer has to have a linear form; start at ‘A’ and read until ‘B’. You can provide links within the text to other relevant parts of the book, or to external information sources. It no longer stands in isolation, it’s part of a wider universe of shared content and information.

With new eBook standards on the way that will For you the writer though, I feel it’s important to enable all sorts of extra content to be layered understand how the shift applies to your material in easily (sounds, videos), I think you’d agree and your books. It requires an adjustment in the that we all stand together on the edge of a very way you consider your finished book. When it exciting time!

• • Are you looking for a new way to publish? • • Do you want to enter the digital realm but just don’t know how? • • Do you want to concentrate on the creative rather then the technical side? • • Do you want to avoid high upfront costs?

Then

SelfSelfSelf is for you!

We take your completed words and turn them into fully-fledged digital products (mobi, ePUB, PDF), ready for us to distribute around the world.

selfselfself.com

18 ~ what the dickens?

S SELFSELFSELF


the life name wallin ofthewisdom

Wall of Wisdom

the sunflower edition ~ 19


my life in the theatre

My Life In The Theatre

Beyond the Proscenium Arch Sarah Quinney y name is Sarah Quinney, and approximately 17 years ago I made a momentous decision that was to alter my entire life. I was 16 years old and standing behind a theatre lighting desk for the first time. It was in a darkened school hall in wildest East Yorkshire. What happened next made me who I am today. I pushed some faders up and down for a production of The King & I. And over the week of the show, people started to tell me that I was good at pushing those faders up and down. But in my mind, I was not doing anything special; not really even trying. Slowly I realised that for the first time in my life, I was actually naturally good at something. I could never paint a picture, run a marathon, but lighting? That was something different.

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Coming from a childhood in East Yorkshire wasn’t exactly conducive to a career in technical theatre, and I always had a passion for language and literature, so a more academic degree lay ahead at Huddersfield University. During my time there, with limited lectures, I badgered my way into the local theatre, and spent every minute that I could learning practical skills and technical knowledge. Two months after my degree ended, I landed my first job in Newcastle upon Tyne. Anything that I thought I knew went straight out of the window. I knew nothing about the real world of technical theatre. I soon had to learn! Since that time, I have worked with some amazing companies, in some amazing places. I often feel as though I will get found out and someone will realise that I am not supposed to be there, particularly whilst on tour in Romania, or Brussels, or a beautiful Czech city...

20 ~ what the dickens?

But it is hard. I cannot pretend that everything is all roses. There have been long periods of unemployment. I have lived in 17 different locations in the last 5 years alone, and personal relationships and friendships are extremely difficult to maintain. You can be in the most amazing locations on earth and still feel hugely alone, staying in a different anonymous hotel room every night. You travel more than you perform. It’s seven days a week, with little or no time off for yourself. I never wish to sound ungrateful. I am selfemployed and have been constantly working for the last year, and have work until the end of 2012. No cause for complaint there! Which brings me to where I am today. In that last year, I toured a show about Sir Alec Guinness, went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with four shows, went back to Sir Alec, then onto a young people’s opera company, swiftly followed by a Christmas show for the under 8’s. And then onto An Instinct For Kindness, a wonderfully powerful, emotional, comic, true story of one man’s journey to Dignitas with his ex-wife, performed by the author. For the last six months, I have toured


my life in the theatre this show, three days a week, just me and the actor – and The Chair. I have carried a black Ikea chair from London to Aberdeen, via Wales, across to Ireland, quick trip to Jersey, and back again. The Chair has been a part of my life for so long, it has felt like part of the family. When that tour ended on Friday night in Aberdeen, I cried. Finishing AIFK was like giving up a child for adoption; trusting someone else with my ‘baby’ after so long was heartbreaking. And today, I find myself looking to the future. I am staring at lighting plans, ground plans, invoices and quotations for my next adventure – Dickens’ Women with Miriam Margoyles. A one woman show, where Miriam plays 23 different Dickens characters onstage. This new tour will take me around the UK in a transit van, then onto the Edinburgh Fringe, and further afield for my first trips to America and Canada. It is wildly exciting and yet hugely terrifying – what if I make a mistake? What if I mess things up? What if she doesn’t like me? It’s a long time to be away if you don’t get along with those people around you. It should be an amazing adventure, and a fabulous show. What a difference from AIFK in content and manner... That is the true beauty of my job – although I always feel that working in theatre is a

In early October 2010, a group of writers came together to form the Historical Writers’ Association – the HWA. This grew from the belief that we as historical writers need to have the same kind of professional body run by professional writers for professional writers (and their agents and publishers and booksellers) to sustain, promote and support each other and our work in the way that the Crime Writers’ Association provides professional and social support for its members.

lifestyle choice. You give up every evening and weekend. You never see weather as you are stuck in a darkened theatre all day. You arrive when it is dark in the winter mornings, and leave when it is dark at night. And yes, it gets lonely. But would I change it? Never. Sarah Quinney graduated in 2001 having trained in theatre, and went on to work for the RSC. Lighting designs include Mary Seacole for Gye Nyame, Emergence-See for the Assembly Rooms, Tea Without Mother for the National Student Drama Festival (Bilbao and Brno), City of Sonnets and Place Called Milan for Northern Stage. Sarah worked for NSDF in Scarborough, and twelve Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. She has re-lit a number of shows, including Animal Farm for Northern Stage on tour in Romania, Shaking Cecelia for NSDF in Amsterdam and Brussels, and Tea Without Mother in Bilbao and Brno. In 2009, she was responsible for lighting two Fringe First shows at The Traverse Theatre. Since then she has been comprehensively touring the UK with a variety of productions, including Two Halves of Guinness and An Instinct For Kindness, and is currently Company Stage Manager for Miriam Margoyles’ Dickens’ Women for Richard Jordan Productions.

If you think you’d like to join us, or know someone who does, please mail our Membership Secretary on: tony.riches@ btinternet.com giving your name, details of your recent books and your publisher. Annual subscriptions stand currently at £75 per annum, if paid by BACS or Standing Order, £80 if paid by Paypal or cheque.

the sunflower edition ~ 21


art

Christian Harrop is an illustration student whose love of music and art got him caught up in working as a designer and illustrator for the online music magazine byvolume.co.uk. Visit his online gallery at cchrroiws.deviantart.com.

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sunflower writing

Sunflower writing Sunflowers for a Lovely man with Marfan’s Syndrome by Robin Smith

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radley is checking his body in the mirror and struggling for ways to channel it into art. Catherine is sitting staring at the painting on a postcard that isn’t for her. She looks weary and out of time, engulfed in a sea of white noise separating the world from her and the painting in her hand. Bradley is looking at the hole in his chest. Looks like someone’s dug a trench into him, right between his nipples, but he was born a Cold War baby, so war’s due date is long gone; the trench stays, now, just as a thirty-year old history, a mark of those who died, empty but for the hair of a man just finished being young. A chest hair, a tumbleweed rolling across the dark perimeter of no man’s land. He considered making that a song. ‘No-one’s going to buy that wartime bullshit,’ advised Catherine, but he still liked to play with the analogy from time to time. He’s beautiful, she always tells him, the hole isn’t noticeable, it’s not his fault; funny how even giving it a name is enough to make all those things lies. He’s disgusted by his body, but suitably, he thinks- ‘doesn’t everyone hate their body?’- quite, Catherine remarks of herself when he says this, since it’s a good way to short-circuit his self-loathing. Anyway, she’s full of her own insecurity. ‘They bloody should,’ he mumbles. ‘Quite,’ she manages to send back from the comfort of her armchair. Today she’s a passenger to his maudlin bathroom commentary. There are days when Bradley can’t be shortcircuited so easy; this is one of those days. There are days when Catherine can’t look up from pretty art; this is one of those days. Feeling selfish, he moves toward the living room full of praise for his lady. ‘That for you?’ he says,

hoping she’ll notice him hanging the bath towel around his shoulders like a movie star between scenes. ‘What?!’ and he motions towards the postcard in her hand, knowing, surely, that it isn’t for her. Its backside is covered with sharp, baroque handwriting, which he guesses is what Cursive is. He can’t tell if he doesn’t recognise the name signed or whether he just can’t make it out; never seen handwriting like that, intelligent, they’d call it. ‘Is it for you?’ he says again, breaking her fixation with his ‘famous firm tone’, as she calls it, the sound a performance artist makes to silence a crowd of five hundred. ‘Oh, I wasn’t reading it. Mailman fucked up. Just admiring the painting. It’s “The Convalescent”. Such a beautiful painting. Have you seen it?’ Bradley shakes his head. ‘Do you want a look?’ He knows better than to disrupt the flow of anything in Catherine’s life. She nudges the postcard into his free hand. If you don’t want to know what happens in ‘Bradley meets The Convalescent’, look away now. Bradley starts from the outside because the most striking thing about the painting is the water. Waterfronts have an inherent beauty, which means any river or lake is a ballad, and Scandinavian fjords are swansongs. Water is beauty whether murky, stinking brown or a crystal blue. Bradley thinks the artist has painted a pond, but that it seems elevated, shimmering under stony architecture like no other pond has, what he guesses are Greek arches. These arches aren’t erected for their own beauty, but to make nature grander; they reflect on the pool of water next to the lily pads and surround pots hanging red flowers. It is ultimately serene. Autumn surrounds the water. In fact, autumn is closing in on the painting, the bushes like stone walls and the towering bark tree covering over like a ceiling. The two women at the painting’s forefront, who he has barely noticed, or anyway hasn’t registered for what they are, people, are

the sunflower edition ~ 23


sunflower writing shaded over by its changing yellow leaves. You feel you’d have to open a door to get out of this garden, he thinks. There’s no sky and no sun, no windows; The Convalescent. He remarks on the word. How weirdly indoors, this all is, at the heart of a botanical garden, he guesses, or under cover in one of its greenhouses. ‘Look at her’ sighs Catherine from her armchair. ‘She looks so sad, doesn’t she?’ Her? Bradley has barely given a thought to these women, but now he notices that one is asleep, dressed in fine, silky white, smiling unconsciously. Does she mean her? She looks a bit like Catherine, actually. The other, dressed in an extravagant bed duvet, a red overthrow with silvery outlines, is halfway through the book in her hand, and grasps it closed with finer entertainment at hand: she gazes through her glasses, at her young sleepy friend. Is she sad? ‘Maybe,’ Bradley admits, noting that her mouth is pointed down in a frown. More than anything she just looks fixated. She concentrates a stern look upon her sleeping friend, staring obliquely into the back of her head, maybe trying to work out what she’s dreaming about. Looking at it now, painting has an intensity about it: how bizarre is it that this innocent, asleep woman will never know her old friend is a wicked spy. All this happens in his mind in the space of about two minutes. He hands the painting back, disgusted as usual and wishing he’d seen something less sinister, wishing that beauty existed in other people at least, and God forbid someone should be content with their own lot, hoping the sleeping lady had better friends, somewhere, to protect her from this terrible curious woman. ‘The water was so lovely, I thought.’ ‘You always think the water is lovely.’ ‘Would’ve been better without the people, I thought.’ ‘You always do. I like them. She looks heartbroken, I think. I wonder if she’s heartbroken. Two women having afternoon tea! It’s low-key, but very beautiful, I think.’ He probably should have realised it all happens after a spot of afternoon tea. The table set for tea looked like its own, awful painting locked within the indoor garden, capturing nothing of The Convalescent drama, but preserving its beauty from it: still life cakes that look like bread, teapots for serving tea, and what Bradley had hoped

24 ~ what the dickens?

was an hour-glass for the table’s centrepiece, something he notes ‘would have been symbolic,’ but was probably just a salt shaker. He shakes his head. What implicit beauty is that? What the table needs is sand sifting through a bulb, or flowers swaying in a glass. He thinks about telling Catherine about this, but he knows better than to disrupt the flow of anything in her life. He looks down at his stomach again. Still looks like a trench. Maybe there’s still some artillery hiding in there. Just another thing he can’t trust. ‘Artillery in my chest / kills for less, & less, & less.’ When he looks at Catherine he begins to wonder if he can even trust her. She has, after all, stolen someone else’s mail. And now he’s staring at her. The painting is real. He turns away. Can’t stop thinking about his hole. Easy to feel like a skeleton puppet when people show you what beauty is, and at this point Bradley feels his praise for Catherine drained like a dying pool of water. He retreats to the bathroom to have a deep look at the trench, at his lanky limbs, and the rickety corners of his body other people call joints. He thinks about what people might say about him when they see him in one of his performance vests, sweating like hell from the lights, and how they feel when someone explains it to them. ‘Artillery in my chest / I hide my war under a vest.’ ‘Wartime bullshit.’ He stares so deep into his stomach he ceases to think he’s even a person. ‘Is this what you call a body?’ he says, not aloud, and he needn’t- unlike Catherine of The Convalescent, Bradley’s Catherine isn’t asleep and dreaming. She knows by now what it means for him to make for the bathroom at the gaze of their full-sized mirror, which she insists they throw away, since they don’t another judge and besides, it only makes them sad. He doesn’t know whether or not to trust in her, or what in hell the The Convalescent has got to do with them in the here and now, but nobody distracts him from the bathroom but her; nobody distracts her from a derailing train of thought but him. She gets up and trawls towards the bathroom sink, putting the postcard down at its edge. Her hands wrap down from his shoulders and meet by his chest. She leans her head on his shoulder. ‘It’s for a girl called Shelly. The postcard. Says Saw this and thought of you. Thought of you! I


sunflower writing don’t know why they put art on postcards. Not like anyone ever thinks about what’s on the front of a postcard.’ ‘It’s a nice painting.’ ‘I tore it up.’ Or, she hadn’t, but now she does; she picks it off the sink, puts it between her hands and rips through it like unrelenting lightning. The pieces float through the air into the sink, one by one by one by one by one, half of the sleeping lady’s unsuspecting face falling into the cold water, the pond’s lily pads paling, the tree bark bending and breaking, and Bradley’s least favourite lady nothing more than sloshed paper swivelling into the sinkhole. In that sweet, unsaddling moment, the table set for tea-time, with china and boiling water and not a glass of flowers at all, bothered Bradley about as much as the hole in his chest.

Sunflower Seeds by Pat Phillips

‘T

he sunflower’s dead.’ ‘No it’s not, it’s resting.’ ‘Very funny. You only had one job to do. Protect the sunflower.’ ‘Is it a magic beanstalk sunflower? Did you swap the seeds for the family cow on the way to market?’ James looked up from playing Angry Birds to look at his sister. ‘Why does anyone protect a sunflower?’ Jenny flopped down on the sagging cushion of the rocking chair. ‘I sometimes think…’ she took her glasses off and polished them on the sleeve of her tee-shirt.’ ‘You sometimes think? Wow,’ said James, back focussing on the game. ‘That you have absolutely no fucking comprehension of what’s at stake here. You don’t know what I had to do to get that plant.’ She jumped up, swiping the back of his head and banging the screen door to the garden. ‘Ow!’ he shouted. The chair rumbled and creaked, as if occupied by an angry ghost. He leaned over and stuck a cushion under the front rocker. ‘PMT again?’ he yelled, rubbing his head, then ‘You made me lose it now.’ He turned the game off.

I’m a 19 year old guy studying Philosophy at Leeds University and a friend of mine pointed out your site to me. I’m interested in testing my ability to write creatively however I can so this was a great opportunity for me. Aside from that, I like talking about music all the time; I’ve been writing music reviews and essays for a couple of sites (won’t link, probably isn’t the kind of writing anyone cares about) for the past couple of years and it has become essentially all I can think about; I admire writers like Dostoevsky, ones who write characters who say things no human being would ever have the guts to; I hope one day I can be Kurt Vonnegut. Bit of a pipe dream, I admit.

Jenny trundled back in, trailing dirt, with the sunflower bending and waving above her in a bucket roughly filled with soil. She put it on the table and peered closely at its blackened head, gently lifting it. ‘There’s still a seed here. No thanks to you.’ ‘I take it that the protest was a success,’ James said. ‘All Genetically Modified farming across the world has now been cancelled through the intervention of Jenny Anstruther with her charismatic drink-of water boyfriend and a SWAT team of Squat dwellers.’ ‘Shut up. And you’ve got to come to the meeting.’ He moved out of reach, stepping over the soil and putting the kettle on. ‘Not me. Not one of the faithful. In fact I think I had GM tomatoes on toast for breakfast.’ ‘Well you can only stay here if you come to the meeting.’ ‘Stay here? It’s Gran’s house. Who’s going to throw me out? Wet Wally, the left-wing loon?’ ‘You have to understand what we’re up against.’ ‘No chance.’ She started to grab his stuff and put it in a bin bag. She had to be joking. ‘Are you nuts?’ She picked up a knife from the draining board. ‘You have to come.’ ‘Okay, Okay. I’ll come. You nutter.’ Red hair. She was like mum, unstable. Well he had red hair as well but he was chilled, laid

the sunflower edition ~ 25


sunflower writing back, suave. She suddenly came close up to him, he turned his back. She wouldn’t stab him in the back. ‘Have you dyed your hair?’ she said. He turned round, taking his beanie hat from his pocket and putting it on. ‘Nope. It’s just gone darker.’ ‘Since September?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘We’re twins. Mine hasn’t gone darker,’ she said. ‘We’re twins. I haven’t got breasts,’ he said. She turned to go out of the back door again, ‘Well just keep on with those GM tomatoes and who knows…’ He double V signed at her back and poured the water on his tea-bag.

real sunflower seeds in his Tate exhibition in addition to the 100 million porcelain ones that everyone thought he was using?’ ‘Yes!’ said Jenny. ‘Don’t get it.’ ‘Were you even listening? GM sunflower seeds!’ ‘So?’ ‘For God’s sake! The Tate had to stop people walking on the seeds because of toxic dust! Why would the porcelain be toxic? It was the real seeds.’ ‘And the Chinese...’ ‘Exactly. Up to their necks!’ She was triumphant. She was definitely mental, James thought, as were all her fruitcake conspiracy theorist friends. He wasn’t sure if Wally actually had any thought in his head as he rarely spoke. Maybe he was just so dazzled by the fact that a real female was The meeting was as expected, filled with the willing to associate with him. He had a beatific usual grungey suspects; hippies, teachers, social smile on his face. Possibly stoned. workers. Except that it was held in a fancy converted rectory belonging to a local art dealer. For two days Jenny was nice to him. James was That was a surprise. The ground floor lights wary. Then she started going on about the cat. glowed yellow as they walked up the long drive, Where was it, had he fed it? white hydrangeas glimmering at the edges of ‘What cat?’ He hadn’t even seen a cat. the lawn. They went in in ones and twos, some ‘Monty. Gran’s cat. Black and white, scabby ear.’ going through the back door. Jenny, James and Apparently he was left in charge of the cat at the Wally had to go down the cellar steps, then back same time as the sunflower. up into the dining room where chairs were put ‘I thought Monty was dead. Or went in the out and curtains drawn. Wally had his hood Home with Gran. I haven’t even seen it,’ he said. up, Jenny wore a blonde wig. James tried not to ‘I’m a student. I don’t do responsibility. Don’t give laugh. ‘This is going to be on YouTube isn’t it? me things to keep alive.’ Everyone’s in on it but me,’ James whispered. ‘Well you can be the one to tell her if he doesn’t ‘Whoa! Look at that one with the funny eye. He’ll turn up. Me and Wally are going away for a couple be the undercover cop. Did you see that one in of days. And don’t ask. It’s better if you don’t know.’ the paper… Ow.’ Jenny kicked him just as the art James really was not going to ask. dealer got up to speak. He wished he’d done Conspiracy Theories The speaker looked at them for a moment, instead of the rise of Murdoch in the nineties his pallor emphasised by the neutral beiges for his dissertation. He could have interviewed of cardigan and the grey shirt. For a moment his loopy sister. He retired to the office to use James thought was giving some kind of Geordie gramp’s old computer. It was Windows 1914 but greeting but he said it again, ‘Ai Weiwei.’ There there was a printer. He could use the scanner at was a collective sigh. the library to email it off. Jenny and Wally seemed James took some time to process the lunacy to be gathering this and that group around them of it all. Jenny was incandescent, almost joyful, and plotting something or other. He hoped vindicated. ‘I knew it!’ she shouted, as soon as they weren’t making a bomb. On Sunday they they were out of sight of the rectory and had made eventually left for their two day jaunt. some convoluted twists and turns in Gran’s Micra On Wednesday morning James went to get some to make sure they weren’t being followed. breakfast. Jenny was watering the dead sunflower ‘Let me just get this straight,’ said James. plant. The stalk looked greenish but the head hung ‘Ai Weiwei, celebrated Chinese artist, now black, with the sole seed hanging in the middle. incarcerated, has been locked up because he used James said, ‘That’s the healthiest plant I’ve ever

26 ~ what the dickens?


sunflower writing seen. Have you thought of getting a job with the Titchmarsh bloke?’ She ignored him and poured some Baby Bio into the bucket of soil. ‘What about Lucozade? Did us a power of good when we had our tonsils out.’ ‘We’ve got a job for you.’ ‘Oh no. No thank you. Look how the last jobs turned out; Sunflower, Monty. Bad idea.’ ‘You’re a journalist aren’t you?’ ‘No. Definitely not a journalist. Do not be fooled for a moment into thinking an MA in journalism means I am in any way shape or form a JOURNALIST. I was thinking more of banking. Something with a tax haven attached and a 9 million pound bonus.’ ‘You can’t do maths. Sorry, we need a journalist and you’re the nearest thing. You need to find one of grandad’s jackets. You’re as weedy as he was by the time he was on the way out.’ ‘Nice sweet-talking but absolutely no way.’ Two hours later he was dressed in grampa’s tweed jacket and white shirt. They smelt of dead old people and mothballs. He refused to wear the trousers. Jenny appraised him. ‘You’ll have to wear your jeans then, but you almost look the part.’ ‘It’s a jacket with elbow patches. Is it a part for a geography teacher?’ ‘And it’s a good job about the hair dye. People won’t connect you to me.’ ‘Oh God.’ James sat down in the rocker. ‘You’ve blown something up haven’t you?’ ‘Don’t be stupid. It was just a small incident with the guard. He managed to pull my hood off so it might be on CCTV.’ James groaned. ‘We got the footage, we think. And he won’t be out of hospital for a couple of days.’ James looked up at her. ’You are insane if you think I’m getting involved.’ ‘Please, Jimbo. You have to. It’s important. We have a whistle-blower. You just need to talk to him. To get his story. You’re the only one who can help.’ He could feel himself giving in. Her fifteen minute age dominance ruled again. She was a witch. ‘I can’t come,’ she said, ‘but Wally will have your back.’

‘Oh great. Gets better all the time.’ ‘And you can’t record it. You can only make notes. He doesn’t want his voice to be recognised. And before you say it, the whistle-blower, not Wally.’ By the time he left with the most fake ID card ever seen he was convinced again that this must be a put-up job. ‘The Telegraph? Is this supposed to be a Press card for the Telegraph?’ Wally thrilled with pride, ‘Good innit?’ Someone was going to jump out of the bushes with a camera any minute. And if it was actually real he could be heading for prison. This summer living for free in Gran’s house was looking like a bad idea. Grampa’s tweed jacket itched his neck. Gran’s Micra was making funny noises. Everything smelt of mothballs except Wally who smelt of sweaty hippie. ‘What is that smell?’ James finally asked. ‘Jenny’s patchouli. So it’s like she’s here with us and that.’ Definitely a put-up job. The guy only glanced at the Press card. He recognised Wally, probably from the smell, James thought, and let them get him a glass of beer. They were in the dingiest pub James had ever seen. The bloke was wearing some kind of wig and glasses. If he was supposed to be low profile he was going the wrong way about it. He was definitely edgy, looking anxiously out of the window every five minutes. He took a creased Press Release out of his pocket and flattened it on the table for James to read. James took a few minutes to realise what he was reading. This was from San-Monto Foods and Farming, about sunflower seed production. He picked out key words ‘high in nourishment’, ‘major breakthrough’, ‘great savings on fertiliser and pesticides’, ‘huge yield’, ‘some further research necessary, under controlled conditions.’ ‘Sorry,’ said James. ’Is there something I’m missing here, Mr.?’ ‘Yes, yes. It’s all there. You have to read between the lines. No names… or…’, he started to get up to go, panicking. James thought he might let him just buzz off then imagined Jenny’s face. ‘No, no. I just need you to explain it to me in your own way. I’ll call you Sam, if that’s OK.’ He suddenly pictured, ‘Sam

the sunflower edition ~ 27


sunflower writing Spade, private detective.’ He couldn’t take this seriously. Is this about the Chinese artist thing at the Tate?’ ‘That’s a red herring to keep the activists occupied. Just look at the words. It has great savings on fertiliser and pesticides because the sunflowers share some DNA with the Venus flytrap. Basically the plant ‘plays dead’. The idea was that it would deter bees and wasps but attract carrion pests that eat decaying food. The stem stays green to attract aphids.’ Seeing James’ blank face he grew impatient. ‘Don’t you see? It feeds on the insects and aphids. And it saves on fertiliser because it’s a bad idea to give it extra food.’ ‘That’s a good thing though isn’t it?’ James said, starting to feel a flicker of unease as he thought of the sunflower in the kitchen, with its blackened drooping head and green stem, and Jenny feeding it Baby Bio.’ What do they mean about high yield?’ ‘One plant in the lab could produce fourteen kilos of seeds without any extra feeding. But some plants were stolen in a break-in before the research was finished. No-one knows if they’re still out there.’ James’ heart was sinking. ‘Go on.’ The man, stood up, checked the window and looked round the bar. He came back. ‘The research under controlled conditions was to assess different feeding regimes and quantities on the delicate seed production mechanism. We used the usual plant feed, then aphids and carrion pests.’ He looked around him again, came closer. ‘Lab mice and rats.’ ‘What?’ James drew his chair back. The man was intent on his story now. ‘By eating the mice and rats, the yield that one plant could produce was off the scale. But then there was the

Sunflower Bed

incident. It was hushed up of course, but a lab assistant…’ Wally had come to join them, uncomprehending. James said, ‘Just tell me in your own words if what I think you are saying is true.’ The man put his head in his hands, nodding. He looked up, ‘But the yield from that one…’ James was out of the door of the pub sending his chair flying. Wally still stood there, his mouth open. Running to the car James prodded frantically on Jenny’s number. It rang out but there was no reply. He paused to get the house-phone up, hands trembling, dread overtaking him. Answer machine. ‘Pick up Jen,’ he yelled. ‘And keep away from that fucking plant. I know what happened to Monty.’ But Jenny was no longer there. The sunflower touched the ceiling, golden and light. The ringing of the phone, James’s frantic call, were drowned and lost in the susurration of a hundred million seeds; tumbling and drifting, rattling and sifting, settling deep in all corners of the room. And Jenny’s sandaled foot, sheltered briefly under the rocking chair, slowly sank; disappearing in the ebbs and flows and the waves of the sunflower sea. Pat Phillips lives in Greater Manchester and am currently doing the MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam. I’ve taught English in schools and universities and am now a freelance lecturer and oral historian. My first degree was in English, I have a PhD in Oral history and I am enjoying finally getting around to writing.

stomach and I go yet a bit giddier. I’m so happy. I keep falling, but with a sense of being by Alexandra Alexandre unaffected by gravity. Am I really falling, or is the Earth simply coming closer and closer to me ’m falling – at high speed across the sky. instead? It’s so totally amazing. Terrifying too, but It’s now time to open the parachute and I mostly exhilarating. From this altitude, I can even realise, with panic, I haven’t got one on me. see the curvature of the Earth on the horizon. I’ll be crashing onto the hard ground with no Down bellow, the geometric shape of the green protection; I’ll break into pieces, I know it. fields really does resemble a patchwork quilt, just Unless... I can see something to my left: a yellow as I’d been told. patch. An undulating surface that reminds me of As I displace the layers of air around me, I get an a big yellow air mattress. Sunflowers: an immense awkward feeling in my belly, like butterflies in my field of them!

I

28 ~ what the dickens?


sunflower writing I stretch my arms forward and veer to the left – super-hero style; like a missile, I dash at incredible speed towards the sunflower patch. When I’m so close I could almost touch all the yellow softness – and quite unexpectedly – time begins to slow down. Instead of crashing downwards fast, I’m hovering gently above the field. I’m so light; ethereal even. A blissful breeze lulls me delicately onto the sunflower bed and I wake up. This is the dream I’ve had every night for the last two and a half weeks. It doesn’t matter what book I read or TV program I watch before going to bed, I always end up having this exact same dream over and over. I’ve tried going to bed early, I’ve tried going to bed late. I’ve tried sleeping on the bed, the bedroom floor, the sofa; even inside the bathtub – really bad idea, that one. I’ve tried having cups of tea, glasses of warm milk; herbal infusions too. I’ve tried hard workouts at the gym during the day; meditation and yoga in the evenings. I’ve tried having sex until both Danny and I were exhausted beyond measure. Nothing makes a difference. I went to the doctor’s after the ninth consecutive night. He asked me if I was having any sort of emotional troubles in my life. No, I said. Had I had any recent traumatic experiences? No. A bereavement? No. Were any plans for the near future causing me anxiety? No. Had there been any changes in my diet? No. Eventually, when he seemed to have run out of possible explanations, he said it could simply be something hormonal, or even some underlying stress I might not be aware of. Just give it time and it will most likely be over soon, he said So now I just accept it. After all, it’s not exactly a nightmare. I don’t end up dead, but rather always survive the panic and the fear by being rewarded with a soft bed of sunflowers waiting for me to land on. It’s funny because, even though I like sunflowers, it’s not like they’re my favourite flower or anything like that. If I was to have a favourite flower, it would probably be the tulip – so elegant and beautiful. Sunflowers, on the other hand, are... well, pretty, but a bit coarse and rugged in comparison. And I don’t even like yellow; in fact I hate it. Where all this obsession with yellow and sunflowers has come from, remains a complete mystery to me. I’ve decided to take the day off work. It’s a bit of a dull day; even though it’s not too cold, there seems

to be some rain waiting in them there clouds. I get the bike out of the building’s communal storage. Might still be a good enough day for a ride. Since Danny and I got together, I never actually went for another bike ride alone. Usually, on weekends, we head towards the park and, for a couple of hours or so, we cycle amongst that bit of Nature, forgetting about everything else. But the park will not be my destination today. I turn right at the end of our street and head towards the path down by the canal, the one that leads straight into the village centre. Inside my blue windbreaker’s pocket, I have a small list of things I’ll need to get from the shops. Nothing fancy, just the usual bits and bobs a girl needs. But amongst them, there’s one particular item I’m indeed very interested in getting. Since the doctor mentioned it could be something hormonal, I’ve decided to check if I’m pregnant. So one of those pregnancy test thingies is in order, methinks. And won’t that be a shock to Danny if a sproglet is actually on the way. It begins to rain lightly just as I reach the village. From the market square, I take the street leading to the junction by the Cathedral. By the time I get to it, the lights are red, so I wait, feeling the steady flow of the drops as they hit my hood and my face. While I’m there, I notice through the corner of my eye something across the road, in a shop window, but before I can actually focus my attention, the honk from the car behind alerts me to the fact that the lights have turned to green. I keep on pedalling to the other side, struggling up the steep hill, onto the row of estate agents, dentists, private law firms and other small shops that constitute the ‘wannabe-thriving-businesssoul’ of the village. I park my bike by the pharmacy, leaning it against the wall. I feel literally soaked to the bones. ‘Hello dear. What brings you over on such a wet morning? You haven’t caught the lurgy already now, have you?’ Mrs Bradley’s smile and endearing manner are one of the reasons why I still prefer to get all my girlie supplies from this old place rather than buying them from the shelf at the supermarket. Also, she’s discreet. ‘No, I’m alright Mrs B.’ I reply, pushing my windbreaker’s hood back, away from my face. My fringe is glued to my forehead and my legs feel damp under the wet woollen tights. ‘I just need a few things. I made a list...’ and I hand her

the sunflower edition ~ 29


sunflower writing over the piece of paper, reading in the intrigued look behind her narrow glasses that she knows something is going on. ‘Oh my... I see... well... let’s get these items ready hasta pronto!’ she says with a smile illuminating her round pleasant cheeks. With my supplies neatly packed in the bike’s basket – and after I reassured Mrs Bradley for the tenth time that I would take care – I next cycle to the supermarket to get a couple of tomato soup tins, pasta, some Irish soda bread and the newspaper. For no particular reason, I find myself walking down the baby products aisle. The cherubic little faces splattered all over the packs of nappies, bath gels, baby oils, baby foods, begin to create in my mind the possibility of such a reality. I’m smiling and, despite the fact that I’m almost shivering underneath my wet clothes, I feel a certain hint of warmth growing inside me. Shopping done and I’m outside again. The rain is persistent and doesn’t seem likely it’ll be gone anytime soon. April showers – April floods more like it. I could perhaps wait for a while at the cafe, sipping a latte whilst doing the newspaper’s crossword and Sudoku. But I’m too eager to do the pregnancy test and I’d rather pee on the plastic stick in the privacy of my flat. I pull my hood back on, fasten the zipper and buttons, and off I go down the hill again. That warm excitement from before seems to grab me more and more with every second. I can already see myself jumping up and down in the flat holding a positive pregnancy test in my hand. Texting Danny to let him know I have a surprise for him when he gets home. Preparing a romantic candlelight dinner to soften the blow. Watching the look of incredulity in his sensual face just after I tell him he’s going to be a dad. Life does have a funny way of turning your best laid out plans upside down. But aren’t surprise and diversity the spice of life, really? These thoughts dissipate as I approach the junction. The notion that something is bugging me pops out of nowhere. Did I forget something? I don’t think so; I got everything from the list, so it can’t be that. Annoyingly, I’m having trouble controlling the bike down the slippery road. The rain is falling so hard now; everything within an inch of my face has gone blurry. And that’s when I see it again: ahead of me, beyond the junction,

30 ~ what the dickens?

there’s that yellow something behind the window. I’m obsessed about what that can be; I begin to recognise it. The lights turn red again but I don’t realise until it’s too late; I’m already going across the junction, still trying to brake. And then it all happens too fast. While I’m trying to veer to my left towards the pavement, a gust of wind pushes me back into the middle of the road. I hear the screech of brakes; the noise of crashing metal. I’m up in the air. A field of yellow sunflowers rushes past me, along with the words: ‘VISIT CALIFORNIA FROM ONLY £537 RETURN’ I’m falling – at high speed across the sky. It’s so totally amazing. Terrifying too, but mostly exhilarating. From this altitude, I can even see the curvature of the Earth on the horizon. I keep falling, with a sense of being unaffected by gravity. Am I really falling, or is the Earth simply coming closer and closer to me instead? I get an awkward feeling in my belly, like butterflies in my stomach. It’s now time to open the parachute and I realise, with panic, I haven’t got one on me. I’ll be crashing onto the hard ground with no protection; I’ll break into pieces. Unless... I can see a yellow field to my left. An undulating surface that reminds me of a big yellow air mattress. Sunflowers: an immense field of them! I stretch my arms forward, veer to the left, and like a missile, I dash at incredible speed through the rain, towards the sunflower patch. When I’m so close I could almost touch all the yellow softness – and quite unexpectedly – time begins to slow down. Instead of crashing downwards fast, I’m hovering gently above the field. I’m so light; ethereal even. A blissful breeze lulls me delicately onto the sunflower bed. Only this time, I don’t wake up. My name is Alexandra Alexandre. I’m Portuguese and have been living in Liverpool for eight years. I have a degree in Anthropology, an MA in Science Fiction Studies and have done three Creative Writing courses. I hate rainy days, but they help me write; love books, reading, writing. And chocolate!


sunflower writing

Art I never much liked ‘The Sunflowers’ The pale splodges of orange, ochre, yellow, A rainbow of dawn sunshine. I thought it insipid, as I stood – twelve years old – In that Cathedral of Vincent’s work And stared. Why? I thought, was this painting so.. Renowned? Starry Night has more depth, His portraits have more history. Yet, this. This simple floral altar, Is his ‘greatest’ work. I turned to my father, ‘Is it sacrilege to say that I don’t much like it?’ No. He shook his head. He didn’t care for it either. We went an hour later, I liked the skeleton with the cigarette – I might go back again. Lorna Scott My name is Lorna Scott, the spoonerism of which is Scorna Lott – appropriate as I am an aspiring book critic and novelist. Like almost everyone in this day and age ‘I have my own blog!’ At nineteen years old, I have been writing for most of my life and love writing poetry, short stories and fiction.

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sunflower writing

The Diary of Van Gogh’s Ear – Final Entry by Jacqueline Pye

W

ell, what a Christmas that was. 1888, and all I’d heard up to then was Gauguin this and Gauguin that. The day before Christmas Eve, when Vincent was done stamping around and cursing the man for not caring, he took off to his favourite brothel. I always recognised the place by the girls giggling and cajoling and a fiddler scraping away in the corner. It was unusual when V asked Rachel, his favourite, to leave him for five minutes, and started muttering something like, “I’ll show him.” Then suddenly – and very painfully for us both – the wretched man slashed at the left side of his face with his razor and severed our relationship for good. (He must’ve used a looking glass for the self portrait.) Of course I dropped to the floor, which caused me further pain, not to mention humiliation. At that moment V groaned, Rachel careered back into the room, and when she saw what he’d done to me, she shrieked and fainted clean away. V grabbed a piece

The Seagull and Sunflower by James Withey

O

h what is that sound. Seagull or crying baby? Seagull or midnight reveller? Seagull or murderer? I try and tune in, try and work out what’s happening in the lane behind the house. Must be a seagull. Where do seagulls sleep when they are done with trashing bins and smirking at ice creamed tourists? Maybe they take comfort in each other’s wings, tired days of circling and exclaiming, weary of pinching bums and looking like everyone else. The seagull, bored of finding the thermals and prowling behind fish and chip shops is dipping into drains, pulling at threads of fat, spitting and despondent. The others have gone, the others have fled to the field and he was left determined to find remnants and remains to fill his stomach.

32 ~ what the dickens?

of the local newspaper – I hoped the front page, or even the obits – and started to wrap it around me. The rustling of the paper was deafening, to me at least. V shook Rachel to bring her round, and she started to wail, but he asked her to look after me for a while. He left blood spots on her dark red silk frock but they didn’t show up. I knew I didn’t have long. I mean, with no blood supply or neurological connections, my work was surely done. And for Vincent, it was mono rather than stereo from here on in. People say it’s horrible being separated from your twin, even mirror non-identicals like us, and my final comment on that would have to be ‘hear hear’. And no use to groan; it’s too late. Jacqueline has been a prolific writer for many years in magazines, mainly with non-fiction. Recent publications also include flash fiction, poetry, short stories and short drama. She’s a member of Southampton Writing Buddies and has four entries in their anthology Wordfall. Her first children’s eBook is now published, too. jacpye.com jacpye.blogspot.com

What was that? Friend or foe. A window opening beyond the wall, a scent of man, a rustle of ‘them’. He stops, he looks, he rustles. He flies forward to perch on the wall. I look out onto the first hints of light, the start of the slow cooking of a summer morning. I see the wind silent and ghost like, fumbling at the hawthorn bush. I push the window open and the coolness soothes my sweating forehead. By the tree is the sunflower like a rangy teenager swaying slightly, tipsy and nonchalant, uncaring. The cry again and still I am not sure, I push my head further out of the window and squint at the garden for a sign. Footsteps? Is there a man behind the wall ready with a rake ready to puncture my marshmallow head. Is there an abandoned baby in a Clarks shoe box crying for breast and warmth? These are thoughts, four o’ clock thoughts, not rational thoughts, thoughts of a man who needs to be at work at nine. I must look, I must know before I can sleep again. The seagull walks up and down the wall like a novice security guard on his first night shift. The


sunflower writing wall is rough beneath and he calmly gobbles a woodlouse, gone, seen and gone, life extinguished in a glorious moment. Better, something, but he needs more. One of those at the house next door will feed them fish and potatoes when the sun is high, too long to wait though, hungry now and the others will be there then pushing and plunging. It looks around suddenly, small jerking movements from the neck and its beak ready and willing. I can fight, I can eat, I can win. He sees the large flowers, the seeds of glory, can he peck at the face, can he hover and swipe? My slippers are under the kitchen table, I am the only man under forty with slippers now, they are checked and woolly on the inside. I suddenly think the slippers have never seen the outside, never experienced the air on their sheepskin, they are spoilt and coiffured these slippers, comforted by carpets and talcum powdered feet. I step into them feeling slightly rebellious and excited. I wonder suddenly if a neighbour should see me what they might think; this man is under stress and wide awake, this man is sleep walking and must be rescued, this man who won’t give us eye contact and has three rusty cars. I unlock the door and step out. It’s colder than it felt from the window and I look back to where my jacket is hung up but can’t face going in now. I am Scott plunging forward into the Arctic, I am one of those TV survival experts confronted with a wild boar, I am. The sunflowers have grown beside the large tree, despite of the large tree, they are the only flowers in the garden, the only thing that I was interested in planting. The seagull sees him now, sees him and steps back. Large but slow, large but not a danger he thinks, large but odd, this time is usually quiet time, not them time. He pretends not to care, he can move, he can fly and he knows they can’t, he can jump like a cartoon character to a wall, a roof, a tree with a steady branch. Things they can’t do are his weapon, his defence, follow me here if you will, shame you can’t eh? Waiting, he can wait and see, no need to show off yet, wait and see. Each year I used to have sunflower growing competitions with my sister, whose is the highest. If I lost I could exclaim that the face of mine was bigger, the stalk thicker, the seeds more plentiful, anything. When I won height was king, height was gold, height was power. Mum would take photos of us each year by our winning or losing flower, each year we would grow taller and at nine I could reach the top of the face and pick at the seeds. I

could tower over Gemma despite being two years younger and she whined and said that boys were taller anyway and it didn’t mean anything really. Where are these photos now? Are they in the box marked ‘home’ which is in the shed or were they binned with the bad rug and check tablecloth after Gemma and I cleared the house. Or maybe they are in a charity shop picked over by dance students and used as inspiration for their sibling inspired performance art. Now I look at sunflowers and think of me, too tall, too much, too thin. I look at the scared face of the flower, hiding under its smile, I see the weight of its head tightening the stem and straining its neck. Just one flower has grown despite me sowing liberally. How did we make them grow at home, the soil must have been better maybe Dad composted the them and fertilised to stop our disappointment. How parents conspire for our happiness. I see the seagull now and breathe with relief. It is gazing over the wall, what is it seeing at this hour, why is it here at this hour? The seagull knows that the he is looking at the flower, he sees him moving closer and knows he is going to take the flower. I can fly, I can peck, I can. He looks beyond the wall to the cars and the street, places to fly to, places to hop to, places to hide. He knows the roofs and can balance on the chimney with superior ease. He can get there before him, he knows the route by the tree, he can be there and back before he has time to make steps forward. I want the flower now, I want the face and the seeds and I want to sit in the sun and take the seeds out, put them in a bowl. I want to sow them again and make sunflower oil, if I can, I can find out how to do it. I want to feel the sinewy stalk on my arms and try and describe the green. I want to take a picture of me in the sun with this flower. A small feather falls onto the patio slab and sleeps, a cry of pain and a stretch of wings, a scrambling for the gold and hands pushing and already cut. It ends as it begins except the sun is higher now and the day is going to warm the blood on the stones and he will find the plasters and mourn this bird, this beautiful bird. I live in Hove and write short stories. My work has been published in anthologies and magazines and I am currently in the process of finishing a short story anthology of my work. jameswitheywrites.wordpress.com

the sunflower edition ~ 33


sunflower writing

Sun Dance A Sioux Ritual On the fourth day skin will be skewered Bound to the skulls of Brother Buffalo So that the living and the dead will dance together In this the ritual of the Sun And when the drum beats, blood weeps Seeping into the dirt in sacrifice Creeping into earth that gave life To the flower of the sun whose image is born In honour of the great Creator On the fourth day there are those who will hang By rawhide ropes piercing skin Suspended offering above sacred ground Feeling the pulse of feet that pound To the rhythm of the tribal prayer Yet the dance is not done until flesh is torn Skin ripped open, pain pure, A gift like the flower whose image is born In praise of the great Creator. Stephanie Ellis I am a Humanities Honours graduate, currently working as a teaching assistant in a Southampton secondary school. I’ve had poems published in both local and national press and have been shortlisted in Writers News/Writing Magazine competitions. Previous success in this magazine has led me to try, try and try again.

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sunflower writing

The Three Sunflower Seeds by Simone Davy

‘L

et’s compare arms.’ It was still my favourite thing to do, as we sat on our bench together. I started by laying my arm flat across my lap. Then Tammy crossed hers over mine. Lastly, Kashmira leant over and placed hers on top. I liked the feel of their skin brushing against my own. The colours mixed together as if we were making a perfect ice cream sundae. My arm was pale with tiny, light brown freckles- sun kisses, Mum called them. Tammy’s arm was olive colour. She was the prettiest of us all. I looked down at the stark contrast of Kashmira’s rich, deep brown silkiness. Her eyes, darker still, looked slightly scornful. She already had a boyfriend, periods and had run away from home twice. ‘How long to the bell?’ she asked. Kashmira was always the first to end the ritual. She seemed to find it less comforting to be so close now. She had started to suggest that we should find new games to play. She liked to write her name with a silver metallic pen onto the wall of the cloakroom. When we were down the market on Saturdays, she liked to see how many lipsticks she could fit in her pocket. I tried to do the same, but my asthma made me wheeze, and I knew I would not be quick enough to run. ‘Ten more minutes,’ I told her, looking at my watch. ‘Shall we walk over to the vegetable patch?’ Tammy asked. The boys played football near there. We got up and linked arms, as if we were a chain. I could feel the boys shift in their game, moving round in a circle, so that they could gain a better view of us. I tried to look taller, but against Tammy and Kashmira I was short and slightly stumpy. In the patch there were huge clumps of broccoli and cauliflower. Carrot tops were sticking out waiting to be pulled, and sweet peas ran up the runner bean canes. At the back were sunflowers, a whole row of them, reaching up to the sky. Their faces turned, adoring the sun. It had been a hot July and the seed heads had turned a deep, golden colour. So tipped were the heads that I felt sure the seeds would fall to the ground, if we touched them.

‘My grandfather told me that if you drop three sunflower seeds down your back then you will marry the first boy that you meet,’ Tammy said. Her grandfather read books about myths and legends rather than the Racing Post, like mine did. She always had a story to tell us. ‘Your grandfather is mad, but at least you get stories. I get lectures,’ said Kashmira. ‘Well, it would be one way for me to get a boyfriend, wouldn’t it?’ I said. I spent the evenings shaving my legs, straightening my hair and looking at myself in the mirror. With train-track braces, it was hard to imagine what I might look like in the future. Even Tammy, who was so quiet, was always being given gifts by boys she hardly knew. Kashmira, like a boat would drift, between us and her boyfriends, knowing that if the tide should come in, it would pull her back to us. We walked around so that we were close to the flowers. I had to stand on tiptoes to reach the seed heads. ‘This one looks like my granddad when he’s stooping down telling me my fortune,’ said Tammy laughing into its face. ‘Let’s do it then, shall we?’ said Kashmira. ‘Let’s see what happens when we drop sunflower seeds down our backs.’ ‘You don’t need a boyfriend, you already have plenty,’ I said. ‘Well, it might help me decide which one is best,’ she smiled, flicking her hair into the air. Kashmira went first and pulled out the three seeds closest to the centre. It looked lost with its heart pulled out. ‘They remind me of zebras with their stripy skins.’ She held them tightly in her fingers, biting one to see what it tasted like. She spat it out onto the grass. Tammy pulled her seeds from a patch, where the birds had already taken their fill. You would not have been able to tell which she took. She closed her hand around them, as if the slightest movement would send them flying back into the soil. I reached up last, and took the seeds from the sides. If you joined the holes up you would have created a perfect triangle. I put them in my pocket to keep them safe. ‘When shall we do it?’ asked Tammy. ‘When you see someone you like,’ said Kashmira.

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sunflower writing We stood there with our sunflower seeds. The bell rang. We threw our rucksacks over our shoulders and went back into school. We walked into the History lesson, Kashmira with a boldness that made the others move out of her way. I was behind her, and I felt nervous each time I caught someone’s eye. Tammy, unlike us, was oblivious of the need to appear cool. We sat at the back. We were trusted to be together. A lifetime of lessons had taught us that being quiet was the best way to get through the day. Kashmira let her long, black hair, with fuchsia pink highlights, lay across the desk. That way she could read the magazine that she had placed on her lap. She was predicted eight A stars. Tammy and I got out our books and found the right page. It was not a good school. The teachers were lazy; they would ask questions of the good ones and ignore everyone else. I looked up at the teacher. He was a student, too young to be here- the real teacher had extra free periods for a whole term. Mr.Collins looked as though this was the last job on earth he wanted. His jacket was too big for him; I was sure he wore jeans out of school. A blonde fringe flopped over his eyes and I wondered what colour they were. I nudged Kasmira’s arm and turned my head towards Mr.Collins. I took the seeds out of my pocket, which made her laugh. I laid them on the page of the history book. It was modern history. We were studying the home front during World War Two. I placed one seed on a face of a woman working in an ammunitions factory, one on a photo of a ration book and one on the face of Winston Churchill. I had read the advice columns on how to get a boyfriend. All the usual methods had failed. I closed my eyes, scooped the three seeds up off the page and as if rubbing my neck dropped them down my back. Then I put my hand up into the air and looked straight at the student teacher. He was asking the class if anyone’s grandparents were evacuated during the war. ‘Gran went to Devon, but she didn’t like it, so her mum brought her back.’ He looked at me as if he had not seen me before; I rarely spoke in his lessons. His voice faltered, and he looked unsure of where he was. He took papers off his desk and after a few moments asked if anyone else had anything to share. The lesson seemed to move quickly then, as he kept walking

36 ~ what the dickens?

up and down the rows, stopping at my desk more than he did the others. As the bell rang, he placed his fingers on my desk. They were long with the nails cut short. I noticed there was a band of gold on one of them, though I couldn’t have told you which. I looked up and saw that his eyes were hazel colour. I felt disappointed that they were not blue. ‘The magic worked then,’ said Kashmira as we walked out of the class. The three of us looked at one another. We shared a secret. I felt close to them again, as we had been when we were younger and all we had to do was hold hands and swing round until we fell over laughing with dizziness. We walked down the corridor and out of the double doors into the sun. One of Kashmira’s latest boyfriends, a sixth former, came towards us. He swaggered, as if he was in a nightclub, and the DJ was playing some kind of hip hop. Kashmira winked at us and went to meet him. She wrapped herself around him, and pulled him towards her, dropping the seeds behind her as she did so. Other girls walked by, pretending not to notice. Boys grunted and whistled, and passed each other balls, as though they weren’t interested. She was grown-up, she seemed to already know all the rules, and how to break them. She pulled away from him, and turned back to us. His face followed her, as though she was the sun. I thought of the student teacher and how he had moved around the room with his eyes on me. It made me feel slightly queasy. My mother always told me I should be careful what I wished for. ‘See you later,’ Kashmira shouted at the boy, walking fast. He stood there looking at her. She pulled her silver tiara out of her bag and placed it on her head. ‘See, I’m the Queen Bee,’ she laughed, and strode off in front of us. ‘How about you?’ I turned to Tammy, as we walked towards our bench to eat sandwiches, crisps and chocolate. ‘When I’m ready,’ she said. She didn’t look scared or desperate, just sure of herself and unafraid to show it. My two friends were so easy in their skin, so happy to be themselves. Then she laughed, in that gentle way she had, and threw the seeds high up above herself. They flew behind her, landing in the grass for the birds to collect.


sunflower writing A boy, no older than us, stopped and looked at her. It was hard not to notice how huge her eyes looked when she laughed, and how slender her legs were beneath her pleated skirt. He held out his hand as though this was the thing to do. She held out hers and their hands entwined, as our arms had done, before we had picked those sunflower seeds. The school day was over. We ran out of the gates, up the hill, and fell into the long uncut grass in a heap. Slipping down the slope and rolling over, our faces, like sunflowers looked up at the sun. Kashmira was laughing, almost hysterically. I felt the heat of the summer and the coolness of the breeze and shivered. Tammy had a huge, warm smile on her face. We heard shouts and pulled ourselves up.

Here comes the Sun(flowers) by Cleveland W. Gibson

2011, Denpasar, Bali, the yellow Sunflowers. Date: Today, now. Man viewing the graveyard. A woman stops at a gravestone. She is stalked. Part 1 It had been only a year ago, almost to the day, when Marcus brought Jane’s body back to the Cotswolds from Denpasar in beautiful Bali. ‘The doctors said it was a sudden shock that killed her,’ Marcus told anybody who asked about his girlfriend, ‘not even a Tsunami. But I didn’t believe them as she died in a graveyard run by the saintly ‘Sunflower Monks.’ I thought her death odd at the time, though I’m no doctor. I brought her back here to this graveyard in Faringdon. The monks look after it too.’ Marcus looked out the window straight into the graveyard. From where he now lived he liked to keep an eye on Jane’s grave. ‘Good morning, Jane,’ Marcus called. ‘Love you. My darling.’

There was the student with a bunch of wildflowers, which he was adding to as he climbed the hill. The sixth former was holding a tray of chocolate éclairs, and the boy, wore nothing more than a grin on his face. ‘What should we do?’ I asked. ‘Well, we can start running again,’ said Kashmira. ‘Or we could say ‘yes’,’ said Tammy. We went quiet at the decision we had to make. Then we looked at one another, laughed and ran... Simone Davy has just completed a Creative Writing course with the Open University. When she has a spare minute she crochets flowers and butterflies. She has two girls, one husband, two cats and a lovely garden. She wants to write stories all day and occasionally cut the grass!

He paused distracted by the appearance of a middle aged woman who stared at Jane’s grave for many minutes before moving on. ‘Well I’m damned,’ Marcus told the cat. ‘Who is that woman? Wonder what she was looking at? Do you think she knows Jane?’ The normally placid cat snarled, jumped down and ran off. Marcus cursed only then feeling the first trickle of blood drawn by sharp claws. He licked the blood, found a plaster and then left the house. He entered the graveyard and watched the woman shuffle along the footpath. Marcus froze. ‘Hey get away! Watch out!’ He shouted as he ran forward. The woman turned to meet him, a worried look on her face. ‘Hi,’ Marcus explained, ‘you were looking at my girl friend’s grave when I saw your stalker. Somebody there in the shadows.’ He pointed. ‘Oh, my,’ the woman said, moving to a nearby bench and sitting down. ‘I’ve a dead daughter too.’ Marcus joined her. He explained about Jane’s death and how he found it impossible to live with his grief. ‘I know. A mother knows,’ the woman said. ‘I’m Sara. I’m pleased to meet you. My Wendy died in a motor cycle accident. She was run down by somebody going too fast. I buried her here last month.’

the sunflower edition ~ 37


sunflower writing Marcus gathered his thoughts. ‘Did she have fair hair? A red flower in her hair?’ Marcus asked. ‘That is who I saw following you. She came close enough to touch you.’ ‘Oh my,’ Sara said. ‘OMG.’ She tried to stand up but collapsed back onto the bench. ‘That sounds like my Wendy.’ ‘A tattoo on her right hand? Only done in blue ink.’ Marcus added. ‘Yes.’ ‘Of a sunflower? I ask because my Jane had the same tattoo and also on her right hand.’ Sara nodded. ‘Something in common. How weird! Wendy loved her tattoo. She had it done in Bali.’ *** Part 2 Coffee time as a helicopter flies over-head. TV, radio and phones fail to work as Marcus talks about the seven cameras above graves. A SAS officer arrives to evacuate them as seven young women appear. Soldier arranges evacuation for Marcus and Sara. *** ‘I think it is wonderful to bump into you like this,’ Marcus said with a gush. ‘I’ve lived here a year now, keeping an eye on Jane. I know she’s dead but it upsets me too much if I don’t live here. Hope you like the coffee.’ ‘I’ll like it, but only if I can have some more,’ Sarah laughed and held out her cup. ‘ I must say you’ve a pleasant house here. Can’t be cheap to run and you’re not near retiring age yet. Marcus re-filled her coffee cup. ‘I picked out the décor colours of everything,’ he admitted. ‘Mind you I think I had some ideas from my dead girlfriend Jane.’ Sarah laughed. ‘You can’t say that. It is up to you to make up your own mind up,’ Sara said. ‘What’s the matter? That sound?’ Marcus moved the window and looked out. He recognised the machine from its distinctive beat. ‘A darn helicopter,’ he said. ‘I can’t work out what it wants.’

38 ~ what the dickens?

Sara pointed. ‘Look there’s an armed soldier with a thing over his face, like a terrorist,’ she said. ‘He’s going from one grave to another. Checking.’ ‘No. He’s gone to Jane’s grave, then your Wendy’s grave and five others in that area. In fact he’s gone to seven graves in all. The ones I saw were being filmed by hidden cameras. And he’s not a terrorist, he’s SAS or Special Air Services. Only one way to be sure. ‘How’s that.’ ‘Ask him. He’s seen us and is on his way up here.’ Two minutes later the soldier entered the kitchen. ‘What’s happening officer,’ Mark asked staring into a face wrapped in a black Ninja head scarf. The soldier shouldered his rifle. ‘Don’t ask,’ the man said. He removed his scarf and showed short cropped red hair. He looked to be in his early thirties and quite jittery. ‘This place is dangerous, I need you two out of here. Didn’t you know about the ‘D’ notices? The Government mentioned things on the Television and in the media.’ They shook their heads. ‘No,’ Marcus confessed. ‘We never saw a thing, did we Sara?’ ‘No.’ ‘Not even out there?’ ‘What sort of thing?’ Mark said pouring out coffee. ‘The sunflowers around the graves?’ ‘We haven’t seen that. ‘No.’ ‘Or the seven young women?’ ‘Not a thing. What’s it all about? Marcus asked. ‘Why are you so scared?’ ‘I’ve orders to get you out of here. That’s all I know,’ the soldier replied. ‘Come on. My daughter died there must be more you can tell us,’ Sara said sounding angry. ‘I saw you looking at her grave. What does it mean?’ ‘And you looked at my Jane’s grave? Was that something to do with the cameras I spotted?’ The soldier raced to the window and looked out. He whistled in amazement. In the next instant he’d sent a message on his mobile phone and then held his rifle poised for action once more. ‘I’ve called for a helicopter to take you two out of here. Five minutes...it will be here then,’ the man said.


sunflower writing ‘What about you?’ Marcus asked. ‘Coming with Marcus had worked out where they headed. us?’ ‘The chapel. I’m sure we’ll find them inside. ‘I’m staying. I have orders.’ Now keep up. We can’t afford to lose them.’ The minutes ticked by and the helicopter didn’t ‘Quick as you like. Don’t bother about me.’ arrive. Before long they covered the short distance to ‘Something must be wrong ,’ the soldier said. the chapel. ‘You two stay here and wait for the chopper. I’m ‘Quiet. I’m going to sneak a look inside.’ going out to take a look.’ Marcus slung the gun around his neck and used both hands on the door. It opened smoothly enough *** and he and Sara entered the small dimly lit chapel. It took a moment or two for their eyes to adapt to Part 3 the interior with its incense and swinging candles set in chained holders slung from the ceiling. Marcus spots the dead soldier outside and steals He squeezed Sarah’s arm and she followed his his gun. gaze. Seven women stood with their backs to them Forty five minutes have ticked on. wearing some kind of loose fitting gown. The Marcus and Sara explore the chapel , then the women faced the altar. On the other side of the chopper comes to their rescue. altar, and facing the women, loomed the tall heads Later they reach their destination. of seven large sunflowers draped in monks’ habits. ‘Oh my, Wendy love,’ Sara said, uttering a single *** sob. All seven women turned around to stare. ‘Nothing is moving out there,’ Marcus said. ‘Run! Come on! Let’s get out of here,’ Marcus ‘Nothing electronic seems to work so I can’t find shouted. He grabbed Sara to drag her out of the out what’s happening.’ chapel and back along the pathway. Quickly he Sara coughed. left the path and tried to hide behind some trees. ‘You think we ought to leave?’ she asked. He daren’t look but heard a shout. ‘Feel like a dummy staying here...even though ‘Run!’ Marcus shouted again. And they were I’ve this gun.’ off stumbling at first, scared of tripping and then Sara kept looking across the graveyard at the running as if chased by the Devil. dead soldier. Sara started to gasp, and that worried Marcus. ‘Didn’t help him much. A trained soldier with a He grabbed her tighter, pulling her along. Could gun and he still died.’ they make it to his car? ‘Strange that. He wasn’t shot or stabbed. He just Before he even reached his house he heard the died. Mind I saw bright pink lipstick smears on clipped beat. his cheeks. Somebody gave him the Kiss of Death.’ A helicopter did a sweep of the area to then ‘How weird.’ Sara said. ‘I can’t help but feel come in for a landing. In seconds Marcus bundled things are happening around us. You said before Sarah aboard and the pilot took off. A call for you saw my Wendy stalking me. She always wore maximum power meant the helicopter swept pink lipstick.’ upwards in seconds and they left the graveyard ‘Yes.’ behind. ‘Then what about those seven women?’Sara ‘Thanks,’ Marcus said. said. She pointed them out as Marcus looked over ‘Yes, you got to us just in time,’ Sara said. ‘We her shoulder and out of the window. were all in. They’d have caught us if you hadn’t ‘Damn. Look at that. Your Wendy I guess. My come along.’ Jane too. What does it mean? Stay here I’m off to The uniformed pilot chuckled, and Marcus saw find out.’ the Ninja head gear obscuring his features. ‘Don’t leave me. I’m coming with you, Marcus. I ‘Glad to help and orders are orders,’ the pilot don’t want to be on my own.’ chirped back. Marcus grabbed her hand dragging her along. ‘I’ve heard that before,’ Marcus said. ‘God I’m Already the seven women had disappeared but tired.’

the sunflower edition ~ 39


sunflower writing ‘How come you’ve a tattoo of a Sunflower on your wrist?’ Sara asked. ‘That? Nothing to worry about it will wash off, see. To fool the enemy. Now you two look exhausted. Why don’t you move further back and find a couple of blankets. Get some rest. I’ll wake you when we arrive somewhere safe.’ An hour later Marcus awoke. The helicopter hovered. Marcus shook Sara awake. They both looked out as the helicopter started the descent. It was then Marcus saw the circle formed by the huge stones and something about them gave him the clue he needed to know where they were. ‘Stonehenge,’ Marcus managed to get out. ‘But why are we here? And those huge crowds below are not normal looking crowds, are they.’ The pilot unravelled the cloth from around his face and laughed. ‘No, they are all like me,’ the pilot said landing the helicopter. He turned to face his passengers. Marcus and Sara saw the huge Sunflower head growing up through his body. The face smiled at them as the Sunflower mass surged forward to surround them.

40 ~ what the dickens?

The excited voice of the Cutter, as in the ancient Druid folk lore, drowned every other sound. He shouted. ‘Yema genefi!’ or ‘I have’n!’ Back came the roar of the crowd. ‘Epandr’us genes en?’ or ‘What have ‘ee then.’ The Cutter shouted back. ‘Peny Yari! Ehoura!’ or ‘The Neck! Hurrah!’ A smile appeared on every Sunflower face. The tightly bunched crowd around the stones watched the monk stood on a huge slab dressed in the purple robes of the Cutter. Greed and evil lent fuel to their altruistic satisfaction as mouths snapped open, shooting out quivering tongues. There was never enough to sup from the two heads but all pretended enjoying the taste in surreal action as blood fell drop by drop, by drop. Cleveland is a writer of short stories, flash fiction and poetry. He is excited about his latest WIP, a MG entitled ‘HOUSE OF THE SKULL DRUM’ which is set in the Cotswolds. Meet him on Facebook.


sunflower writing

Ironic

I guess it is kind of ironic how the black centre of a Sunflower is essential to the cycle of life. If there were a black hole in the centre of the Sun it would be a different story. Well really there would be no story. Because the universe would not exist. And nor would the Sunflower. Alyssia Chapman Alyssia Chapman is a student at the University of Leicester. She writes poetry, short stories, plays and screenplays and has had opinion columns printed in her local newspaper. If she could go back in time she’d try and marry F. Scott Fitzgerald. You can see her work at alyssiachapman.com.

the sunflower edition ~ 41


sunflower writing

The girl with flowers in her hair A wife a wit a wanton gal with flowers in her hair flow gin fat figs fat frogs sage wife of his with flowers in her hair: wee gal at her we ogle and we stare with flowers in her hair. Girls howl they glow and oft will win with flowers in their hair: their sin his win as wanton gals stroll in and on she throws a glare at those who stare a wanton stare at girls with flowers in their hair. Those wanton waifs share gin and figs those girls with flowers in their hair she sees she stares she wallows in her gin flow flowers in their hair. They gore they gorge they flog they fight they see they stare at wanton gals at whores with flowers in their hair. Andrea Wicks Wannabewordsmith. I love the fizz of words pulling threads from my brain: then moulding them on the page. The ordinariness of life, common language and words sparking off each other, inspires me. Less is more, so poetry and flash fiction suit me best. Listed author on Paragraph Planet.

42 ~ what the dickens?


sunflower writing

The Tallest Flower by Deborah Bazalgette

‘Y

ours is the tallest of all, Andrew,’ said Miss Williams. He gave her his proudest smile, and walked out of the classroom, holding the small brown pot carefully in one hand, and his book bag in the other. Mum was waiting in the playground, chatting to Jamie’s mum. She was leaning against the fence, as she always did when she was extra tired. ‘Look what I’ve got!’ He couldn’t contain his excitement, and was pleased to see her smile in return. ‘Lovely, Andrew! What is it?’ ‘It’s a sunflower! We planted the seeds, they were all stripy. Now they’ve come up, and Miss Williams says I must plant it in the garden and it’ll grow tall, and you’ll like the big yellow flower! She says there are lots of little flowers, that look like a big flower all together, and then you get lots of seeds and I can eat them! Or plant another sunflower,’ he added thoughtfully. Andrew’s mum took his book bag so that he could carry the seedling home. He’d watched it and watered it, day by day, as the green shoot raised its head above the compost, cast off the striped seed shell, and opened out into young leaves. He’d longed for it to have four proper leaves so that he would be allowed to take it home to plant outside. Although the garden wasn’t really theirs, Mrs Leeming, who lived downstairs, let him play out there, and she said she was looking forward to seeing his sunflower bloom. He jiggled in his seat all through tea, longing to get on with the planting. ‘Good thing for you it’s not raining, Andrew,’ said his mum as she helped him on with his blue dinosaur boots. ‘I don’t think I’d want to be out gardening in the rain.’ He looked up at her, knowing he would never understand grown-ups. What did the weather matter? Mum changed into her messy jeans, tied her long hair into a bundle on her head, and put on her trainers, and they took a trowel and fork, and the plant, into the garden. They started by kneeling down and clearing a space among the tangled weeds. Then Mum showed him how to dig the earth over and loosen it, before making a hole with the trowel, carefully

sliding the sunflower seedling out of its pot, and settling it in the dark, damp hollow. Finally, Andrew firmed up the soil around the young plant so that it would stand straight. ‘Look at your hands, they’re filthy!’ ‘So are yours, Mum!’ He could see she’d been biting her nails again. They would both need to use the nailbrush. He had had his bath, done his reading, and was sitting in his pyjamas watching TV, when he heard the key in the door. His mum shot to her feet, but Andrew shrank into his corner of the sofa. His dad came into the room, which seemed smaller now that it was filled with this fleshy presence. He had the usual stubble all over his cheeks and chin – Andrew had decided long ago that he would shave every day when he was old enough. Dad’s gaze flickered over Andrew. He went over to the TV and abruptly turned it off. ‘Off to bed, you.’ Andrew eyed him nervously. ‘Go on, I don’t want you in here.’ His dad’s voice was louder this time. ‘No, leave your mum alone.’ He hadn’t missed the pleading look Andrew sent in his mum’s direction. ‘You’re not a bloody baby, get into your fucking room!’ ‘Off to bed, poppet, it’s OK, just do your teeth and off to sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.’ Mum’s eyes were fixed on Dad’s face. Andrew knew better than to ask her to put him to bed. *** He knelt on the chair in his bedroom, looking out of the window at the sunflower which was just visible through the dusk. It looked very small from up here. His body was tense, and he was cold. No matter how often this happened, he couldn’t get used to it. He dragged the duvet off his bed and wrapped it round him to try and warm up. He didn’t even feel like playing with his DS. The voices next door were muffled, to start with, but it wasn’t long before he heard his mum cry out, and then sob. The sound made him sob, too, but he stuffed his fist into his mouth and tried to focus all his attention on the clear patch of dark earth and the small plant rising up straight above it. Mum always told him to go to sleep, but he didn’t know why. Couldn’t she tell he wouldn’t sleep? He never understood why she didn’t stop Dad coming,

the sunflower edition ~ 43


sunflower writing anyway. The best thing would be to snatch his key away and tell him to fuck off, but she never did. ‘Fuck off, sod off,’ Andrew whispered, experimentally. He knew Jamie’s dad didn’t use words like that. He wondered whether his dad had learned them when he was in the army. The crying subsided when his dad’s voice got louder again. Andrew heard him come out of Mum’s room, and then the front door clicked shut. Dad had gone. Andrew realised he had tears on his face. He scrubbed his eyes with the edge of the duvet, and got down off the chair. Mum needed him to look after her now. He went into the kitchen, filled the kettle, and put it on to boil. He reached Mum’s favourite mug down, the one he’d painted for her at Jamie’s party – it had a picture of the sun on it. He found a tea bag and, when the kettle boiled, carefully poured water into the mug. He swirled the teabag around with a spoon, then squeezed it against the side of the mug before scooping it out and lobbing it into the bin. Some drips of tea went on the floor, and he got the cloth and wiped them up so Mum wouldn’t have to. He stirred in milk, and two spoons of sugar, and then, using both hands, carried the mug to her bedroom. She was lying there with tears on her cheeks, as she always did. ‘You not asleep? Oh poppet, you’ve made me a cup of tea. What would I do without you?’ He put the mug on the bedside table next to her, and climbed onto the bed to give her a cuddle. He hoped that if he fell asleep there, then his father wouldn’t be able to come back and upset her again tonight. He did sometimes come twice in a day. Andrew longed to grow tall enough to stand up and look straight into his dad’s eyes.

huge yellow face. Three metres! It was still the tallest in the class, then. They had all been comparing notes yesterday, the last day of term. Andrew ran back up to the flat, excited about telling Mum how big it was, but stopped dead when he came through the door. Dad’s tummy seemed to be sticking out even more than usual, and he really stank. He didn’t seem able to stand quite straight, and his face looked as angry as a monster’s. His eyes were a frightening red colour. ‘What you doing there? Get into your room!’ ‘But it’s only – ’ ‘Shuddup! Or I’ll – ’ His dad raised a menacing hand. Andrew stole a glance at his mum but her eyes were shut, fists clenched so hard that the knuckles were shining white. He put the tape measure down, went into his room, and closed the door. He took up his familiar position at the window, dragging the duvet over and wrapping it round himself for comfort. His dad didn’t normally come over this early. There was shouting from the next door room, and then a scream, which was cut short by a slap. Andrew put his fingers in his ears and started whispering to himself to try to block out the noise. He rocked backwards and forwards on the chair, focusing his gaze on the sunflower, which seemed to be looking back at him. Mum would feel better when the flower was completely open. They could measure it again together, just to check he’d got it right. And he had decided he wouldn’t eat the seeds, but would keep them all to plant next spring, so the garden would be full of them. Miss Williams had shown them pictures of fields of sunflowers in Italy, where the flowers all looked up at the sun wherever it was in the sky. Like he looked up at his mum when she was telling him something. *** There was a crash as his mum’s door opened, and he heard his dad lurching around. Normally He had been measuring the sunflower once a week, he left without speaking to Andrew again. But using the blue metal tape measure that Dad had this time Dad was suddenly there in the room left behind when he moved out. It was shooting with him. up in this hot weather, and had long overtaken ‘What you doing? Why aren’t you in bed?’ him. Now he had to concentrate on keeping the ‘I – was just looking out of the window.’ There tape measure steady when he extended it up to didn’t seem to be much point in saying that it was the top of the flower, way above his head. It had too early for bed, or that he hadn’t had his tea. lots of leaves, rough to the touch, and there was Dad lurched to the window, doing up his flies as a big flower head. He couldn’t wait for it to open he went. Andrew went very still as his dad stood completely, and for Mum to see it looking like a next to him.

44 ~ what the dickens?


sunflower writing ‘What’s that bloody great thing in the middle of the flowerbed?’ ‘My sunflower. I grew it at school.’ ‘So that’s the stuff they teach nowadays is it? Trying to turn my son into a poofter, growing flowers? I’m not having my son turning into a fucking poofter!’ Dad’s breath made Andrew feel sick. Dad stumbled out of the room and back to the front door. Before Andrew had time to think, there was his dad treading heavily through the garden. Andrew couldn’t stop himself. He jumped off the chair and ran downstairs, screaming: ‘Leave it alone, it’s mine, it’s mine!’ He was too late. The flower head was in his dad’s hand, and Dad was looking at it as though it was really ugly. The stalk had collapsed from the force with which he’d snapped the flower head off. ‘But I – ’ Andrew stopped. Dad had dropped the flower head on the ground and was trampling it with his big boot, squashing it into the grass. A few yellow petals had fallen from the half-opened flower, and were turning brown as they were crushed against the ground. Andrew looked up at his bedroom window, remembering how he had watched his flower grow. He saw his mum’s face at the window, but it was blank of expression, as though she had used up all her feelings. He felt he would be stuck in this moment forever, Dad crushing the flower beside him, Mum behind the window pane, powerless to reach out to him. ***

Sunflower Sky by Khurshid Khatib

T

hey were black and white photographs but she could see them all in colour. Their named sunflowers smiling in shades of yolk and swaying against the chalk marks of the splintered fence; the lush, emerald grass framing her arduously tended Geraniums. Her angled fingers repeatedly smoothed over the shadowed pictures and caressed cherub cheeks, as tears cascaded upon two eternally smiling figures of innocence. The plane seared diagonally into the sky up towards where she’d always been told heaven

He sat in Mrs Leeming’s big chair, sipping tea out of one of her flowered china cups. Funny, he’d never liked tea before, but now he could see why Mum liked to drink it when she was unhappy. In the room next door, Mum was talking to the police. After Mrs Leeming had rung 999, two police cars had come. They could all hear the sirens as they came nearer and nearer, and Dad had tried to run away, but he’d fallen over. Andrew hadn’t tried to help him up again. ‘Now, lovey, how about a bit of my lemon cake?’ Mrs Leeming was a comfortable person, with her red woolly cardigan and soft slippers. ‘Yes, please. I haven’t had any tea yet.’ The door opened while his mouth was full of cake, and Mum came into the room. He could see she was tired, but her eyes were warm when she looked at him. ‘Shall we go to the garden centre tomorrow, Andrew? They might have some seeds we could sow.’ ‘Yes, please! And you can have some of my cake if you like.’ He stretched out his arm and offered her his plate. Deborah Bazalgette has recently completed a creative writing course with the Open University. She finds inspiration for writing in her work in the voluntary sector, and mulls over her ideas while digging her allotment. Opportunities to write have to be grabbed when everyone else is out of the house.

existed and it was as though she was getting closer to them. Her back tingled as they flew above a thick, even layer of cloud. She momentarily forgot her pain, marvelling at the beauty of creation and was forced to remember that there were some things in life that she would never understand. She delicately placed the treasured mementoes back amongst her few remaining possessions and wrapped her shawl tightly around her wasted frame. She suddenly spluttered into her handkerchief again, her spectacle case and passport thrown open into her lap. Agatha Redstone’s hardened features glared back at herself in paused revulsion. Her beady, black eyes and the hollow in her lips both took their turns in

the sunflower edition ~ 45


sunflower writing cursing her. The firemen had told her repeatedly that it wasn’t her fault and that nothing could have been done differently but half a century of passing had done little to dull her emotions or her daily mantra; I was supposed to protect my babies. That was my role. I had failed them. Trolleys clanked somewhere along the aisle, sending her mind back to memories of the hospital. She took a long sigh as she remembered the loneliness on the day of her release though her cough remained a persistent companion. She took a curious glance around her, resting her penetrative gaze upon a handsome young couple sitting adjacently, heads tilted towards each other and deep in slumber. I wish I could switch places; I wish I was her. I would do everything differently. I would keep love. But I’ve had my chance in life… Her eyelids suddenly flicked open and she had no idea how long she’d been asleep. She accepted the offer of food. Her fellow passengers tucked

In Search of Luck

eagerly into their various meals as she sifted through hers, periodically catching snippets of their lives through the chatter as she fumbled with her cutlery. They cut through time zones whilst she hovered in the past. The background humming of the engines finally lulled her to peaceful sleep and she returned to her precious sunflower garden once more, from which this time she would not return. Khurshid Khatib loves writing, particularly articles on ethical issues or transforming personal journeys. Her background is in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Medicinal Chemistry and she has worked as Scientist, Broadcast Assistant and Researcher. She recently started writing fiction and is studying with the Open University on a creative writing course. (Twitter: @KhurshidKhatib)

luck since they shut down the mill. I sure hope filling our place with the big yellow flowers will by Jean M. Cogdell make the house bright as sunshine and of course add little bit of luck. Like Mama says, nothing t school, we’ve been studying plants, this wrong with hoping. Who knows come next spring week’s chapter talked about flowers. I love maybe our yard will look like Mr. William’s field. flowers, all kinds, just like my mama. Our last house had a garden, with lots of flowers, and Mama tended her garden every day. Things have Ms. Cogdell was born in North Carolina, been hard since the move. I want to see Mama grew up in a small South Carolina town smile again; flowers always made her smile. near the Great Smoky Mountains. She has Today I’m going in search of sunflowers. Mama published short stories in the Anthology never had sunflowers, but I think she’ll love Once Upon A Time, YAREAH, Flash Fiction them. Bobby Russell says there’s a whole field World, Squawk Back, and Angie’s Diary of sunflowers near Mr. William’s cow pasture. Online Writing. She currently resides in After school today we’re going to find them. I can Texas with her husband. hardly wait to see flowers the size of saucers; I’ve jemcogdell.blogspot.com only seen pictures. Mama’s garden had roses and daisies. If I fill the house with bright yellow flowers, and save the seeds, maybe things will take a turn for the better. The book said sunflowers are a symbol of good luck and something about new opportunities. Lord knows we need some good

A

46 ~ what the dickens?


sunflower writing

Sunflower

The sunflower grows alone, and tall, attaining a dominance and a penchant for flattery. Andrew James Murray Andrew James Murray is forty years old and lives on a housing estate in Manchester, where he has worked both professionally and voluntarily with disadvantaged young people. He writes fiction and poetry. He can be contacted at andrewjmurrayuk@gmail.com.

the sunflower edition ~ 47


sunflower writing

Inner City Sunshine

‘What if it just dies?’ Marie asked, and then with her eyes cast down she added, ‘like Daddy.’ by Carys Jones Angie lifted a hand to her chest to help absorb the pain which spewed out from her heart at the arie Anderson held the sunflower seed on mention of her deceased husband. She pulled Marie the palm of her small hand and gazed at it close to her and planted a kiss upon her forehead. suspiciously. ‘Your sunflower won’t die, sweetheart. It will ‘A sunflower will grow from this?’ she asked grow up big and strong, just you wait and see.’ distastefully. ‘Yes, it will,’ her Mother confirmed from the *** sink nearby where she was washing the dishes from that night’s dinner. And so Marie let the seed be planted in amongst the ‘But it’s so small!’ Marie protested, lifting the seed concrete slabs. She watered it and went away, thinking up to her big blue eyes to inspect it in more detail. that would be the last she’d see of that little seed. ‘Just because something is small doesn’t mean it But three days later, a tiny shoot appeared won’t grow up to be something big and wonderful.’ amongst the slabs, green and vibrant, the only ‘Pfft, I’m small,’ Marie scoffed. ‘I’m smaller than splash of colour within the concrete square. all the other girls. They tease me.’ ‘Oh my goodness, my goodness!’ Marie went ‘Don’t listen to them sweetheart. There’s nothing running out as soon as she saw it from her wrong with being small. Shall we go plant it?’ bedroom window, still in her pyjamas. Angie Anderson asked kindly as she wiped her ‘Mommy, Mommy, come look!’ she called out hands dry on a tea towel. and Angie came running, distressed as to what ‘Okay,’ Marie agreed, perking up a little, her mood had excited her daughter so, but her anxieties changing on a whim as only a six year olds can. melted away when she spotted the little shoot. ‘Mommy, Mommy, its growing!’ *** ‘Yes, I can see. Make sure you keep giving it plenty of water. Now come back inside and get Outside in the tiny space they called a garden ready for school.’ Marie frantically looked around for a suitable Marie obliged but not before she’d quickly given spot to plant her tiny seed. The ground floor flat the little shoot some more water and whispered a where she and her mother lived had a very limited thank you to it for not dying. outdoor area at the back, completely covered in concrete and barely big enough to contain the *** washing line which stood in the centre. ‘But where can we put it?’ Marie asked, pivoting A couple of weeks passed, and each day the little round as she surveying the space which was green shoot grew bigger. Marie tirelessly cared almost as tiny as the seed held tightly in her hand. for it, watering it each morning and night and ‘Hmm,’ Angie also scrutinized the area, and felt refusing to let her mother put washing out for a pang for the home and the life she had left. The fear of the hanging clothes depriving her beloved large garden at their old home out in the suburbs plant of sunlight. would easily have space to plant a sunflower. It warmed Angie’s heart to see her daughter to Here within the city, space was much more of a animated and so engaged with something. For so long premium and even the bleak little square of slabs she had fallen in to herself, becoming insular. Her she owned was considered a luxury. grief and confusion about losing her father cut her ‘How about here?’ Angie went and knelt beside off from her peers. But now Marie ran in to school, a break in the slabs which revealed a little spot of excited to update her friends on her sunflower. Some dirt, barely a couple of centimetres wide. had even been round for dinner, just so Marie could ‘That’s too small!’ Marie exclaimed after show off the little shoot in her garden. glancing down and checking out the space. The plant became a symbol of hope to the little ‘It will be fine,’ Angie reassured her daughter. girl, and she clung to it tightly. Desperate to see it ‘All the seed needs is sunlight and water and it grow tall and bloom, filling her little grey world will grow up big and strong.’ with glorious yellow petals.

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48 ~ what the dickens?


sunflower writing *** Soon the plant was the height of the garden wall but still there was no sign of the flower head appearing. ‘What if it doesn’t bloom?’ Marie asked anxiously over dinner. ‘It will, you just need to be patient.’ Angie told her. ‘But I want to see it now!’ ‘Marie, you must learn that good things come to those who wait. If you keep watering the plant, it will bloom. Just wait.’ Marie didn’t want to wait. It felt as though she’d been watering that little green shoot forever but she trusted her mother and so she resigned herself to yet more waiting. *** The following morning was unseasonably cold and Angie woke to see a light frost had settled on the ground. Her thoughts immediately went to the little green shoot in her garden and how it couldn’t possibly survive such a cold spell? Pulling on her coat she ran outside to check on it but Marie was already there, bent down on the cold concrete slabs and using her little hands to pull off any ice on the stem and leaves. ‘We can’t let it die, Mommy,’ she said tearfully, wearing nothing but her pyjamas and shivering profusely from the cold. ‘It won’t die, Marie, but you need to come inside before you catch a cold.’ Reluctantly, Marie went inside but she was terribly worried for her plant. As was her mother but she wouldn’t let it show. All through school that day Marie sat and thought of nothing but her little plant, out in the cold, desperately trying to survive. As soon as she got home, she ran out in to the garden to check it was still there and thankfully it was. *** A number of cold mornings followed and Angie started to become seriously concerned about the plant in her garden her daughter had grown so fond of, convinced that the sudden cold spell would most certainly kill it off. But one week later, she awoke to sunshine pouring through her windows and the sweet

melody of bird song. The cold spell was well and truly gone. In the kitchen she sleepily pottered about, switching on the kettle to make a cup of tea and glancing out of the window. As soon as she did so her eyes sprang open in surprise and she ran off towards her daughter’s bedroom. ‘Marie, Marie, get up!’ she excitedly told the bleary eyed little girl. ‘What is it?’ Marie asked, rubbing at her eyes. ‘Come outside, you’ll see.’ Marie wandered out to the garden, not sure what had gotten her mother in such a stir. But the moment she stepped outside she saw it and her mouth fell open in amazement. ‘Doesn’t it look wonderful?’ Angie beamed, as hovering above her was the full, glorious head of a sunflower in bloom. It blew precariously in the breeze, its green stalk shaking from side to side. Against the bleak backdrop of the grey garden it looked like their own sun, beaming down on them. Their own private piece of inner city sunlight. ‘It’s beautiful,’ Marie whispered, tentatively reaching forward to touch the green talk as if not quite believing that it was supporting something so amazing. Angie wrapped an arm around her little girl and smiled genuinely for the first time in almost two years, and it felt good. ‘You see Marie, even the tiniest things can grow in to something amazing.’ ‘Will I grow up in to something amazing?’ ‘Of course you will, sweetheart, of course you will.’ Above them the sunflower head shone down and even higher, children woke up from their dreams and glanced out of their windows and looked down from their flats to see the giant yellow sun below them and began exclaiming with glee. The sunflower’s light reached up and touched each of them, reminding them that light can be found even in the darkest of places. My name is Carys Jones, I am a writer from Shropshire, England. My debut novel, crime thriller Not All Stars Sparkle was released in October 2010 and is currently up for nomination in the People’s Book Prize; peoplesbookprize.com/book.php?id=731

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sunflower writing

Sunflowers Outside it threatens rain again inside small suns warm every room you never liked this flashy flower disliked their brashness, lack of shame preferred a quieter bloom secretly, I loved them just the same but now that you have gone I fill up all the vases and cover every empty surface with their loud and open faces. Sophie Atkinson Sophie Atkinson lives in Hove with her husband and two young sons, she is currently studying for an MA in History with The Open University and writes her poetry in any spare time between studying and the school run.

50 ~ what the dickens?


sunflower writing

Hot Heat Love by Sinéad Keegan

C

arla felt pinpricks of sweat all over her body the minute she stepped out of the house. The midday heat was thick, a humid cloud hanging in the air. Even the sunflowers, which her grandmother was so fond of painting, in the neighbor’s garden drooped in defeat. Usually, they got a bit of a breeze up here on the top of the hill but there was nothing today. No movement. No change. She looked back at her grandmother’s house, small, red, respectable. Carla didn’t ever go up to the apartment on the second floor and she didn’t even want to look at it, but, still, her eyes were drawn there. Her mother’s apartment. She turned away in disgust. Carla hated the looks she got from the neighbors. Whatever. Sunflowers don’t make a neighborhood. Carla walked down the hill and into the projects. Tall brick blocks filled with sweat and desperation. There were plenty of women like Carla’s mother, but the neighbors didn’t take any notice here. Jimmy was waiting outside Carter House. ‘Hey, baby.’ He drew out the ends of his sentences, like the world would wait for him to finish. ‘Hey.’ ‘Baby, you’re looking smokin’ today.’ Carla smiled, looked down at her painted toenails. ‘Yeah?’ ‘Hoo, yeah, baby.’ Jimmy ran a finger down her arm, making her skin tingle, and then slipped his hand around hers. His hands were large with fine hairs across the backs and strong. He didn’t often hold her hand. He gave it a squeeze then dropped it and looked away, down the street. ‘Carla, baby, you seen Gary today?’ ‘Who?’ Carla wished he hadn’t let go of her hand. ‘Gary. The kid from across the park?’ ‘No. Why would I?’ ‘Jesus, Carla. You stupid, girl?’ Jimmy’s voice had a harder edge, now. ‘You know he’s into you. He’s been following you around for fucking weeks.’ Carla didn’t answer. It was usually safer just to stay quiet. ‘Fine, look, that’s not the point.’

He began to walk toward the park. He looked back at Carla and jerked his head. ‘Come on.’ Jimmy crossed the street, not caring about the traffic. Carla followed two steps behind, wondering if when she was nineteen she’d be as sure as Jimmy was that the cars would stop. Inside the park, kids screamed and laughed, swinging from and jumping off the broken, metal climbing structure. Carla thought she could remember when the city re-did the park, but the memory was hazy. Jimmy could probably remember, but she didn’t think he cared. They walked past the kids to the dusty baseball diamond, where they sat on the splintered benches. Carla rolled up her tank top, tucking it underneath her bra to expose her stomach. Then she leaned back and closed her eyes. She loved coming here with Jimmy. It was their summertime ritual. She imagined his gaze sliding over the length of her body, but something felt wrong today. Jimmy didn’t take off his wife-beater, he didn’t put his arm around her, he didn’t even seem to be breathing. Eventually Carla opened one eye. ‘What is it?’ ‘I got a job.’ ‘Yeah? Where at?’ ‘From the Reds.’ Carla sat up, her tank top falling down. ‘You serious, Jimmy?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Don’t play with me.’ Jimmy stretched his arms in front of him and watched the muscles moving under the skin. He looked at Carla, a smile playing at his lips. ‘Serious.’ ‘Shit, Jimmy. They don’t fuck around.’ ‘I know that. You think I do?’ Jimmy snapped. ‘Why do you have to fucking ruin everything?’ Carla didn’t answer. ‘Look, I have a job and once I do it, I’m in. I’m fucking set for life. You too.’ ‘I don’t want to be in the Reds. You know what they do to girls?’ ‘Yeah, but you’ll come with me. I’ll protect you. I’ll get us both in.’ He turned and looked at Carla, took her face in his hands, damp fingers against hot skin, ‘I’m gonna protect you, baby. Promise.’ She loved those deep brown eyes and the thick brows above them. She trusted those eyes and that face, with the square jaw and the nose gone crooked from too many street corner disagreements.

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sunflower writing ‘You know I don’t fuck around, baby. I’m the real deal. You ask any of my regulars. They’ll tell you that I don’t make threats, I make promises.’ ‘Those are washed out junkies, not the Reds.’ ‘Well, my rep is growing, even with just those washed out junkies.’ Jimmy let go of her face and made his hands into fists, inspecting the fresh tattoos across his knuckles. ‘’Red 4 Life?’ Jimmy, what is that?’ ‘What do you think?’ ‘You’re already in with them?’ ‘Well, I need to do this job, first. Then I’m golden. See? I told you it was some real shit. I don’t fuck around.’ Carla sighed, ‘Okay. So what’s the job?’ Jimmy stood up, running his fingers over his raw knuckles. ‘Listen, baby. It’s big, OK? To be a full member. To be in at the top, like.’ Carla nodded. ‘But, I’m gonna need some help.’ He breathed deeply. ‘Your help, baby.’ ‘Me?’ Carla’s head snapped upward. ‘Yeah, well the boys are gonna help, too, but you’re the star, baby. The star.’ Jimmy began to pace in front of her. ‘So Gary, right? All I need you to do is bring him to the bus stop at the end of Bigelow tonight.’ He snuck a glance at Carla, but she stayed quiet and pretended not to notice. ‘You just bring him there, baby, and then go home. You don’t need to do nothing else.’ He paused again, fingertips on inked skin, but Carla refused to be baited. ‘You just give him that pretty little smile and he’s gonna follow you. It’s nothing, baby, nothing. Then you just go home and I’ll see you tomorrow. Ain’t nothing gonna change.’ ‘Why?’ Her response seemed to startle him. ‘Why what?’ ‘Why do you need him to be at the bus stop tonight? Why do I need to bring him there? Why?’ ‘Well, baby,’ Now his speech was slowing down again. Convincing Carla was something Jimmy knew how to do. He knelt down in front of her. ‘The boys and me, we just need to talk to Gary. We need to get something straight with him. That’s all. But he ain’t gonna come for me, is he? He’ll go anywhere for you, though. Pretty, smart girl like you. He knows I’m jealous, but he likes

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you. He gonna do anything you say. You just give him that smile and ask him to take a walk.’ ‘That’s all?’ ‘That’s all, baby. You just ask him to take a walk.’ ‘No. You just wanna talk to him?’ Jimmy stood up again and looked across the park. ‘Yeah, baby, we just need to talk. Just gotta get something straight with him.’ Carla didn’t say anything for a minute. Just stared up into the sky. A teacher had once told her not to look right at the sun or she’d go blind. She wondered how long it took to go blind by staring at the sun. And when you did go blind, was the blindness all darkness or was it the same hot white light of the sun? Would it be like staring into the sun forever? Jimmy sat down beside her and pulled her into a hug. His big arms wrapped tightly around her body and his sweaty chest pushed against her face. She could hear his heart beat and when he spoke it sounded like his voice came straight out of his chest. ‘You know I love you, right, baby?’ She nodded. ‘And you love me, don’t you?’ Again she nodded. ‘So help me out, baby, give me this little thing, right? Just take a walk to the bus stop with Gary. Show me how much you love me.’ For the last time she nodded. In the sweltering embrace of the night, Carla walked away. Jimmy had told her to walk like normal, like nothing was wrong. ‘Just tell Gary you’ll be right back. Then go home.’ Nothing was wrong, she told herself, she hadn’t done anything wrong. She had taken a walk and left Gary at the bus stop. But, still, her legs felt jittery, her knees a little weak and all she wanted to do was run. To run home, back to the red house on the top of the hill. She wanted to close the door on the world and hear her grandmother say it was all okay. Instead, she concentrated on the slapping sound that her flip flops made as she forced her clammy feet to walk away from Gary. The sun had been down for hours, but Carla could still feel the stored heat of the day radiating from everything. It came from the pavement through the thin soles of her shoes and it had been in the hard plastic seat at the bus stop where Gary still waited. She was sure that the three boys in


sunflower writing hoodies, walking in the opposite direction, could feel it in the sweat that dripped down their faces. She saw their hands jammed deep into bulging pockets and, for the first time, thought she saw uncertainty in Jimmy’s eyes. But there was a job to be done tonight, and so Carla said nothing and the boys walked past. The lights were on in her mother’s apartment when she got to the top of the hill. The sunflowers across the street were still, their heads limp, and the air was heavy, humid. Waiting for the break.

Turn to the Sun by Jade Weighell

B

efore I start telling you this story, I need you understand that transformations are not as uncommon as you may think, for example, everyone in our village knows that the post box on the corner of Whinstable Road was once Mrs Beasley. Mrs Beasley was a member of the WI and well known for her prize winning marmalade cakes. What was less well known was the Mrs Beasley had a secret lover overseas, whom she had met while accompanying her husband on one of his many business trips. They agreed to write to one another (this was in the days before emails) and to love one another forever. To prevent her husband suspecting anything, she took their dog, Maisie, out early and met the postman on the corner of their street in order to collect the letter, which arrived each Thursday. Then one day, there was no letter. Every day, Mrs Beasley went to the corner of Whinstable Road and every day she was told that no letter had arrived. Then one Thursday, the postman came and went, but Mrs Beasley remained. Maisie barked at her, jumped up, pulled at her lead, but Mrs Beasley would not move. Eventually the dog’s lead slipped from her hand and Maisie ran home. She found Mr Beasley and made him follow her. When they got to the corner of the street however, Mrs Beasley was not there. All that stood on the corner of Whinstable Road was a brand new, red post box. So you see it does happen; emotions have the power to alter someone irreparably, to reform

Sinéad Keegan is an Irish-born, Americanraised writer living in London where she writes both fiction and nonfiction as she works on her MFA in creative writing. Her work has appeared in various publications on both sides of the Atlantic and she avidly blogs at: sineadkeegan.blogspot.com.

their molecular structure. Maybe think about that next time you look at an inanimate object or even an animal (Mr Grainger, from number 43, turned into a duck. I often take my children down to the local pond to say hello and feed him scraps of bread). It is impossible to say what force has moulded them. Right, so now you know that these things happen, I can tell you the story of my sister. Chloe was, or svhould I say is, 2 years younger than me. When she was in her human form she was definitely the prettiest out of the two of us. She was tall and slender and had blonde hair that fell down to her waist. She got her looks from our mother. I on the other hand look more like our father, in other words, squat with dirty brown hair and glasses. Chloe had always been the sensible one out of the two of us, the one who told me not to cut my hair with the kitchen scissors, the one who said that going round to Katie Marchant’s house and punching her in the face wasn’t the best idea, even if she had told on me at school and the one who suggested that pink sequinned shorts were not a good look for my first date with Shane. Yes, she was always there with the best advice and so it felt odd to watch her shift and change, because of a boy. A new family moved in down the road and Sol, the younger of two brothers, was so stereotypically good looking that he’s hardly worth describing, you know the type, tall, dark haired, cheekbones so chiselled you could slice bread on them. It doesn’t really do it for me, I prefer my men a bit more worn in, but Chloe was besotted. Sol got a job in the local factory and every morning, just as the sun was rising, he would ride

the sunflower edition ~ 53


sunflower writing his bike past our house, travelling west towards the factory. We then wouldn’t see him again until the setting of the sun, when he would ride his bike back home. Chloe would position herself by the window every morning and evening just to watch him ride past. It wouldn’t matter that she had to get up half an hour earlier in the morning or that we might be eating our tea, or more importantly in my eyes, that Grange Hill was on, she would drop everything to be by that window. At first she would stay behind the net curtain and watch him unseen. Then, after a few weeks, she decided to hold the curtain aside and give Sol a wave, which he returned with a nod and a smile. That day, she threw up her breakfast just before we got to the school gates. ‘Do you think he likes me?’ she asked me after a few days. ‘What do you think about this?’ I held up an oversized green jumper. I was in sixth form and so had the trial of trying to look half way decent in my own clothes each day. ‘I don’t think it goes with those trousers.’ ‘Don’t you?’ I held the jumper up against my brown cords. ‘No, you’re right, perhaps not.’ ‘Well?’ she said, holding her hands out like leaves. ‘Well what?’ ‘Do you think he likes me?’ ‘Who?’ ‘Sol, of course.’ ‘I don’t know.’ I held up a burgundy shirt and Chloe shook her head. ‘Have you ever actually spoken to him?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘When?’ ‘What about that?’ Chloe pointed to a cream blouse crumpled on the corner on my floor. ‘No, I wore that yesterday.’ ‘I stood next to Mum when she spoke to him. You know, at the church fair?’ ‘I’m not sure that counts. Oh this is no good,’ I said, slumping onto bed beside her. ‘Why can’t I just look like you? Then I could wear anything and still look good.’ ‘You didn’t answer my question.’ ‘I don’t know,’ I looked at Chloe and she wilted in front of my eyes. ‘Yes, I’m sure he likes you.’ I wish I hadn’t said that now, I had ignited the flame of hope and there was no going back from that.

54 ~ what the dickens?

The next day Chloe was up, dressed and outside before my alarm had even gone off. She had come up with some story about a gardening project for her biology classes and so was outside pretending to rake the flower beds. I stationed myself behind the net curtain to watch. Chloe’s eyes fixed on the road and just as the edges of the sky began to turn pink with the rising of the sun, Sol appeared on the brow of the hill. He spotted her amongst the foliage of our front lawn and stopped. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but I could see Chloe smiling and her hair twisting around her fingers like vines. ‘He loves gardening,’ she told me that afternoon after school. She was on her knees planting marigold seeds. ‘He said that with a lot of hard work I could make this little garden look really beautiful.’ ‘I thought you were just pretending to garden?’ ‘I was. Can you pass me that trowel? Not that one, that one. Thanks.’ She brushed away a piece of hair with the back of her hand. ‘But you know, it’s very therapeutic, Sol says he does it whenever he needs to relax.’ ‘Are you going to go to the talent contest tomorrow?’ I asked, sitting down on the garden wall. ‘I’ve heard that Mrs McElroy and Mr Jennings are going to be singing Especially for You.’ ‘What do you think? If I put the marigolds here and the tulips over there that should look alright shouldn’t it?’ ‘Did you hear me?’ ‘And maybe some hydrangeas over in that corner? Sol says flowers need to be planted where the light can reach them, in order for them to really flourish.’ A few weeks later I was in the local pub with a few friends. Sol was there, sat in the corner with a woman. At first we couldn’t see who she was, since Sol was attempting to eat her face, but then Gary recognised her; she was his manager’s wife. I went straight home and told Chloe what I had seen. She just shrugged, turned round and went back to sleep. The next morning, when I woke, she wasn’t in her bed. She wasn’t in the garden either. Neither was she at school. So when I got home, I was relieved to see her out the front weeding the garden.


sunflower writing ‘Where have you been?’ I said. ‘I’ve been worried.’ ‘Out,’ she replied shrugging her shoulders. ‘Out? But what about school?’ ‘I had something I needed to do.’ I knelt down beside her and began to help pulling up the weeds. ‘Look, I’m sorry about yesterday. I probably shouldn’t have told you. It’s just...’ ‘Oh don’t worry about that, it’s all sorted now.’ It had rained last night and the smell of wet earth enveloped us as we ripped the plants from the soil. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked her. ‘That’s what I went to do today. Don’t pull that, that’s a plant.’ ‘Look I’m getting fed up of this.’ I sat back on my haunches and assessed my hands. My nails were black with soil and I had red scratches from the rocks hidden within the earth. ‘Can you just give me a straight answer?’ ‘I went into town,’ she said, her back bent over the flower bed. I couldn’t see her face as her hair obscured it from view. ‘I went Gary’s shop and had a word with his boss. I don’t think Sol will be seeing her again.’ ‘Chloe...’ I began. She turned to face me. ‘I just want him to love me,’ she said. I leant forward and hugged her. That evening he rode right past our house and didn’t even look in her direction. She called and waved but he kept his face forward. I thought she’d come indoors after that but she just stayed there, looking out to the horizon. I went out to see her but all my entreaties just blew past her on the breeze. It began to rain but still she would not move, she just allowed the heavy droplets to roll down her face. The next morning she turned to face the east, as the sun rose Sol sailed straight past her. She remained in the garden and bit by bit, with the rising sun, she turned to face the west to await his return but again, as the sun was setting, she was ignored. This became her daily routine. She never came inside, she never ate. The only liquid she drank

was her own tears that slid continually down her face. A week later she sunk to her knees. Though collapsed on the floor, her head still turned to face the direction in which Sol travelled each morning and evening. Her once beautiful hair was tangled and disarrayed and her hands were black from her habit of digging them into the earth around her. Every day I sat beside her and spoke to her. I knew that she did not hear me but I hoped that one day she might wake from this reverie. A few days after her collapse I sat down beside her, looked down and noticed that her feet had sunk into the earth. I tried to ease them out but they were stuck fast. Some force had drawn them downwards and they were now rooted into the ground. The next day I looked again and the soil had now swallowed them up entirely. Day by day I noticed more changes. Her legs, which sank ever deeper into the earth, began to change colour, from what was once milky white, into an emerald green. Her face too began to alter, it darkened, widened, flattened. Her hair became brighter and was soon the same colour as the marigold plants she had planted so lovingly just a few months earlier. Then one morning, I looked out of my window into the front garden and saw that the transformation was complete. Chloe was no longer there. Instead, where she had once knelt, there was now a sunflower. I still go and visit her, even after all these years. She is still there, even if her form has altered. I know because she still waits for him. Each morning she turns her head to the east, she then follows the journey of the sun until she faces the west, waiting for his return, waiting for the day when he might love her. My name is Jade Weighell. I am a Brighton based actor and writer. I am a member of the award winning theatre company Broken Leg Theatre. In September I will be commencing an MA in creative writing at Goldsmiths University.

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sunflower writing

Sweep, crack, chew by Amina Hachemi

A

sardine leapt from the blue – glittering scales from glittering waters, and ahead lay the rocking glittering sides of boats; a Mediterranean port town. On a suburban hill sat a house. Whitewashed walls and wooden blue shutters overlooked the sun on sea below, growing brighter and busier as the day began. From the house emerged a man. A small beige turban topped his grey curls, and was matched by his brown striped jellaba coat. In one hand he held a stick and in the other a plastic chair. He sat slowly in front of the house, rheumatism painting frustration on his aged, tan face. He shouted something muffled to the open house door. A few minutes later, a young boy hurried out carrying a small wooden table and a bowl, which he placed before the man. Leaning back in his chair, the man closed his eyes for a moment and inhaled. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of rosary beads. His eyes staring vacantly towards the sea, he began to push the beads along their string while his lips moved in whispered recitation. The house was on a neighbourhood thoroughfare and as the morning progressed, many of the suburb’s inhabitants passed by, each one stopping to greet the man: some with a simple salutation of peace, others with a short anecdote, and the young ones with a reverent kiss of respect on his weather-worn forehead. He had, thus far, paid little attention to the bowl that lay in front of him, but after the majority of the morning’s passers-by had passed, he turned to it at last. Placing his rosary beads on the worn wooden surface of the table, he put his right hand into the bowl, swept his fingers through the contents and picked out a black, oval object – a sunflower seed. He raised it to his mouth and cracked it gently between his teeth before chewing on the contents and discarding the shell on the table next to the bowl. He then repeated this motion with another seed. And again and again, each time the same: sweep, crack, chew. As the call for the midday prayer floated through the salty air of the town, a middle-aged woman with his clear, blue eyes appeared in the house doorway. Gesturing inside, she held his arm firmly and helped him to stand up. He picked up his stick and shuffled into the house, leaving behind him a pile of empty seed shells and a half-empty bowl. The sun was intense at this time of day and after lunch the shutters of all the houses in the town were firmly shut for the afternoon siesta until teatime when the afternoon asr prayer call echoed gently in the snoozing inhabitants’ ears. Looking a little energised, the old man emerged once more from the house, this time on the arm of an adolescent boy who resembled the young boy of

56 ~ what the dickens?

the morning. Settling into his chair once more, the man reached into the bowl, picked out a seed and returned his gaze to the fishing boats below, jostling each other as their owners mended nets and sorted crates. Sweep, crack chew. His eyes grew soft at the sight of a young man scrubbing the decks of the smallest boat and his face appeared younger for a brief moment. Returning his attention to the present, his work-worn hands continued their occupation: sweep, crack, chew. A young girl stood in the doorway of the house, her face was stained from crying and a misplaced frown contorted her toddler features. The man stretched his free arm out and beckoned to her to come closer, kissing her affectionately on the forehead and wiping her face with a handkerchief. Two more girls appeared with a peace offering – a rubber doll with one leg – and they quickly became involved with their play as the man watched on. Sweep, crack, chew. The sun began to sink lower in the sky, throwing flaming reds and pinks across the clouds. The distinct silhouettes of young men diving off the jetty twirled on a backdrop of distant shadowy mountains across the sea and the houses were transformed with a new shade of sunlight from one moment to the next. Sweep, crack, chew. The children, who had begun to shout once again, were called inside and the old man smiled at their disappearing backs with a sigh. Sweep, crack, chew. A scruffy cat edged hesitantly towards him, eyeing the bowl optimistically. He watched it quietly, then halfheartedly shooed it away – “subb”. Sweep, crack, chew. An elderly man stopped by and they laughed together in wheezy coughs until the darkness had almost engulfed them. In the last quiet moments of twilight, the man inhaled the cool night breeze. Then, as the sun dipped beneath the horizon, it was accompanied by a final contemplative sweep, crack, chew. Shadows swept across the town, the sunset maghrib prayer call greeted the night and the man dropped the last shell on the table. The middleaged woman emerged from the house once more; he brushed the shells onto the dusty floor, rose to his feet and hobbled into the house. The chair, table and bowl were cleared and the door locked behind them. As the household grew quiet, a gust of air whispered by and swept the shells gently along the path and into the darkness, like the deep blue waves of the restless sea beyond. Amina Hachemi holds a BA from ParisSorbonne University and an MA in Translation, Writing and Cultural Difference from the University of Warwick. A passionate linguist, she enjoys exploring cultural experiences and perspectives through her writing and translation. ahachemi.weebly.com – Twitter: @ahach


art

Jennifer Hammell is currently working in the “main stream� of the Interior Design industry, but is also avidly interested in developing Social Enterprises that utilize the healing capacity of the creative process, including and beyond developing interior environments, to affect positive change in urban communities.

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sunflower writing

The Summer Collection of Sunflowers by Caroline Auckland

T

he envelope arrived, damaged, its contents scattered like torn scraps of card tossed out with the rubbish. She could see flowers, petals, bright sunshine yellow sunflowers full of hope. On the reverse, like scrabble pieces, letters were visible. Who they were from was obvious, the handwriting so familiar, but what they said was a mystery. Sometimes they wrote to each other in code, but this was a puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle. He had been gone so long it seemed. They had met on a school cruise ship, he had been part of the crew and she a schoolgirl with a crush. They communicated by letter with occasional meet ups when his ship docked at Tilbury. ‘A’ levels finished, she was now at a crossroad, she had a position as a temporary seasonal in a retail department store to supplement her university grant. He was having an exciting time in warm foreign climes with a variety of passengers, she was folding knickers repetitively and if she was lucky had the occasional shift on the till. They had to write to each other, her parents were very strict with the telephone listening in to her calls, always complaining about the cost. Heaven help anyone who called after nine o’clock in the evening, they were given very short shrift. Still she did not mind. It was so exciting waiting for a letter to arrive. In the morning as she was getting dressed for work, she watched out of the window for the postman to appear, as soon as he came down the hill she would hold her breath as he progressed from house to house. Would there be one today for her, from him? That familiar thud of post as it came through the letterbox and hit the floor was like her heart sounding an extra beat. She would rush down the stairs wanting to be the first. To sort through and salvage her own communications, keeping them secret and hugging them to herself. She did not want to share, to explain, to divulge. She would put her letters inside her dressing gown and hold them close to her heart or place them in the pocket of her work uniform if the postman had taken a long time to arrive. If she had a letter she could savour it in her own time, when she found her own place to read it, again and again. Quickly at first and then at leisure, going over and over the same passages for hidden meanings and composing a reply. Knowing that it would be a week or so before the next one arrived. The days when the postman failed to stop at her house or failed to deliver a letter for her where difficult and she would walk to work sad, her day dreams working hard to lift her spirits as she turned herself into a shop assistant, not a student who had a lover who posted letters from every port. What would her future hold? Should she go to university, if she passed? Was there a point, was she capable? Should she just throw it all in and carry on working? Here in her home town was a history of women, all in retail, all with families, all content, or seemingly so. What could you tell from the uniform, the pleasant faces, the thank you smiles, ‘shall I fold it for you and put it in a bag?’ You could have a conversation, ‘I am not really listening, or not with a formed opinion, or even if I have one you will not really count it. I am only a shop girl, not worthy of opinion or life, just here to service your convenience’. This was the inner dialogue she had on the way to and from work. On one of the days when she had folded the knickers in triplicate, two flat, one folded in at each side gusset folded under, the pile was flat and so was her zest for life, she was called to the till. She smiled the smile of retail commercialism,

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sunflower writing ‘I will pack up your lifestyle and present it to you in a neatly folded version of your life’. Before her was a father and daughter, the transaction a blur but the conversation a resonance that would haunt her for years to come. ‘For God’s sake, can’t you make up your mind? Do you want to end up a shop girl like this?!’ This was not really a question, more a statement. She looked at the father, who was looking at his daughter with exasperation. This was a moment, a moment in time. A throw away comment. But for her it was frozen in all time, her time. Her persona to anyone who did not know her, was as a shop girl, a silent, insult me, label me, shop girl. No value, no future, no past, no present and certainly no future, all of it calculated without feeling. Her smile froze, but her inner resolve did not. He may not have directed the message directly to her but the message she had just received pierced her inner soul. At home she had pieced together the jigsaw stunned by the messages that she revealed. ‘I hate you Everyone is having so much fun I am up all night It is all over I do not want to live with you’ The colour was gone from her life, the flowers became black and white images, their yellow bloom faded into shadows and love died. It was a clear signal that love or no love, she had to find a way out, a way through and find her own path. She could not depend on him. Whatever she had achieved, whatever she had experienced, she had to go forward... without him... But really she was running away. It was 1978, her mother was ill in hospital but had given her blessing. Her father had screamed at her with words that she did not want to recall only recoil from, in years to come she may consider them, charitably, as a cry for help but not now. She had turned away, biting her words back, swallowing them until their ugliness and despair was absorbed into her psyche like a saline drip of tears. She was leaving this all behind. Her trunk with her uniform of creative costumes had been sent on ahead of her and was waiting silently at the railway station in the north. If this had not been done, maybe she would have faltered and stayed. She knew that if Thomas had asked her marry him she would have accepted and not gone. But he hadn’t. He had only sent paper flowers, the heat from the sun had left only imitations of sunflowers, she certainly would not be following their gaze. She was tired, afraid and almost defeated by what lay ahead. This latest assault had been the final straw. She stepped off the train feeling raw, naked, this was a new beginning. She discarded the envy, anger, disappointment and sarcasm. Determined to prove them all wrong, her father, her headmistress, everyone who had tried to belittle her, everyone who had indicated that she should not bother to leave the town. Everyone who said she was not capable of further education, that she should stay home, cook, clean, not have aspirations above herself. ‘Who did she think she was?’ ‘What was wrong with working in a shop?’ The voices in her head had become louder, their constant blows and cutting remarks had made her want to curl up in a protective foetus position. At night she would revert to this position to sleep when she had discarded the armour of the day. Her body however alert and in protection mode whilst her dreams were the only free place to live. Her mother understood. All those years of walking, listening quietly, whilst her mother told her her hopes and dreams. Her pride when her daughter had gained a place at the grammar school had been quietly strengthening. But strength had ebbed away as she struggled to fit in and keep up. Her house was not filled with books but with words and cross, angry sentences. There were no theatre trips but enough private drama. Friends were not welcome, family was the enemy. Mealtimes were not shared around a lively dining table as her headmistress had idealised, they were taken on a tray in front of a TV watched by a silent audience where comment was not welcomed.

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sunflower writing So here she was, a runaway from her roots, emotionally exposed and vulnerable. Her bag contained the university offer, the key and dispatch ticket of her trunk to unlock her protective clothing. She stood on the platform tall and straight. All the years of hiding from games in the drama cupboard had taught her the art of disguise. Family hand-me-downs a precursor of hiding the true self. The god squad were there to meet and greet all students. Pleased and comforted she found accepting the kindness of strangers so much easier than the hostility of those closer to home. Soon she and her trunk were on their way to the student hall for girls. She signed in and was shown to her room, up the stairs past multiple bathrooms and kitchens. New words running through her head. ‘No food to be eaten in the common room.’ ‘Breakfast at eight.’ ‘Use blu-tack not pins to express yourself on the walls’. ‘Males not allowed in rooms after ten at night.’ She sat on her new bed, a breeze blowing through the window. She switched on the angle-poise, the light casting shadows across her new desk. Gazing around her cell-like room she thought it would be considered by some a prison or a nunnery but to her it represented freedom, a new start. She closed the door, not to shut herself in but in order to take out her clothes and costumes she had packed a life time ago. They needed to take stock of their new environment, shake out the creases of crushed aspiration, they needed to breathe deeply because a new performance was about to begin. She was no longer the prompt in the wings of her story, she was about to take centre stage. No sunflowers for her she thought as she pinned a poster of Monet’s ‘Red Poppies at Argenteuil’ to her wall. ‘Males not allowed in rooms after ten at night’ she smiled. Did love and sex not happen until after ten? In her childhood, midnight had been the magic hour. But this was the progressive 80’s or almost. Single sex rules and conventions a nod to parental concerns maybe. But she was far away from her parents and these were not her concerns. What was she permitted to do before ten and with whom? The voice from the back of the class of ’78 had whispered in her ear. But this was a new academic year. She opened her diary for her first night writing: ‘They were your words, you gave them to me and I interpreted them as I heard them.’ At home the second envelope arrived, the pieces waiting to be joined together to complete the sentences and provide a true picture of the situation. But that was in the future and this was now. Jigsaws are occupations for people with time on their hands, she had to live, there would be time enough to complete the picture later; or so she thought. I hate you being in another country. Everyone is having so much fun, but I am lonely without you. I am up all night, I cannot sleep without you. It is all over, I’m coming home to you. I do not want to live with you, Will you marry me? Love T xxx xxx

Caroline Auckland: a graduate in Communication Studies has worked as a buyer for Marks and Spencer in publishing. Caroline is currently working on a collection of photographically illustrated short stories for Adults and young people and also her first novel. She is also involved with historical research for a Victorian Cemetery and writes an online blog: newtonhouseltd.blogspot.co.uk.

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art

Donna Staveley : reader of books (avid); giver of hugs (real/virtual); maker of cake (and eater); believer of unicorns (they DO exist!); drinker of wine (explains the unicorns), trainer of juggling kittens (not really). Incessant chatterer/giggler; far too easily amused by too many things; every party should have me; novice sharer of words. Twitter: @doonakebab

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“D

o it now.” A friend said this to me recently. He’s not just any old friend. He’s a friend who’s done really well for himself, and he never forgets how lucky he is. He’s kind, generous, funny, and an all round good egg, and when I asked him for advice I thought he was going to provide a big, long rambling speech full of poignant sighs and thoughtful pauses and basically trundle off on an array of tangents... He does go on a bit. But then he likes talking, and he’s actually quite good at it. He even gets paid for it. And quite right too because he loves what he does and he works ridiculously hard. But no, his advice was simple and so very apt for so many events taking place right now... Particularly in regards to What the Dickens and the big, bold changes we’re undertaking thanks to a wealth of people working hard and doing it right now, and that’s what I love about the nature of creativity... Just going for it. Taking a risk. Leaping into the dark. Reaching up to the light. Being vulnerable, being brave and trusting in that feeling and trusting in other people too...

The Boss, The Don, The Editor a.k.a. Victoria and I didn’t know each other before the magazine. I saw a tweet, replied, and suddenly we were

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pinging ideas back and forth and as a result a simple ‘I might submit a story’ suggestion became ‘Can I create a whole section?’ question and so started a partnership of sorts (we mustn’t forget the brilliant Ben and the rest of the regular contributors here) based on a series of emails that started with ‘Oh and we could do this...’, ‘Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we tried this!’ and more so recently, ‘Oh my god I was just thinking that and about to email you. Again. After I’d finished reading those other 9 emails you sent...’ There’s something about this wobbly-limbed, totteryfooted, enthusiastically-giggling baby magazine that just makes both of us – I’m pretty sure Victoria will agree – ‘do it now’. Please know that Victoria is The Main Woman here. She is the genius with all the technicalities, plans and structure. I do... other stuff. However, we are, along with a huge team that’s just got bigger – I’ll introduce you to the Curiosity Super Stars later – doing it now and we’re working hard to bring, at your requests and because it HAS to happen, this magazine into a lick-your-finger-smell-theprint-turn-the-page-glorious-format that you, we, he, she and even little old me can hold in our hands and enjoy. And we need your help. In order to do the deed we need to make two magazines in


the old curiosity shop the time it usually takes to make one. Yep. Easy. A breeze... So, we’ll be working exceptionally hard over the next few weeks – I’m dreading seeing how big the bum-print on my desk chair becomes during this time – so keep an eye out for regular messages/tweets/FB updates on HOW we’re going to make this happen. And please, please, please support us in any way that you can. Spread the word; share a link; submit your stories, poems, flashes, memories, articles, art, photos and other creative endeavours to us. Need some inspiration? No problem! As always I’ve got an array of tasks for you to try out and use in whatever way you choose and I’ve also got my brilliant Curiosity Super Stars to inspire you too. Meet Mike Rowland, Donna Staveley, Rachel Quinn, Paul Hirons, Jen Hammell and Sally-Shakti Willow. Six very different writers reviewing various areas of the arts that have inspired them. And in addition to this, providing you with inspiration... Read on and find out. There really is no excuse not to write, draw, make or create something (do check out the fabulously talented Ellie’s section too) and send it to us for the one of the next two issues. Take a risk. Do it now! And of course we have The Curious Interviews. These interviews are an absolute, silent-squealing-

Creative Tasks

seal-paw-clapping joy for me. Every single person who I’ve interviewed – and people who have agreed to be interviewed for the next two issues who I’ve harassed shamelessly in advance – has been utterly lovely, honest and gregarious. I defy you not to be inspired by Marcus Markou, Morven Christie, Aschlin Ditta and Miriam Margolyes. They’re very different in numerous ways but what they undoubtedly share is that they’re all working incredibly hard, honestly, and using their talents in the best way possible... Inspiring doesn’t quite cut it actually. And any utterances of ‘I’m blocked’ or ‘I have to wait for the inspiration to come’ seem a little bit... Well, I let you fill that space. These people are most definitely Do-It-Nowers... no matter how long it takes. You’ll see what I mean after you’ve read the interviews. I swooned a lot in the last issue... This issue I’ve pulled a muscle in my neck from nodding enthusiastically in agreement to pretty much everything they said. Pleasure. Pain. Something, something... Totally worth it. So before you fill your cup full of wisdom tea, let me sprinkle in the sugar of some ideas and the milk of imagination first- Yeah, sorry about that... I want a cup of tea too now. Quickly grab a brew, grab your pad and pen and I’ll be right here waiting... Ok? Ready? Here we go...

TASK TWO: Hide Me From The World...

Choose one of the following people and make them face their fear. Show their transformation: The themes for the next TWO issues are 1) A man who is afraid of rain. 2) A girl too PUMPKIN and JOURNEY. scared to look up. 3) A boy who talks to birds and won’t leave the treehouse. 4) A woman who locks herself in and writes her life on her skin to help her remember.

PUMPKIN!

Think Cinderella at midnight. Halloween. Star dust. Shadow. Light. Think things becoming other things. Think transformation... ‘Oh yes, I hear you because ‘that’s kinda what’s happening with the magazine, right?’ Uh-huh. Exactly. Perfecto! Let’s go!

TASK ONE: ‘Ah...Come now, Cogsworth!’

Take a regular household item and turn it into anything you want that has some form of special power that you can use however you want. But of course with all magic there is trickery...and surprises...

TASK THREE: WORD-POT

Bones Rip Twigs Orange Crunch Hiss Glass Ribbon Daisy Tissue Liquid Change Eagle Pipe Bell Book Splinter Damp Knife Dust

TASK FOUR: Be who you wanna be, baby!

It’s time to get the ball gown on and let your hair down and sprinkle glitter all over your body ‘Because tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be... WHOEVER I WANT TO BE!” Just don’t choke on the smoke. Or fall down the step...

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JOURNEY!

Think endeavour! Earth! Fellowship! Trial! Magic! Hero! Quest! Voyage! Then maybe trains, planes, and automobiles? Steve Martin! Three Amigos? Desert! A great pilgrimage to obtain a thing...like a printed, glossy magazine perhaps? There you go...

TASK ONE: Give me somewhere to begin...

Use any of these sentences as a starting point, a middle point, an ending point or an anywhereyou-like point... “I can’t take you with me.” When the lights went out and I heard the screams, I realised we were moving. “You are here but he is there and I haven’t promised either of you a thing. But understand this: no human can ever be devoted to just one person. And if they say they are? Then they are lying.” When I think of the things we left behind I could cry. Jewellery, photographs, paintings from Paris, letters my grandfather sent to my grandmother before there was a war and before a time when words were more precious than they’ll ever be again. When I think of the man I’ve left behind I fear that my lungs will fail me and Emilia and Jacob will see just how very afraid I am. When I think of them, I know we must keep searching. Get your ticket. Catch the train. Sling that bag full of old clothes into the river. And once again you’re someone new. “I’m whoever you want me to be,” you whisper. Down on all fours, looking up to a face tightened with tears, sucking on a cigarette. His nails dig into your flesh. “At least for a while...

TASK THREE: Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Do something SMALL that makes you a little bit nervous every day for a week. You can do it. Yes, you can. Keep an account of each act and make a note of how it made you feel. Use all seven different events to create a piece of art.

TASK FOUR: Chaos!

A journey gone wrong. A train breaks down. The bus never comes. They miss the plane. He gets locked in a public toilet. She falls down a drain. Use one of these scenarios or one of your own and create the worst journey ever because only ‘Hell is ever interesting!’ and then slowly but surely turn it into a tremendous tale of travelling triumph...

TASK FIVE: Take me home. Or to a place that I can pretend is mine.

Lost, alone, rejected... Create a story of a person looking for somewhere to stay for the night... So there are some starting points... And over the next few weeks I’ll be tweeting other exercises you can try out too. Look out for #WTDCreativeCuriosity @Zzzzzandy

THE ALCOTT ROCKS WRITING CHALLENGE!!!

In the last issue I created an exercise for you to set yourself a challenge to complete a song, piece of art, sculpture, form of writing... Now never let it be said that I don’t practice what I preach for Rachel @ginquinn and I @Zzzzzandy have set ourselves our own writing challenge... Well, it’s not like we’re going to be busy or anything. Follow us on Twitter @AlcottRocks and our blog TASK TWO: Take me to a place that’s new... which also goes by the name of Alcott Rocks and Take a regular journey you make in REAL LIFE you’ll find out everything you need to know there. and take a different turning for once. Say hello We’re excited. We’re enthusiastic. We’re also a to the man that always smiles at you. Leave a gift little bit competitive... Next issue we’ll bring you on the doorstep of the woman who lives alone. a full report of how we got on. Or didn’t get on for Smell those flowers that always catch your eye. that matter. I love Rachel to bits. Adore her. Trust Read that sign that you’ve never read properly. her with my life. I really do. But I will win this. Use the new element of your journey to create a Somehow. Follow us. It’ll be BRILLIANT. story, poem, painting, sculpture, song, whatever...

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The Curiosity Super Star Reviews: Celebrating All Areas of the Arts The Midnight Garden

Michael Rowland

This section is all about literature written for children and young adults, and it’s a very biased collection of personal favourites from my own childhood. Each issue, I am going to be dredging up a favourite book I read as a child that has, for one reason or another, stayed with me. I will attempt to say a little about the story, and why in my opinion, it is such a classic. They may be well known or fairly obscure, but every book I discuss will be one that shaped a childhood – my own. So, wait for the clock to strike thirteen and have a wander through the shadowy garden of the past... The Devil on the Road – Robert Westall A story in which a guy on a motorbike tears off for a few weeks in the sunny Suffolk countryside and runs into a mysterious cat who’s always trying to tell him something, a farmer and his impossibly sexy wife, and a seventeenth century witch who is under threat of execution. Sounds like a very odd story for teenage boys, and for me, who read it whilst still in primary school; it was something of a revelation. In many ways, The Devil on the Road is an odd novel for Westall too. An avid reader of his works, I was used to World War Two intrigue, bombed out houses and orphaned children having to make it on their own (The Kingdom by the Sea is one of his best and most famous examples). Devil, however, is set in the late seventies (when the book was published) and has an eighteen year old student as protagonist. John Webster roars off on his motorbike for a jolly, escaping the searing heat of London for summer in the coolness and open air of Suffolk. Almost immediately, things start to go wrong – forced to take shelter in a barn because of a sudden storm, John surprises what he presumes to be a man dressed in Civil War costume. Unusual events keep happening, and seem especially connected to a small grey cat he calls News. Eventually, he follows News through

a hedge and finds himself in seventeenth century England, embroiled in an odd romance with a suspected witch called Johanna Vavasour, who is beautiful and knowing. Able to flit between both times, John manages to rescue Johanna and bring her back to the present – but he may have got more than he bargained for. John is a difficult hero to like sometimes – he is often savage and selfish – but he also readily admits his faults and acknowledges when he is wrong. There is something desperately sad about Devil, and this is not surprising: the book was written after Westall’s own son died in a motorbike accident aged eighteen. The feeling of loss is one that permeates the entire book, and is one reason why I love it so much – its honesty and rawness. I think it is now out of print, which is a shame because it is an incredible achievement by an incredible writer. Westall was never one to glorify life – quite the opposite – but his gruff directness and evocative writing both haunted and cheered me. Mike Rowland used to be a teacher but now he’s a student again. He is finishing his MA in Literature at the University of Sussex, and will start his PhD in September 2012. He loves reading (obviously) and occasionally doing his own writing. He also loves food, drink, walks, films, museums and art galleries, the city and the countryside, and sudden bouts of energy followed by long periods of hibernation.

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A Staged Affair Donna Staveley

This section is about various plays and musicals I’ve seen and will hopefully cover some shows you should recognise, as well some lesser known and new pieces of theatre. You may not agree with what I have to say, but this is nothing more than my personal thoughts, why I enjoyed them or found them particularly memorable or moving. So shush now, the lights are down, the curtain has gone up and the overture is starting... Les Misérables I was given two tickets to see Les Misérables as a present in 1987. With no real desire to see a show that didn’t sound much fun, I was not filled with enthusiasm but it was, however, the beginning of an as yet unending love affair. The musical is based upon Victor Hugo’s novel, set in early Nineteenth century France. Jean Valjean, an ex-convict released after serving 19 years on a prison chain-gang is refused work, until he is offered food and shelter by a kindly Bishop. But Valjean steals some silverware and is arrested by Inspector Javert. He is forced to release Valjean after the Bishop lies, saying nothing has been stolen and gives Valjean a pair of silver candlesticks, telling him to use them to become a better man. Valjean, having broken his parole and changed his name, becomes a respected factory owner and Mayor. Fantine, a factory worker, is cast out when her co-workers discover she has an illegitimate daughter Cosette, who is looked after by Monsieur Thénardier and his wife, unpleasant and criminal inn-keepers. Desperate to pay for her child’s upkeep, despite being ill, Fantine is reduced to selling her body in prostitution. She is arrested by Javert after being in a fight, but Valjean intervenes and insists she is taken to hospital. He promises he will find and care for Cosette, but Javert unsuccessfully tries to arrest him, after becoming aware he is the parole breaker. Valjean escapes and pays the Thénardiers to allow Cosette to leave with him. On the eve of the Paris Uprising of 1832 the paths of Valjean, Cosette, the Thénardiers and Javert all cross again. Marius, an idealistic student, bumps into Cosette and the pair fall for each other, bringing heartache to Éponine, the daughter of the Thénardiers, who loves Marius herself. For the sake of anyone that has not seen it I won’t spoil the outcome of the show. However, the second act unfolds with the students’

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battle with the army, unrequited love and selfless acts, death and sacrifice for beliefs, thieving in the sewers, the final confrontation between Valjean and Javert and a stirring and emotional finale. What more could you want? The relationship and conflict between Valjean and Javert is a recurring element through the show, however it is not the archetypal good guy/bad guy battle. Although Valjean is an ex-convict and breaks his parole, his inherent goodness shines through. His quest for redemption, his love for Cosette, the actions he takes for her and even the manner he carries out the conflict with Javert; all of this makes him a character worthy of the “hero” label. The story is told through a truly wonderful score, emotional and rousing songs; most people at very least know “I Dreamed A Dream” as a result of Susan Boyle singing it on Britain’s Got Talent. And I defy anyone to come up with a better way than “One Day More” to close a first act; the entire cast on stage, weaving snippets of individual stories, dreams and fears, coming together in a gloriously fabulous crescendo of their hopes of what the day ahead will bring. Without fail it makes the hair on my neck stand up and leaves me practically breathless. Now in a record-breaking 27th year, I’ve seen it on stage eight times (so far) and watched the video/ DVD countless times... yet its emotional impact on me has not diminished. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you have, go see it again... you might find me sitting behind you! Theatre-whore (will go anywhere to see anything with anyone), reader of books (avid); giver of hugs (real and virtual); maker of cakes (and eater); believer in unicorns (they DO exist); drinker of wine (explains the unicorns); incessant chatterer/giggler (honestly, never shuts up); far too easily amused by most things (especially herself ); sharer of words and stuff (novice). Can be found wittering on Twitter as @doonakebab.


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Do Look Now Rachel Quinn

In ‘Do Look Now’, I’ll be writing about my favourite films, which will be connected (sometimes loosely) to the monthly ‘What the Dickens’ theme. As well as looking at films from the past, I’ll also be looking forward to future exciting releases...

Little Miss Sunshine (Directed by Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris)

“Everyone pretend to be normal” says Richard Hoover (Greg Kinnear) to his family shortly before one of the funniest moments in Little Miss Sunshine. I love this line from Little Miss Sunshine because it acknowledges the rarely discussed truth: families are never normal and often are prime breeding grounds for craziness. When I discovered the theme for the July/ August issue of What the Dickens was sunflowers, the bright yellow DVD case of the brilliant Little Miss Sunshine popped in to my mind. As hinted above, I find Little Miss Sunshine inspiring because it has this amazing mix of dysfunctional and broken characters who are all very believable (certainly when compared to my own family!). What is most endearing about this bunch of characters is their love and dedication to Olive Hoover. Olive holds the family together and unites them all as they help and protect her from her dream to win the Little Miss Sunshine pageant.

It is also hard not to love Edwin Hoover (Alan Arkin) who says and does a whole variety of things that would be considered inappropriate, which includes teaching Olive a dance inspired by a strip tease. Despite Edwin doing a lot of things throughout the film that are socially unacceptable, you can’t help thinking that his attitude to life is great. The main thing I love about this film is the major conflict between optimism and reality, which is an issue that is close to my heart. Whilst the characters in the film are a mix of pessimists, realists and misguided optimists, the importance of persevering and protecting dreams emerges as the central theme. If you haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine, I’d very much recommend checking it out. There are great performances all round, but especially from Alan Arkin, Steve Carrell and Abigail Breslin. Creatively there is so much to take inspiration from! It is worth watching the DVD as you can hear commentaries from Dayton and Faris who talk through some alternative endings for Little Miss Sunshine. Rachel Quinn works in Higher Education and lives in Brighton. When she’s not working, Rachel pretty much lives in the cinema, occasionally venturing out into the light to read, drink coffee and to write. She rambles on about films and posts lots of bunny pictures on twitter at @ginquinn

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Lost & Found Paul Hirons

Bestsellers be damned. Paul Hirons is on the hunt for the best books you’ve never heard of. Like most right-minded humans, I love to read. Novels, biographies, the occasional chocolate bar wrapper… even, during one regrettable weekend, Tyra Banks’s Modelland (which somehow contrives to qualify, in the Venn diagram of literature, as all three). Up until now, my quest for a decent read has barely strayed from the Waterstone’s bestseller list, interspersed with infrequent, guilt-fuelled flings with ought-to-have-read classics. But recently, I’ve developed a hankering for something new; to stride confidently off the beaten track and launch myself, with scant regard for mixed metaphors, into uncharted waters. That’s ‘Lost & Found’ in a nutshell: uncovering and sharing the obscure and not-so-obscure gems you might have missed. Welcome! I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan This edition’s recommendation is I, Lucifer, by Glen Duncan (Scribner, 2002), a pitchblack comedy narrated by the Devil himself, as he tentatively agrees to the Almighty’s offer of redemption, which hinges on spending one relatively innocent month in human form. The human in question: Declan Gunn, a suicidal writer whose name happens to be an anagram of the author’s own. First things first: for all its philosophical musings and beautifully constructed contemplation of the human condition, divinity, faith, the cosmos and salvation, I, Lucifer is, quite simply, very funny. Wilfully offensive, wildly blasphemous, Duncan’s Lucifer is a wonderfully engaging, memorable and – yes – charming creation. Whether it’s his envious disdain for Jesus (“He stands under a silver tree in Paradise with unwashed dreads and a beard the size of a sheep, muttering and doing those mad tramp things with his hands”) or merry dismissal of the notion that gays go to Heaven (“Lezzers are borderline; room for manoeuvres if they’ve done social work”), the narrative tone is bating, playful, and never less than bewitching. Yet this is more than Miltonian (or indeed Jagger-ian; both receive honourable mentions) Sympathy for the Devil. Duncan’s Lucifer is by turns confused, contradictory, terrifying. Revelling in his more grisly accomplishments – one lingering flashback to a medieval witch trial

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will stay with you long after the book has ended – he also exists in a state of constant agony (physical and existential), acutely aware of the futility of railing against an omniscient higher power, but unable to escape his destiny. It’s unsurprising, then, that Duncan is at his best during Lucifer’s rambling, vainglorious oratory. His retelling of the stories of Creation and the Fall from Eden (Adam is a “gurgling retarded child”, Eve a progressive pragmatist with a pet cat called Misty) are master classes in tone and delivery, inevitably overshadowing the passages that focus on human counterpart Declan Gunn’s unfulfilled life. Yet if the tension slackens from time to time, stand-out moments abound, not least a description of total sensory overload during our anti-hero’s first corporeal moments, filtered through an on-going frustration with the limitations of human language and perception. I, Lucifer will inevitably divide readers; its less savoury moments and beyond-the-knuckle humour won’t be to everyone’s taste. But while Duncan’s uncomfortable exposure of humanity’s darker impulses may not leave you brimming with pride in your fellow man, it does ultimately provide a potent, haunting read – one that seems infused with an infernal power of its own. Paul Hirons is a word-dabbler, bookworm and frustrated Victorian governess. He spent his early teenage years acquiring an encyclopaedic knowledge of the young adult Point Horror franchise, to the detriment of establishing any human friendships. To the best of his knowledge, he has never crossed paths with Satan.


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A Blueprinted World: Life by design Jen Hammell

Design is everywhere. Each day is a series of experiences occurring in and influenced by the various spatial environments we encounter. In this section, I’ll share my thoughts about the different people, places, things, and even concepts that inspire the creation of those spaces and/or the buildings they inhabit. Join me in exploring what sparks the creative process of spatial design and it’s influence on our daily lives. Wander into my mind’s eye and pull up a comfy chair. A Walk in the Park Mother Nature is the best designer, ever. From flowering fields to glorious sunsets, the perfect prowess of her design aesthetic cannot be argued. More pragmatically, from thistle burrs inspiring Velcro to sunflower seed patterns inspiring improved solar energy design, her influence in our lives is profound. My own relationship with nature is inherent. It’s not by chance that every room in my home has windows with leafy tree views. It’s even less surprising that I live in Chicago, the “City in a Garden”, with 7,300 acres of parkland and 29 miles of assessable lakefront. One of my favorite public spaces is our Millennium Park. Designed to physically and culturally interact with visitors, one of its most popular highlights is Anish Kapoor’s large, legume-shaped sculpture affectionately known as “The Bean”. Walking around and underneath it engages tourists and locals, alike, to interact with its polished, reflective surface, igniting our imaginative delight and playful hearts.

Equally impressive is the concert pavilion, a 120-foot-high Frank Gehry-designed proscenium flaunting undulating curves of metal forms that compel you to escape the (downtown) Loop streetscape and head toward the lakefront. The open, trellis-like framework that juts out overhead and delineates the grassy audience space anchors

these organic, reflective shapes in a delicious mix of fluidity and structure, a perfect transition between the organic experience of Lake Michigan and the controlled grid architecture of the Loop. Strolling off from here, Gehry’s sinuous, 925-foot pedestrian bridge meanders like a river across Columbus Drive, offering terrific views of the lake and skyline. Nearby is the quietly inviting Lurie Garden. A section of tree-canopied, shade-loving plants is beautifully separated from an open section of sun-loving perennials by a wooden footpath that follows a trickling, man-made stream, beckoning you to kick off your shoes and dip your toes. And one of the most thoughtful public water features imaginable is Juame Plensa’s Crown Fountain. With a subtle nod to fountain gargoyles everywhere, opposing 50-foot towers project a series of video facial portraits featuring hundreds of Chicagoans. Children of all ages delight in splashing around the reflecting pool in between, while water cascades down the sides of each tower at different intervals. At one point, each portrait spouts water from its mouth, with children quickly memorizing the timing for maximum soaking potential. Visiting this park always reminds me why I was inspired to go into interior design. By engaging our affinity for nature, the park beautifully expresses how good design can better our quality of life. Beyond function and aesthetic, design should also serve to inspire us by nurturing and empowering the soul to meet the daily challenges of fulfilling our dreams and ambitions. Nature (even when recreated by man) offers this up with intrinsic ease and grace. I continue to watch and learn. Jen Hammell is an Interior Designer practicing professionally in the industry for over 10 years, as well as teaching and being involved with design-related charities. She is currently exploring ideas for a Social Enterprise to promote positive change in urban communities.

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The Art of Devotion Sally-Shakti Willow

Ancient associations with the verb ‘to inspire‘ include ‘to breathe life in‘ and to suggest by divine influence‘ So the act of creating something beautiful, whether it be architecture, artistry or alchemy is a process of inspired transformation. This section is dedicated to exploring the creative arts that open a door to eternity... The Planets Gustav Holst

It’s very significant that there are seven movements in Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Each one, inspired by a different planet and its astrological attributes, has a unique energy. Holst was interested in exploring the planets’ influence on us as people. The effect is both physical and spiritual: The Planets takes us on a journey from root to crown towards the Divine. Rumbling into life like a tank in the distance before exploding viscerally into our presence, The Planets opens with Mars – The Bringer of War, which I like to interpret as The Bringer of Change, or Action. The energy of Mars is immediate. It demands our attention and involvement. We can’t help but move and be moved. The bassy beating of strings and drums, with rising brass and horns threatens to tear our world apart; and it does. But this is the energy of change. Tumultuous, sometimes terrifying, change rips open a hole for the wind to rush through until the old is blown away. Mars, as bringer of change, clears the way for new life. Like a forest fire. Or the Hindu god Shiva, whose cosmic dance is creation and destruction in the perpetual cycle of life, death and rebirth. Rather than being a bleak and tragic end, Mars is just the beginning. It’s immediately contrasted by the serenity of Venus – The Bringer of Peace, and the swiftly hopeful Mercury – The Winged Messenger. Why arrange the planets in this way, instead of the more logical distance-from-the-sun order? Holst structured this suite according to

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astrology, not astronomy, so they follow the signs of the zodiac starting with Aries. And, I believe, in ascending order of the music’s presiding energy. Each movement feels attuned to a particular chakra. So, at the heart of The Planets is Jupiter – The Bringer of Jollity. This drop-everything-anddance movement surges like wave after wave on a shimmering ocean. It was once said to me that this piece invokes a sense of the sea swelling and rolling. And if you listen to it with your whole body, you can get that feeling. Jupiter speaks directly to the heart in great undulating rhythms of joyous energy. Opening our heart is the biggest step we can take towards the Divine. Sombre Saturn – The Bringer of Old Age holds a sense of dignity, trepidation and resignation, exploring the poignant nature of our relationship with Time – in which all the pleasures of our life unfold, but which carries us relentlessly towards our own end. Then Uranus – The Magician boldly scoops us up and marches us ever onwards to that strange uncertain destination. The final movement, Neptune – The Mystic completes our journey into the cosmic realm of cool, dark mystery. Celestial harps and hauntingly angelic choral voices lift us beyond ourselves into etheric consciousness. Neptune’s crystalline evocation of stars and space fades into the perfect silence of the unknown, where, if we listen, we might just hear ourselves in the song of our Creator. Sally Willow lives and works within the cradle of the South Downs. She is a teacher, writer, storyteller and workshop leader. For more information, please visit innernature. org.uk.


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The Curiosity Super Stars’ Creative Tasks: S

o not only have the lovely Curiosity Super Stars delivered the gorgeous, glorious gifts of their fine, unique, comical and sometimes unnerving thoughts on various areas of the arts for YOU, they’ve also given you ANOTHER present. How fabulous, eh? I’m so glad that my gentle encouragement of ‘Yes, you will do this! There’s absolutely no pressure at all you understand but do this. DO THIS. DO THIS NOW. I’m watching you through your bedroom window and I can’t see you furiously creating your creative task for our readers. What’s wrong with you?!’ I supported them in bringing these sunflower seeds of inspiration to the page for you. I feel proud. I feel excited. I feel that you absolutely must try one of these tasks which they’ve all created in connection with their reviews... Perhaps you could try ALL of them? Now there’s an idea... Enjoy! MIKE’S TASK: Many of the events in the The Devil on the Road revolve around a cat who has an urgent look about it – hence John calling it ‘News’. Anthropomorphising animals is a common trick in children’s literature, but here Westall does it subtly. News looks like she has something to say, but she never actually speaks. Poets sometimes use this technique too, as in Ted Hughes’s The Thought Fox, where the animal takes on figurative importance. Using the suggestions below, pick an animal and try to anthropomorphise it convincingly. You could perhaps write a poem describing the animal, or a piece of prose describing a person’s reaction to this almost-human animal, as Westall does. Owl/ Dog/ Shark/ Rat/ Heron/ Squirrel/ Goldfish/ Tortoise/ Snake/ Sparrow DONNA’S TASK: Choose a famous historical event and tell the story of one of the “ordinary” people involved in it... Give us their pain, their love, their fears, their obsession. Give us their view of their world. RACHEL’S TASK: Can you believe that Little Miss Sunshine was released in 2006? Finally Dayton and Faris’ new film Ruby Sparks will be released in the UK in October 2012. Ruby Sparks is the story of a writer who falls in love with a character he’s writing about, who then comes to life. The writer in the film is played by Paul Dano who played Dwayne in Little Miss Sunshine and the screenplay for Ruby Sparks was written by Paul Dano’s real life girlfriend, Zoe Kazan. I’m really intrigued about seeing this film and it is has inspired this month’s creative task...

What would happen if one of your favourite characters from a film or a book came to life? Where would they go and what would they do? Or perhaps there is a famous character that you could fall in love with? You could write a short story that explores the experience of the famous character in the ‘real’ world or perhaps you could write some diary entries about their encounters. There’s lots of inspiration you can take from television, films and books. For example the series Lost in Austen has a slightly different story for Mr Darcy and Elizabeth. Alternatively I would recommend reading some of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. These stories include a whole host celebrated fictional characters, but most famously Miss Havisham features as a Literary Police Agent of sorts. PAUL’S TASK: What’s your number one off-the-wall literary recommendation? The one book you adore that no-one has ever heard of ? Here at Lost & Found we’re a two-way street, so your mission is a simple one: just tweet me your favourites at @PaulHi using the hashtag #Lost&Found. JEN’S TASK: You’ve been commissioned to design a public art piece to be located in a civically prominent area (a park, city/village square, etc.). The only specific requirements for the design is that it must include elements that symbolically, but not literally, reflect the location where it is to be installed and provide some means of interaction with your intended audience. Using a location and materials of your choosing, draw a sketch (or create a miniature in your choice of medium) of your sculpture design and describe how/ why it meets the above criteria. SALLY’S TASK: Try this creative meditation and write/draw/sing/dance to express the feelings and images that arise: You open a door in your heart. Inside, like clockwork: cogs and wheels whirring and turning in time and rhythm. Beyond the machine is an open space. You’ve never noticed it before: a tiny glimmer of blackest night. Drawn to its deep mystery you peer through the circles of time – into infinity. Glistening stars greet you, like jewelled sequins. The universe is here – created cosmos rolling slowly away and on forever beyond the sky. You can see it now. But more, much more than that, you can feel it too: expanding in your heart. Each star and planet alive in your soul – and you – held within each atom. Their movements are your own body; your thoughts are their consciousness. And here you are. And Here You Are…

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Curious Interviews by Sandy East

Marcus Markou

In terms of the process of film making, I only know what I experienced. And for me, the entire process was driven by a story that I’d been working on since my teens. I am the son of immigrants and I wanted to explore the idea of what is lost “The love of family is real... when an immigrant family become established in Part of me thinks I wrote this a host country. I needed to get a family back to their roots and I used a fictional economic crash film to learn this lesson.” as a device to force a wealthy family back to an old arcus Markou had a story he needed to tell, fish and chip shop. This device is now proving to a film that he needed to make, and a lot to be very relevant because the real economic crisis learn. So he went and did just that. And then is forcing us all to do something similar. We are some. Meet the writer and director of the hotly- all questioning what is important now. anticipated Papadopoulos & Sons, a comedy drama that slowly and ever so very surely is In terms of theme, story, background, the making itself known, and prepare to make notes. collaborative process, and the casting of Stephen And the occasional ‘That makes so much sense...’, and Frank Dillane, and the way in which the cast ‘Blimey, he’s on to something there...’, Wow!’ type and crew worked together as a whole, it seems declaration. This is a man with a big heart and a that this is a film that is, and has been, very big message to deliver. Comfy chair? Check. Pen much a family affair in every possible sense... and paper? Check. Brainy-eyes on? Check. Let the Yes, one of the themes of the film is that it is the family business, the small business – what they Markou masterclass begin... call the Mom and Pop store in the States – that can Marcus, you’ve written, directed, and now provide sustainability in a time of crisis. These seem to be on a non-stop tour of festivals and are my own values. I believe in self-sufficiency screenings for your first feature-length film, and the family business is a model for that. And Papadopoulos & Sons. Tell us about the film of course, we ran the set like that too – inclusive, and the process of developing it from an idea to democratic and family friendly.

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now, finally, sharing it with audiences. And do you think you should maybe have a nap? Yes, you are right. I should stop and I have been forced to stop. My three year old boy broke his leg rather badly recently and it forced us all to stop because he was put in a Spica plaster – from his chest to his feet. We all had to learn some patience. He’s just come out of plaster now and I’m already looking back at the time of hunkering down at home for the last six weeks as a happy time. Money, status, ego, our selfish desires are all illusions. The love of family is real. And yes, this is at the very heart of Papadopoulos & Sons. I sort of lived the message of the film in the last few weeks. Part of me thinks I wrote this film to learn this lesson.

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The key message to the film is only when you lose everything, do you find it all... and it’s one that resonates strongly with our society today given the economic climate and the fact that so many people have experienced just that. Recently we discussed the idea that if you create a film or any form of art out of love then can you really put a price on it or expect to prosper financially from it? The discussion was left open but what I’d like to know is did you go into making Papadopoulos & Sons with your focus purely on ‘I’m making this film because I have to and I want to’ and decide to ‘lose’ financial expectations from the start? If yes, do you think that freed you up to make a richer film emotionally?


the old curiosity shop No one can really plan for financial success in films. Some films tick all the marketing boxes, they have the right stars, the right director and what seems like a good story. But once released it dies in front of an audience. Other films don’t tick any of the film marketing boxes and they become sensational hits. You cannot plan for success. I am quite hopeful for Papadopoulos & Sons because at the outset every distributor in the UK said that the film was not commercial and it didn’t tick any marketing boxes! But whether they are right or wrong means very little. The truth is, you can only make the very best film you can. And for me it was a story that I needed to tell. I needed to make this film. If I could have written the story in a novel or made it into a play, I would have gladly done that. And I did try writing this story as a novel and as a play but it just didn’t work for me. When I came to write the film script it seemed a much easier process. The story lent itself to being a film script – quite naturally – but you still have to put in all the structural work you would do for a novel and you need those characters to be as real and alive as they would need to be in a stage play. Now that the film has been made I simply cannot control its future. It’s a contradiction. I had 100% control in the making of this film. However, now that it is made the film goes on its own journey without me. One might say that the beauty to be found in times like these it’s that they encourage people to be more resourceful and committed to creating the projects they want to make without relying on big-wigs and that it’s a prime time for independent creatives. Given your experience as a writer, director, actor and businessman, it seems to me that your transition to independent film-maker is a natural progression for you – do you agree? Yes, it has been very straightforward for me because I had a story I personally connected with. It made me feel alive when writing it. I’ve pushed on doors that just would not open. We all have. We push and push and push. But they are meant to be shut. And part of that reason is because it’s our ego pushing on the door not our true self. So the door remains shut to us. To protect us. For example, I was not meant to be an actor. Yet I was meant to excel at drama school. How can that be? In hindsight, you would say I got enough from being at drama school to serve what I needed.

And what the world needed as well. The world didn’t need me to be an actor. That’s a very tough thing to accept. But what I didn’t know back then was that I needed to be a drama school, to excel as an actor, believing that this would be my life in order to make a film like Papadopoulos & Sons later. I’m very comfortable around actors as a result. I’ve been one. I’m very comfortable around money and balancing the books because I’ve run a business. But does that mean I now have to go make another film? Now that I have all the tools to make films? And now more experience? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know yet. I only know that we all need to keep moving forward. It’s really hard because your ego wants to say… “Yes, I’m now a film maker – I’ve arrived – and I can go to parties and festivals and wear the robes of a ‘film maker’” But the truth is I’m also a teacher and because I made this film outside the system perhaps my job will be to teach others to do the same. I don’t know yet. I would like to make another film but I would need to feel as if I had to make it, not because I could make it. And there is a danger of falling into a system that churns out films that can be made, not need to be made. As with everything in life, our previous experiences feed into the art that we create and you’ve mentioned before how your experiences have undoubtedly served you well in making Papadopoulos & Sons. What I’m interested to find out is how much did you learn from making your short film, The Last Temptation of Chris, and in what ways did that prepare you and influence the choices you made in making a full-length film? I enrolled on a short part time film making course at Met Film School in West London. I wanted to see whether I could grasp the technicalities of film making. I was writing plays but not having much success. I was still learning to write. I just didn’t understand structure – or its importance. So the short film came out of being at Met Film School. At first, I was not going to direct it. I saw myself as a writer and a producer but not a director. So I started looking around to hire a director and my teacher at film school said that this was a mistake. She pointed out that I was more than capable of directing it. I guess I was frightened, petrified of the idea. I remember walking towards the set for the first time as a director and I said to myself, I will

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the old curiosity shop know by the end of today whether I am cut out for this or not. I will just know. Of course, it was the best day of filming you could hope for. Everything went smoothly and we had great luck too. We were shooting in February on the South Bank and we needed one shot of Ed Stoppard looking out towards St Pauls. When we turned the camera around to get this shot, the grey London clouds broke apart and the sun hit St Pauls. It felt magical. We were all like kids. Everyone got very excited. The cameraman couldn’t believe it and kept saying that I had what all good directors and football managers needed to succeed – good luck! That day left me on a big high because everyone kept saying that it was one of their best days ever on a film set. It flowed and there was good banter and everyone and the weather was in sync. I thought… “Okay, this is definitely for me… I like it! I want more!” If you could suggest an ideal or a general training guide of sorts for someone wanting to go into film-making what would be on it? What do you feel they need to know and need to be aware of? What’s the best advice you can offer? You just have to follow your heart. It’s really hard to do because your heart might suggest something else. I really wanted to be an actor and I followed as much advice as I could – read the books, sent off my CV, pushed and pushed and pushed. And then one day a friend suggested that if I loved acting so much, did I really need it to be a career? Why didn’t I just do amateur dramatics. I was filled with dread at the idea but she was right. It was about acting, not about outward success as an actor. And so I joined an Impro Theatre Company in London called Fluxx. I discovered that you didn’t need to be a paid actor to truly love acting. And I probably learned more from being in a 45 minute improvised drama on stage than I would have learned being in a run of a professional play. It helped me become a better writer because when you are improvising you don’t have time to think and so you are often making creative choices that would normally be booted into touch by the mechanical brain. So the advice I give is simple. Follow your heart. Do the things you enjoy. If you enjoy telling stories with a camera and actors, you have no excuse not to do it because you can do that simply now and you can put your films on the internet too. And you will learn so much more by doing that than getting a job in the photocopying department at Paramount.

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Who have been and who still are your biggest influences in terms of films, plays, directors, actors, and writers and why? There are so many but I’ve always been drawn to the writer/directors such as Powell/Pressburger, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen. I’ve always loved the comedy drama in film and TV. For plays, I’ve always been drawn to the poetic and abstract – John Whiting, Pinter, Beckett but also the comic like Dario Fo (I got to play the maniac in a school production of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist when I was 14). I’m a fan of most actors. You’d have to press me hard about an actor I didn’t actually like. But my favourites are those that get away with being larger than life because you can see them take risks without any fear of consequences. This is what made Marlon Brando so good. And of course, I probably learned more about acting method watching Stephen Dillane and Georges Corraface at work than I ever did at drama school. I would forget I was making the film sometimes because I just struck by the detail of what they were doing. You’ve said before that you do all of this because you ‘love stories’ – what are the nuts and bolts of a great story for you? A good story is seeing how someone grows – positively or negatively – as a result of the circumstances they find themselves in. But make sure that: (1) The ‘someone’ is an interesting ‘someone’ (2) That the growth is big (either big negative or big positive) (3) That the circumstances the ‘someone’ finds themselves in arise because of their desire for something that is intricately linked to who they are or think they are. Marcus trained at LAMDA. He has written two plays – ‘Age-Sex-Location’ (Riverside Studios 2004) and ‘Ordinary Dreams; Or How to Survive a Meltdown with Flair’ (Trafalgar Studios 2009). He has been described by the Sunday Telegraph as “a new and, more excitingly, good playwright”. He attended Met Film School and made his first short film, The Last Temptation of Chris, in 2010. He is a co-founder and Chairman of Dynamis – an online publishing group. Papadopoulos & Sons is his first feature-length film.


the old curiosity shop

Morven Christie “You have the ability to make someone’s life better if you’re brave enough to really tell the truth...”

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nd the truth is what you’ll always get from this meditative, mighty-hearted and, morethan-a-little-bit-marvellous actress. Meet Twenty Twelve’s Official-Olympics-table-turner, Hunted’s super-intelligent-super-spy, and one of Scotland’s best, Morven Christie, as we discuss working from your soul, a sense of home, and the ways in which we grow...

intimidating. I don’t consider myself a comic actress, and that lot are brilliant, so that’s a bit scary. Joining an already established show, with a brilliant cast who already know each other – being the new girl essentially – that’s scary. And on top of that, there’s the fact that she’s essentially a nemesis character – created to wind up another. I’m essentially quite sensitive, so it was pretty tough at times! It felt like I needed thicker skin. The scripts are indeed genius, that’s more true than anyone realises. What appears to be a very free, improvisational process is in fact completely the opposite. EVERYTHING is scripted. They’re the toughest scripts in the world to learn – I mean, I’ve learned entire Shakespeare plays in half the time it takes me to get one of those meeting room scenes lodged in! John’s got this way of writing – it’s incredibly precise, as if he literally hears it in his head. The level of observance, the linguistic detail is amazing, truly. I’m sure he would graciously say no one could play our roles but us, but I have to say I don’t think that’s true in my case. All I have to do is say it exactly how it’s written – the pauses, the ums and ers, the overlaps, and at the right pace. When you get that right it’s automatically funny because the script is funny. But there’s very little ‘me’ in there. More often than not I would end the day feeling like I hadn’t done very good work, and wondering why he cast me!

Morven Christie, Acting-Superstar-WeegieYogi-Kick-Ass-Goddess and bloomin’ beautiful brilliant human being, I am beyond thrilled that you’ve agreed to let me interview you. This is great. Are you feeling great? Is life great for you right now? Life is great right now, yes! Though I think my challenge is remembering to check in with myself, taking my own quiet moments to hear my own heart, regardless of whether things are great or Your next TV project is Hunted, which is due to not, you know? It’s a journey after all... be aired in October. Words such as ‘espionage’, Twenty Twelve, not just a brilliant year for you ‘government’, ‘action’, ‘chases’, and ‘secrets’ are so far but, of course, also John Morton’s brilliant being thrown around and naturally I’ve got award-winning comedy in which you play – and images of you kicking ass, doing James Bondthis is my expert opinion here – the coolest, style rolling down hills, and generally socking cleverest, classiest and most capable member of it to The Man in every way possible – how far the Olympic Deliverance team, Head of Legacy, off the scale am I? Tell us about the show. Fi Healey. Perfect casting, darling! PERFECT. You’re not far off the scale at all! Though sadly What was it like working with the cast and Melissa George gets to do most of the ass-kicking crew and getting to grips with the genius but and hill-rolling. My character, Zoe, is mostly the intelligence girl – a computer whizz and superfamously tricky Morton scripts? Fi is indeed cool and clever and capable. I’d spy with the odd bit of fast driving thrown in. probably dispute ‘classy’ – and you might too The characters are all ex special forces or ex MI6. when you see the final episodes! She’s not the The show is created and mostly written by Frank ‘new girl’ anymore, and the gloves are well and Spotnitz, who’s responsible for much of The X-Files. So you can imagine, I’m sure, that he has truly off. It’s a really tricky show to shoot, Twenty Twelve. quite the skill when it comes to creating intricate I was a big fan of the show before I joined it (I story. It’s full of twists and turns – I’m not sure notoriously hate comedy so that’s quite a big even WE followed it a lot of the time! It’s very deal), and while that’s lovely, it’s also hugely slick, a kind of intelligent action series. Quite a

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the old curiosity shop departure for me. Some great actors in there too – I avoid comedy generally, I won’t read for things – I think Patrick Malahide is fantastic in it. I find exploitative or misogynistic, and there are certain theatre roles I won’t go in for if I don’t feel So your next film is Shell, which is a very that something in me will grow from playing it – different story, yes? Share with us a synopsis of but otherwise I just audition for what I like and sorts and a little about the process of making hope the universe has a plan for me. There are the film please. jobs I’ve done entirely for my soul, and jobs I’ve I had such a tiny contribution to Shell that I feel done entirely for practical reasons. Some have fed like a charlatan talking about it! Shell is the story me artistically, some by enabling me to live better of a teenage girl and her father who live in a in some way. It’s all life. It’s all of value. petrol station in a remote part of the highlands. It’s about loneliness really. How these two people You were in Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men Should deal with their loneliness in this incredibly lonely Weep at the National and it was so well-received. landscape. Shell experiences the outside world It’s a play that through a series of trials celebrates through people that stop in, and gradually that the strength of community and particularly changes her. It’s one of the most beautiful scripts between women. What was it like to be part of I’d ever read. It’s very sparse a female-strong production in terms of dialogue – which in terms of portraying the is so refreshing as most have story and working in that far too much, leaving no kind of dynamic? I get the space for simple humanity. feeling that being a part of We’re obsessed with words Men Should Weep was a big here, and sometimes silence is time of transition for you on more truthful. It was bliss to various levels. be allowed to tell a characters Men Should Weep was that story through *being* rather rare thing where everything than *talking*. Scott Graham comes together. The right is probably the most talented, role, the right play, the right soulful writer and director company, the right director, I’ve ever come across. No and the glorious National training, no flashy degree, Theatre. I fell in love with no film pedigree, just talent everything and everyone on and art. His last short Native that job, including myself I Son was at Cannes a couple of think. I’d had a fairly unhappy years ago and Shell is his first feature film. It was experience with the last theatre job I’d done – heaven to work on because of the script, because which was a long one – and this just gave me of the atmosphere on the set, and because I was in back my soul. I’d been a sort of exile in London the highlands, the land of my soul. I only wish I’d for a decade, feeling a bit different but thinking had more than two days! it was just me. I got into this rehearsal room with all these Scots and I realised – it’s not just me. What makes you such an exciting actress, We’re culturally different. We just are. And it was Morven, is that I can never predict what you’re so freeing to be there. Such a soulful, nurturing, going to do next due to the diversity of parts funny, honest group of people, who understood you undertake. Versatility, verve and challenge each other. Who understood ME. I’d never felt at seem to be key driving forces in the career home in a theatre company until that one. And I choices you make. Would you agree with that? still think of them that way. The play was about What do you generally look for in a script and a OUR world, OUR language, parts of OUR own role to make you really zing? histories. I was able to use myself in that role in I’d really love to say I choose my parts but the truth a way I hadn’t had the opportunity to in YEARS. is it’s never really worked that way for me. There Shakespeare and Chekhov are great, but if you’re a are things I choose NOT to be in the running for young woman you’re not going to get to plumb the

“I needed to say things and I got to say them through art – what could be better? That’s the whole reason I wanted to act in the first place.”

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the old curiosity shop offer up to anybody thinking of entering the acting profession? Know WHY you need or want to do it. In fact, if it’s a want rather than a need I’d say think again. It’s a great responsibility telling someone else’s story. You have the ability to make someone’s life better if you’re brave enough to really tell the truth. You can make someone feel less alone. Understood. Part of the world rather than separate from it. That’s the purpose of art, I believe. To unite. And you have to have that intention deep inside your soul because as an actor you’re going to be rejected constantly for silly things like the way You’ve worked with an array of highly regarded you look. If you’re tough enough for that to never actors, directors and writers such as Olivia hurt you’re probably too tough to really be a great Colman, Sophie Okonedo, Sam Mendes, Josie actor. Your personal WHY has to be big enough Rourke, Tom Stoppard, Alan Bleasdale and to cancel out the hurts. And if you just want to numerous others. Who really inspired you and shine like a star then I’d probably say you’d better why? Who consistently impresses you? And who ask someone else for advice! would you love to work with in the future? Hmm. This is an interesting one. The ones who inspire me aren’t necessarily the ones you’d expect. Morven Christie grew up in Glasgow and I’ve been massively disappointed by people who the Highlands, and trained at Drama Centre are considered luminaries – generally because of London. Since graduating she has done a a lack of generosity, or a sense of themselves as bunch of stuff – TV, a lot of theatre, some bigger than the art they make, or a sense of their radio and the occasional film. personal trajectory as bigger than the broader Television work includes Oliver Twist social value of art. I find ego quite unattractive, (BBC) The Sinking of the Laconia (BBC), Lost and it’s a slightly disappointing truth but many In Austen (ITV), Twenty Twelve (BBC), and people in this industry are where they are because forthcoming series Hunted (BBC/HBO). of their egos. Alan Bleasdale is a god among men. Her theatre roles include Juliet in Romeo A true artist, and a beautiful soul. Josie Rourke is and Juliet for the RSC, Anya in The Cherry the director I’ve most enjoyed working with on Orchard and Perdita in A Winter’s Tale for stage – she is fiercely intelligent, which anyone Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project in New York will tell you, but I love her because she trusts and the Old Vic in London, and Isa in Josie me. Olivia’s performance in Tyrannosaur is one Rourke’s 2010 revival of Men Should Weep at of my favourite performances ever. I became The National Theatre. an actress because of films by Ken Loach and Film roles include The Flying Scotsman, Gillies Mackinnon, and I find Ken Loach still Young Victoria, Shell. one of the most inspiring artists. I think Lynne She now happily splits her time between Ramsay makes extraordinary work. I love Peter Glasgow and London with her cute husband Mullan’s work in front of and behind the camera. and her cute dog and a travelling yoga mat. I’m inspired by people who work from their souls rather than their egos. I like originals. depths of your resources playing Hero, or Anya, you know? They’re essentially disempowering to play. I was creatively bored, I was 30 playing teenagers, and Isa let me grow up. That company let me cut loose. They gave me a family. That director trusted me and that set me free. I got to be SCOTTISH. I got to be raw. I needed to say things and I got to say them through art – what could be better? That’s the whole reason I wanted to act in the first place. It still moves me to tears to think about the experience and what it meant to me.

Discipline, focus and truth are, I assume, essential drivers for any actor, and I know that you possess these qualities in droves and therefore as someone who works so hard at their craft and who knows the world of radio, theatre, TV and film pretty well what advice would you

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the old curiosity shop

Aschlin Ditta “When you hit the moment where the truth and the fantasy finally meet, it’s exhilarating...”

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schlin Ditta isn’t trying to change the entire world with his writing. And he isn’t Woody Allen, Mort Sahl or Richard Pryor. Instead he’s simply a brilliant screenwriter who is doing a top-notch job of creating rich worlds full of funny, flawed, fragile and familiar characters and turning them into charming, captivating and comical films such as Scenes of a Sexual Nature and French Film. That’s all. Find out how builders, Bergman, balance and babies all play their part when it comes to writing well. Mr Ditta knows his stuff... Ash, you’re working on about 137 scripts at the mo’. Bit slack really but can you tell us about these projects please? How d’you find the balance, man? Is it a case of miltant-clockworkstopwatch-s che du ling-e qual-attention-todetail-for-each-screenplay or more a case of zenning your way through it all whilst OMing and chanting, ‘Today I’ll roll with this script and tomorrow I might roll with that script’? HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS? I think as a screenwriter it’s inevitable that you end up working on several projects at once. The nature of the job is that projects take an age to move from conception through to development and, if you’re lucky, into production. It’s something one just gets used to. For example I currently have five live film projects and two television shows, you just have to hope that you can write one in the hiatus of another. Obviously things cross over and this is where you have to start managing producers’ needs, bearing in mind they don’t understand – on the whole – why you’re working on anything other than their own. Essentially, being a writer is rather like being a builder, you are committed to the renovation you’ve agreed to do, it’s just you have to also finish a kitchen in Beckenham.

78 ~ what the dickens?

You write for stage, TV and film and you’ve created hugely successful scripts for shows and films such as No Angels, The Catherine Tate Show, Scenes of a Sexual Nature and French Film to name but a few. What, for you, are the main differences in writing for these different mediums? If you could highlight one key lesson that you’ve learnt from each of these fields what would they be? Stage, TV and Film are very different indeed. I have done a couple of things for theatre and it’s a joy, for that is where the writer is King, it’s your medium and everyone defers to you. Writing for television is very different, it is a producer’s medium, although they do spend a lot of time saying it’s all about the writer, it self-evidently isn’t, and that’s fine. But creating a TV show is all about serving the needs of a channel, an advertiser, a commissioner, a channel head and the various producers. It can be hugely satisfying as, without doubt, it is the medium with the furthest reach in terms of viewers, but it generally is story by committee, which has its frustrations. Film is a collaborative process in a very different way. It’s all about the director and I used to fight that, but when I realised it just has to be one person’s ultimate vision then I started to get it. Now I find some of the best experiences I have are in film. I enjoy working alongside someone who has different skills to me, but who can see the bigger picture. Of course TV sketch comedy which I grew up in is also collaborative, but with the performer rather than the producer in my experience. It’s about finding out between you what makes that person funny and then being brave enough to mine it until you find the characters and ultimately the show. The obvious thread that runs through all of your work is comedy. You’re a funny man. In the best possible way, you understand. What is it about comedy that you love so much? Who are your comedy heroes/gods/wingmen? Where do you want to go next in terms of humour with your writing? The ‘All Writing Should Contain Comical Moments’ School of Thought aside, are you longing to create a script that’s more seriarse in tone now? I grew up on a mixture of Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mort Sahl and Richard Pryor. So once I had overcome the devastation of discovering I


the old curiosity shop was not in fact a Jewish New Yorker or a black genius I had to start adapting to finding what it was that I found funny about my world. I firmly believe that there is humour in everything, and I can’t stand watching things that are relentless in their earnestness. Even the most dreadful subjects have humorous moments in them, because they have people in them and humour is a part of most people. I think most comic writers want to write their Bergman movie but the truth is that I can never do that. I think I’m too addicted to the laughs, for me there’s nothing better in a cinema than that, but that’s not to say that one can’t write about huge subjects and themes. You’ve collaborated with various directors, writers and actors. Thinking back to Scenes of a Sexual Nature, a film which you created and brought to life with Ed Blum in the most amazing ‘If we build it they will come’ kinda way, I imagine that you really value the process of collaboration? How important do you think working as part of team is for writers in general? And who would you love to write for in the future? I love collaboration, as long at it is that. Sometimes what one person calls collaboration another may call being prescriptive. I loved working with Catherine Tate for many years as her genius is finding the joke, knowing where to take the character to punch hard in the moment. I have enjoyed all my film collaborations, the one with Ed was particularly exciting as we were both first-timers and pulled it off against the odds. I am currently working with Michael Gracey, a wonderfully talented Australian director whose ability to turn my ramblings into visual moments is a joy to experience. If you want to be a screenwriter you had better get used tocollaboration, if not stick to the theatre or, better still, write poems.

I love working with Hugh, he’s an extraordinary actor, a super intelligent and hugely dignified man. In short he’s a joy to write for. We have certain similarities that I saw on Scenes of a Sexual Nature that we mined in French Film and we are doing once more on I’m Not Me. I love writing for powerful dramatic actors who also know where the laugh is. It’s rare. He’s rare. Taking a true story as we have for I’m Not Me is an interesting process. The skill is to find what it is in the original story/ person and then take it away from there into the themes you feel you want to explore in the film. It’s a long journey and one that can take many wrong turns but when you hit the moment where the truth and the fantasy finally meet, it’s exhilarating.

You’ve been rocking along in this business for some time but how did you end up where you are now? Was it a case of steady-steady? Or throwing caution to the wind? What’s been the best form of training? Apart from writing until your fingers bleed. What have you learnt? What are you still learning? Who makes you go ‘Wow!’ in the writing world? I came into this game through comedy. I was briefly a stand-up and that allowed me two things, firstly to hone material to achieve what it needed to achieve and secondly to have days off to write spec scripts. I literally learnt and am learning by writing and writing and writing and being lucky to have picked something up from every project I have been on. As a television writer I learnt a huge amount early on from No Angels and working alongside great writers like Toby Whithouse and Sarah Phelps, then in comedy by working with Catherine Tate, Sean Hughes and great producers like Geoffrey Perkins and Shane Allen. Then in drama Manda Levin, now at Kudos, has been a huge influence on my career and in film I have always been lucky with the producers I have You’re currently working with Lordly-Actorly- come across. In writing terms I hugely admire Comical-Genius-Voice-Over-God-and-Snazzy- Paul Abbott and Sarah Phelps over here and like Producer, Hugh Bonneville on developing I’m so many others am astonished by the talents of Not Me which is based on the biography of David Chase and Aaron Sorkin and many others Byron Rogers. What’s that process been like? Is over there. there a certain pressure writing a story based on ‘real-life’ events or has that been a gift in terms Finally, what drives The Ditta on and on and of developing those characters on page? Do you on? What are you hungry for next? Indeed, what think it’s been easier to work this way with Hugh do you think ALL writers should be hungry for? as you’ve worked together so many times before? Apart from cake. Finally-finally, what bite-size

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the old curiosity shop nuggets of wisdom can you serve up for our readers wot write? I’m driven on by getting to 44 and realising I’m too old to do anything else and my two daughters need feeding. But I also love taking the germ of an idea and trying to turn that into something huge, funny and beautiful, that people might respond to. I do hear people in my industry say things like they want to change the world or the way people think. I think that’s ludicrous, not to mention mentally deranged, I just think that if you can touch a few people, encourage debate about how we live our lives and get a few laughs along the way, you’re in good shape. I guess the thing that I have learnt is that you have to allow yourself to be yourself for the writing to be good, but then you have to allow someone else to interpret that and make it more like the way they see themselves to get it made. It’s hard. It’s like having a baby and saying to someone ‘She’s called Anna’ and they say ‘She’s amazing, can I take her and call her Steve?’ That’s what I’ve learnt, you just have to be less precious about your babies.

Miriam Margolyes

Aschlin has written for television and film and theatre. His film credits include Scenes Of A Sexual Nature with Ewan McGregor, Mark Strong and Tom Hardy, French Film with Hugh Bonneville and Eric Cantona, for which he won Best Screenplay at The Monte Carlo Film Festival, and his next film Welcome To England with Universal Music directed by Michael Gracey shoots in November. He also has a feature film I’m Not Me with BBC Films and Hugh Bonneville. For television Aschlin co-wrote three seasons and four specials of The Catherine Tate Show alongside Catherine, during which time they won several awards, and has also written a film for Working Title with Catherine. He has written on several shows over the years including Channel 4 drama No Angels and his new series One In Three is currently being developed for BBC 1, while Pete and Lou and The Landing are in development at ITV In the theatre Aschlin has written a musical with Douglas Hodge for West End Producer Mathew Byam Shaw and The Menier Chocolate Factory. Aschlin is represented by Jessica Sykes at Independent Talent.

Miriam, you’re currently on a year long worldwide tour performing in the one-woman Olivier nominated show, Dickens’ Women, that you co-created with Sonia Fraser, and receiving brilliant reviews. You’re clearly a versatile and “There’s no end to the vivacious actress that loves a challenge and talent I’ve had a chance to has energy and enthusiasm galore! How’s it going? ‘Miriam Margolyes’ Might, Magic and learn from and enjoy...” Motivation’ should very obviously be bottled nd there’s clearly no and sourced immediately! end to the talents of The show and the audiences sustain my energies; Miriam Margolyes. Or that’s the magic of theatre. It is demanding and the to her enormous energy, enthusiasm and sense constant travelling and performing on the same of endeavour. There’s a good reason why this day, coupled with frequent interviews (like this one) actress has worked with all The Greats... She’s can be draining. But once I step into a performance one of them. Meet a true star of stage and screen, space, I am re-vitalised. It’s always been like that. and a true woman of the world as she discusses And Sonia and I are very proud of this show. her award-winning one-woman show, Dickens’ Through an array of famous Dickensian Women and shares a few of her insights... characters such as Flora Finching, Miss

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the old curiosity shop Mowcher, and Miss Flite to name but a few, you’re celebrating the birth of a controversial, prolific and socially-active writer who seems to constantly grow in popularity. What is it, bicentenary aside, that makes modern audiences and readers connect so deeply with Charles Dickens and these female characters? Great artists throughout history are able to connect with modern audiences because the essential human condition doesn’t change and the concerns and tragedies of life recur in a frighteningly similar way through the ages. Dickens used England for the most part as the canvas on which he stretched his amazing stories and the England of his time has much the same problems to face as the mid-Victorians, especially in the political and legal spheres. The inadequacies and cruelties of major institutions have not changed, the duplicity of the individual is just the same. And the agonies of love and loss endlessly recur. So the vivid world Dickens created inform and reveal our own world now. We can recognise and empathise with his characters most powerfully. He has never been out of print since he first published. I pray that people will continue to read this moral magician and that his books will again be part of the National Curriculum. We are lucky to be able to read Dickens in the language in which he wrote. We neglect him at our intellectual peril.

To play so many forthright and intriguing female characters in one play, I imagine, must be not only a huge exercise in range but a rich and pretty joyful learning experience for you? What do you feel this process has taught you the most so far? Of all the things I’ve done in my professional life, I am certainly proudest of Dickens’ Women. But it never started out as a one-person show. I

performed it at the 1989 Edinburgh Festival with David Timson, a fine actor who took the male roles. But after his marriage he didn’t want to tour, I couldn’t find a replacement to match him, so my American agent encouraged me to make it work on my own. It taught me that I could tackle a show alone, it gave me confidence to perform outside my comfort level, and all actors need to be stretched. So I have improved over the years and my characterisations are deeper and more layered than before. And so continuing on the discussion of great female characters... Has Dickens’ Women got you thinking about other famous fictional and nonfictional characters that you’d like to play next? I definitely do not want to do another one-person show; only Dickens could fire me up for 2 hours on my own (apart from my pianist, Ben Lee!) But I long to play the larger roles in ‘proper plays’ – Mrs. Malaprop, (The Rivals) Mary Cavan Tyrone (Long Day’s Journey into Night) Judith Bliss (Hay Fever) Lady Bracknell, Mrs. Klein, anything in Chekov, anything in Shakespeare, Mrs. Alving (Ghosts) and to follow Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple. You collaborated with Sonia Fraser in creating the show. How did that partnership come about? What did each of you bring to the creative journey? Sonia and I met in the 1960s when we were members of the BBC Radio Drama Repertory Company. We became friends at once. Soon after we decided to present a one-woman play about Mary Webb at the Ludlow Festival, written by Carol Snape called My Wife did a bit of Scribbling. We performed it only once but it was a huge success and so when I was offered a script of Gertrude Stein and a Companion, I asked Sonia to adapt it for 2 people and we took her production to the Edinburgh Festival in 1986 and won a Fringe First. Then we toured the show in Australia and America with great success. I think Sonia brings out my best work and I trust her completely. The idea of a show about Dickens had been in my mind since university when I studied him with Queenie Leavis at Newnham College and eventually we took the idea to Frank Dunlop who was running the Edinburgh Festival in 1988. He commissioned us and for 9 months we sat,

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the old curiosity shop terrified in my front room, copying and pasting (before the computer days) until we had a sort of script. Sonia is the only person I could collaborate with, although she has worked with many actors in bringing their shows to fruition. I don’t know quite how we do it, but she has a golden touch and we each refine and suggest things to each other. I could not have done it without her. You’ve worked with so many well-known writers, actors, and directors during your career. Who has been a particular inspiration to you? And who would you like to work with in the future? What’s the best advice you could pass on to our readers? Actors benefit from all the people we meet in our professional lives. I’ve been privileged to work with the Great Ones: Dench, Smith, Atkins, Redgrave, Walter, Walters, Imrie, Sinden, Scorsese, Streisand, Hurt, Day-Lewis, Thompson, Branagh, Zetterling, Szabo, Hall, John Paul Anderson, all the casts of Wicked, McBurnie, Rylance, Hickey, Hodge, Irons, Bening, Beatty – there’s no end to the talent I’ve had a chance to learn from and enjoy. I don’t mind who I work with, young or old, just to continue in the business, is my longing. Now seventy-one, I realise my time is finite, I can never accomplish what I’d hoped for when I started out. But I admire Michael Grandage and Daniel Evans and I hope I get to work with them one day. I shall never forget Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies – I never met her but her performances are glorious. She has been an inspiration. ADVICE? Ridiculous for me to offer any. Just keep reading, watching, be critical and value words. Never play for ‘show’ only for truth. It’s the only thing which matters. Finally, back to Dickens’ Women. Give us a description of the show and let our readers know exactly why they should see it as soon as they can! Dickens’ Women is an examination of the Man & his writings, making a parallel between the women in his life and the women in his works. Dickens is at the centre of the show. I talk directly to the audience & break off to present some twenty-three characters, as he wrote them, with only music and lighting to take the audience into the Dickens World. It is both very funny and heart-rending, a mirror of the graph of his life. And I am an actress at the top of my powers. How could you miss it?

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Born in Oxford, England in 1941, Miriam Margolyes is a veteran of stage and screen on both sides of the Atlantic. Winner of the BAFTA Best Supporting Actress award for The Age of Innocence, she also received Best Supporting Actress at the LA Critics Circle Awards for her role in Little Dorrit and a Sony Radio Award for Best Actress for her unabridged recording of Oliver Twist. Miriam has appeared in over 40 films including Yentl, Little Shop of Horrors, I Love You To Death, Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Romeo + Juliet, Cold Comfort Farm and Magnolia. Miriam played Professor Sprout in the celebrated Harry Potter films and most recently appeared in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (with Simon Pegg) and Blind Revenge (with Tom Conti and Daryl Hannah). Her film My Mother’s Curse, starring Barbara Streisand, opens later this year. Stage credits include Madame Morrible in both the London and Broadway productions of Wicked; Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit (Melbourne); Miss Prism in Peter Hall’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; Lady Wishfort in The Way of the World (Sydney); The Vagina Monologues; Romeo and Juliet (Los Angeles); She Stoops to Conquer and Orpheus Descending (London); The Killing of Sister George and The Threepenny Opera. Most recently, she starred in Theatre du Complicite’s West End production of Beckett’s Endgame, playing Nell, for which she won the WhatsOnStage award for Best Supporting Actress. She played The Duchess in the revival of Me and My Girl in Sheffield and starred in A Day In The Death of Joe Egg at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. Her voice work on radio and in audio books and feature animation films has been internationally acclaimed and she is regarded as the most accomplished female voice in Britain. In 2002 The Queen awarded Miriam the Order of the British Empire for her services to Drama. miriammargolyes.com dickenswomen.com Miriam will be touring ‘Dickens’ Women’ throughout the summer and autumn and at the Edinburgh Fringe during August.


the old curiosity shop

Memories of Sunflowers I

always wonder if the Memories department in The Old Curiosity Shop serves its purpose of providing a little time to reflect and share those important moments in our lives. Whether it’s a section that you, our readers, actually enjoy. From the feedback I’ve received it seems that it is... Sometimes we’re inundated with an array of memories for a particular theme and other times we don’t get much of a response at all. I think it’s a little bit tougher writing about the ‘real stuff ’ for most people. Give me fiction any day. Getting a memory ‘right’ is actually quite a tricky endeavour. So often we want to add in extra details, to change the tone, to make that small moment kinder than what it was. We’re constantly telling stories in one way or another and often, unintentionally, fictionalising our lives or missing parts out... Of course I always feel I should add a memory – if I don’t contribute how can I expect others to? As it happens I have an array of gorgeous memories connected to sunflowers that all link back to the most important people in my life in big, beautiful, and brave ways... Sunflowers will always remind me of my parents and how – despite wobbly nerves, thinning bones and delicate hearts – they once grew a selection in their garden. There will always be a bright and bold backdrop of sunflowers behind them as they sit in garden chairs watching my nephew and niece as toddlers splashing in a paddling pool on a summer’s day. The sunflowers I painted on the kitchen wall when I lived in my best friend’s flat years ago always come to mind. J and I are there singing loudly to naff songs as she No-More-Nails anything she can get her hands on to every wall – “I OWN this flat! It’s fine!” and I, smeared in acrylic, shake on a ladder because we’re both adamant that these sunflowers absolutely-totally-must be PAINTED on to this wall and canvases simply won’t do. (We once spent the last of our money getting a special shade of blue made-up for our student house because the bathroom needed something and we didn’t need to consult our five housemates as we had great taste. We did. J rocked in dungarees – she actually did – and I could work a Buddha

t-shirt, tracky bottoms, flip-flops and pink hair like you would not believe). Sunflowers will always remind me of great friends. Therefore sunflowers always make me think of a photo of a wonderful human being peeping out from behind a bouquet of brilliant flowers made up mainly of sunflowers. And she is always there, letting the world know that she’s soaring up gloriously towards all that she deserves. If you could see this photo and if you knew this person, you’d know exactly why sunflowers are so often thought to symbolise optimism and prosperity for she is a friend who simply shines. And of course the sunflower that my super-coollittle-dude-tutee gave me just a few weeks ago will always remind me of this big-eyed, day-dreamy girl who is tentatively tip-toeing her way in to the world in her own wonderful way and who can justify or answer any question with ‘Well, Sandy, it/he/she is a part of the world...’ and somehow, every time, it makes sense. Finally, this leads me to my last sunflower memory that isn’t so much a memory as a buildup, a fanfare, and a great whooping of joy for the delightful Donna Staveley who, as you know by now, is one of the Curiosity Super Stars, and who just happens to have written a beautiful sunflower memory that deserves a space all on its own. Donna is brilliant and when you read her memory you’ll see why. When we last met, she kindly corrected me when I, not-so-surprisingly, got ridiculously over-excited because I thought I saw a sunflower: ‘It’s a gerbera, lovely!’ ‘But I want it to be a sunflower, Donna... It LOOKS like a sunflower.’ She also sends me pictures of sunflowers when I need them the most. How does she know? She’s a special lady and she’s shared a tender, gorgeous memory of what sunflowers mean to her. It really is a very special account written with humour and all of her huge, huge heart. An account that I know you will enjoy. I urge you to read it and share it with others because for me she’s described exactly what sunflowers represent and that is LOVE. Sandy East

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the old curiosity shop

Real-Life Sunflowers S

shows, like The Big Breakfast and Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, and had hilarious stories of what was really going on behind the scenes. She’s always doing something mad and fun and interesting. She writes poetry and short stories and is always laughing at something. She radiates creativity and positive energy and just loves everyone. She’s basically a bit of an old hippy at heart! I say “is”, but I should say “was”. Karen died in 2001. Very suddenly and with no warning, she had a brain haemorrhage. She was 35. I miss her. She died the day before I was flying to Australia for three weeks, so I couldn’t go to her funeral. I couldn’t think of sending anything other than sunflowers. I remember arguing with my mother, who said they weren’t “appropriate”... but I didn’t care. One of my other friends took a couple of photos of all the flowers at the funeral; lots of pink and white, pretty roses and lilies, all serene... and then BAM! Big bunch of attention-seeking sunflowers, almost shouting their bright yellow heads off. I sent Karen’s mother a card to say how sorry I had been not to be at the funeral; she sent a beautiful reply, telling me so many people had seen the sunflowers and just smiled, thanking me for sending them. I met someone last year else that reminds me of Karen, and of sunflowers. She’s all bright and cheery, funny and clever, kind-hearted and wonderfully supportive...and good at talking me into doing things I think I’m too scared or not good enough to try...and kind of an old hippy at heart. I guess I’m very lucky to have found two real-life sunflowers. If you find one, make sure you hang on to them, because sunflowers always make you smile.

unflowers make me smile. Standing there all straight and tall, with their bright cheery faces; being all “woohoo, look at me, I’m here so cheer up or else” kind of thing. You sort of can’t help but smile. And they always make me think of my friend Karen – one of the only two really really good friends I made in school. You know, the ones you actually keep in touch with, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t see each other for ages, because when you do it’s still like you only saw them two days ago. Karen is one of those people that make you smile and your day better just by being there. She’s bright and cheery, funny and clever and has one of the five best official grins in the world. You can’t help but grin back. We sang in the school choir together, played clarinet together in the school band, talked about boys and which pop stars we were going to marry, experimented in dyeing our hair with food colouring and got told off by her mum for making such a mess. She was always talking me into doing things... especially things I had absolutely no intention of doing. She even persuaded me to do a dance competition with her! With my two left feet, no sense of rhythm or timing and a ridiculous fear of people looking at me, it was terrifying... nd such good fun. She talked me into auditioning for a school play... we ended up playing husband and wife cuckoos that couldn’t sing or talk properly (it was a musical for children!)... scary and brilliant in equal measures. After university she managed to get a job as a research assistant for a television company. She’s worked with Chris Evans on some of his early Donna Staveley

A single rose can be my garden... a single friend, my world. Leo Buscaglia 84 ~ what the dickens?


help! the dog ate my manuscript!

Help! The dog ate my manuscript! Share your writing problems with Gail Aldwin

How do you write a mini biography to go with a submission, especially if you are not published? t may seem daunting to write a biography, particularly if you don’t have a track record of being published, but saying something about yourself that is likely to interest and engage is probably more important. Lengthy biographies frequently include too much detail or are simply a list of recent publications. Use the biography as an opportunity to share information that will make you memorable to the reader.

I

potholing) • His hobbies include...(for example: trying to perfect the art of slicing tomatoes with a blunt knife) • She doesn’t play the... (for example: harp, banjo, tin whistle)

Biographies are normally written in the third person and can include the following types of information:

Play around with your biography until you find a way of sharing information that promotes your talent as a writer. It’s worth referring to your work in progress, to give a flavour of your area of interest/genre. For those who write regular blog posts, consider including your blog address and/or Twitter account as a way of attracting new followers. Avoid offering your email address as part of your biography unless you are happy to receive direct contact from others. Update your biography regularly and include relevant achievements as they occur. If you’re new to writing, it is worth investing time in building your profile. Try entering small competitions where you have a better chance of winning or being placed. Find local publications that include creative writing, articles, poetry or interviews and submit your work. Offer to write something for inclusion in a newsletter or community magazine and ask for a byline so that you are credited with the writing. Submit to online publications that welcome new writers such as Paragraph Planet (see article by Richard Hearn on page 12 for information about the site). Keep a record of all your achievements however small, and remember these are steps on your journey as a writer.

• Qualifications (especially if relevant to writing) • Length of time writing • Day job • Family details • Hobbies • Location • Publications and writing achievements • Details of your work in progress While there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ information to include, you will need to select carefully (particularly in a mini biography from 30-50 words or 2-3 sentences). Think about the skills and experience you have that will promote you as a writer. Humour is a useful technique in shaping a biography and I’ve listed some ideas below: • Jenna writes in an attic room where she spends too much time thinking about...(for example: cakes/vodka/dogs) • Trying To Be Brave is Ali’s first novel. He is not into... (for example: skydiving/bungee jumping/

Gail Aldwin’s blog can be found at: gailaldwin.wordpress.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @gailaldwin.

Got a question for Gail? Write to her via letters@wtd-magazine.com the sunflower edition ~ 85


art

Cath Barton is a singer, writer and photographer who lives in South Wales. Recent photo credits include cover art for Prime Number magazine and pictures in Vapid Kitten. You can see more of her photographs at blipfoto.com/cathaber and she blogs about her short story writing at cathbarton. wordpress.com.

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film review

Film Review By Harriet Matthews The Hunger Games: From Book to Screen The Hunger Games, an already immensely popular series of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins, took the world by even greater storm earlier this year with the release of a blockbusting film based on the first book. A few hundred years into our future, the United States has collapsed into itself due to war, famine, and natural disaster. Emerging from the dust cloud is Panem; a country which is split into 12 Districts, and ruled over by the sinister Capitol. Every year, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are randomly selected from each District. These 24 ‘Tributes’ must then fight to the death on national television until only one remains. Originally intended as a lasting punishment for an uprising, the annual ‘Hunger Games’ has turned into a twisted reality game show; treated as celebrities, the Tributes fight for the chance to bring fame, honour and wealth to their District. 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, born in impoverished District 12, volunteers for the Games in place of her younger sister. Along with male Tribute Peeta, she is shipped off to the Capitol to train alongside the other unfortunate combatants, who will soon face each other in the arena. No particularly startling changes were made to this plot in the transition between page and screen, but what is truly intriguing about the film adaptation of The Hunger Games are the subtle visual techniques put into practice by the filmmakers in order to create a fresh, faithful, and above all, appropriate screen version of the novel. Also worthy of examination is the strong reaction felt by some readers/viewers to certain facets of the film, telling us much about the differing ways in which we perceive our own artistic culture. Probably the most notable and striking aspect of the film’s visual artistry is the manner in which director Gary Ross has chosen to depict violence. Teenagers fighting each other to the gory death is a pretty delicate subject, and one which is less controversial to portray in the written word, where more can be left to the imagination. Ross has cleverly toned down the level

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film review of gore to get around the censors, enabling the film to be released as a 12A in the UK. While violence is still present, it is in no way gratuitous. The use of handheld camerawork, which is skilfully combined with subjective sound effects, often gives the impression that the viewer is experiencing certain scenes from the point of view of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), and seeing only her fractured impressions of the violence – when she turns away, so do we.

@sw4q awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture.

Almost all of the Twitter users involved have now deleted their accounts, but the damage had already been done. In an attempt to ensure that the Tweets did not get swept under the carpet, hungergamestweets.tumblr.com began collecting them all together in one place, highlighting the startling amount of fans who were not only racist, This brings to mind the effect of the first person but who clearly also hadn’t concentrated too hard narrative – the reader is only privy to the same while reading the book. goings-on that the narrator is. All three Hunger Games novels are narrated by Katniss, therefore In the novel, characters are never specifically the reader’s field of vision is limited to hers. A described as members of a particular race – only new and interesting aspect of the film for fans as having ‘dark brown skin’, or ‘olive skin’, and so of the book is the ability to move away from on. This meant that when it came to adapting the Katniss; through the medium of cinema, we bear book for the screen, there was quite a lot of casting witness not only to the fight in the arena, but flexibility; however, with some characters, it was also to the reaction of the populace, to Katniss’ clear that we were meant to be reading between mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) petitioning the lines. Cinna is so loosely described in the sponsors on her behalf, to her friends and family novel that the actor playing him could have hailed impotently looking on. This adds a whole new from pretty much anywhere, but anybody who level of tension to the story – however, the loss kept at least one eye on the page while reading of the first person factor can also subtract from could gather that Rue and Thresh were meant to the tension. One of the major strong points of be ‘read’ as black characters. the novel is the intense atmosphere created by Katniss’s internal monologue. Rue and Thresh, both described in the book as having ‘dark brown skin’, are the Tributes from Bearing witness to the real-world reactions to the poor agriculturally-based District 11, where the film has proved to be just as interesting as people who would have been known, before the actually watching it. A rather worrying side-effect creation of Panem, as African-Americans, have arising from the screen adaptation of The Hunger been ghettoised. The fact that some readers Games has been the revealing outpouring of what automatically defaulted to white/blonde when might be termed ‘automatic racism’ on the part of they were not presented with what they saw as some fans of the novel. The fact that Tributes Rue a clear racial profile for Rue, and then actually (Amandla Stenberg) and Thresh (Dayo Okeniyi), admitted to caring less (or not at all) about her as well as make-up artist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) previously heart-rending fate, speaks volumes had all been cast as black, came as a shocking about the way many of us visualise the books revelation to more than a few readers, who then we read. took to Twitter to voice their objections. Here are just a few of their insightful musings: The transition of The Hunger Games from book to screen is fascinating for many reasons, but most @Joe_Longley Eww rue is black?? I’m not of all for its literal spectacle. The act of looking, watching. of deriving pleasure from what we see, and how we see it, is put under the microscope – as are we. @JBanks56 I just pictured darker skin, didn’t really take it all the way to black.

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book reviews

Book Reviews By Lois Bennett

Guidance & Go: How To Write and Sell Short Stories by Della Galton Ironically, one of the obstacles that can hold back aspiring writers is the plethora of ‘how to write’ books available; precious time that could and should be spent creating original work is all too often frittered away by poring over all the ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ tips that others have compiled. Very often the information contained is common sense that would be learned by working on the original material that reading the book is holding you back from working on! Della Galton’s How To Write and Sell Short Stories, however, is one that truly deserves a place on the fiction writer’s bookshelf. Although relatively short at 216 pages, it is an extremely comprehensive and in-depth guide to crafting compelling short stories. Just some of the topics covered are: Inspiration, Characters, Settings, Marketing, Ideas, Dialogue, Flashbacks, Structure, Editing, Titles, Writing from life, Humour, Twists, Emotion, Literary v. Commercial fiction, Competitions, Men writing for women’s magazines, Editors, Record keeping, Tax and Accounting information, Dealing with rejections and Overcoming procrastination. Galton provides numerous examples from her own work and that of her contemporaries, highlighting effective and not-so-effective methods and styles. Each chapter concludes with tips and hints from published writers who, on a daily basis, put into practice what they advise. Overall, Della Galton’s How To Write and Sell Short Stories provides advice and encouragement in a lively and conversational manner, whilst answering most of the questions that both experienced and novice short story writers may have.

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book reviews

Mystery & Mulling: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle A Study in Scarlet is the first of 60 tales featuring Sherlock Holmes (four novels, fifty-six short stories), and was my first literary encounter with the famous sleuth. I had seen a few films and heard many quips and quotes, but for whatever reason had not read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s series. Having now read A Study in Scarlet, I know what I have been missing out on, and have an appetite to read the remaining 59 pieces! The novella, written in two parts, opens with the arrival in London of injured army surgeon Dr. Watson, who, through a chance encounter with a mutual friend, becomes the fellow-lodger of a Mr. Sherlock Holmes – “not a man that it is easy to draw out, though he can be communicative enough when the fancy seizes him.” As the story progresses, Dr. Watson is impressed with and baffled by Holmes and his incredible deductive reasoning skills, which are put to the test as he solves a complex murder case. Part 1 features the case, while Part 2 provides the back story of the characters involved in it. Conan Doyle has a rather playful writing style. There were many instances where I felt that if I kept reading just a little bit longer, I would be rewarded with something worth waiting for. Two such gems were these: “It was easier to know it than to explain why I know it,” and “‘It is not easy to express the inexpressible,’ he answered with a laugh.” The pacing in the novella is top notch – Conan Doyle employs effective tactics to keep the reader curious and guessing, and he ends each chapter with an effective hook. One device that the author uses is repeating words within either the same or next paragraph. This establishes a concrete image in the reader’s head, and in effect, brings the atmosphere he is crafting to life. The vocabulary chosen is highly effective in further building this atmosphere, with crisp, sharp words such as “sketch”, “concluded”, “remarked”, “companion” and soft, almost melancholy words such as “enthusiasm”, “alarming”, “illuminated”, “dreamy” and “unravel”. His descriptions never get in the way of what he is trying to say – instead, they subtly accentuate it, a skill that is notoriously difficult to master. Examples of this include “bleak stone staircase... down the long corridor... low-arched passage... lofty chamber.” I found much of the story unpredictable and amusing, and loved how Part 1 was tied together and explained in a natural, conversational way. Part 2 at first seemed like an entirely different book. It has a completely different narrative style: Part 1 is very dialogue based, while Part 2 is very prose based and succeeds well in setting the scene and exploring the characters’ inner workings. If you have yet to read Sherlock Holmes, I recommend you begin at the beginning and read A Study in Scarlet – I assure you, you will not be disappointed!

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book reviews

Art & Agony: Sunflowers by Sheramy Bundrick As I began reading this, it reminded me of Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Sunflowers also explores one of the ‘what if ’ theories behind a classic artist – in this case, Vincent van Gogh. However, as I read on, the chasm between the two books grew ever wider. Having finished Sunflowers, I would not equate it with Girl With A Pearl Earring, and at the risk of sounding nasty – Tracy Chevalier is a highly skilled novelist, Sheramy Bundrick, in my opinion, is not. There were elements of merit – the story was meticulously researched and plotted out and the subject matter had a good range, but there were too many things that made me stumble over them as I read, one example being the language. While historical fiction need not always be written in terms of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, to me, the dialogue – and sometimes, the prose – was far too modern, and you could easily mistake the events to be taking place in a more contemporary setting. As well as being extremely colloquial, the language was also overly Americanised. Yes, the author is American, but I have read many works of historical fiction by American writers who have succeeded in neutralising their vocabulary to be more universally-friendly. Bundrick uses modern American slang words, along with phrases such as ‘write me’ (instead of ‘write to me’), which I found quite offputting for a story that is set in both the 19th Century and Europe. On a positive note, readers will most likely invest in the emotions of Rachel, the protagonist, from the very start. The romance between Rachel and Vincent develops very subtly through descriptions of mannerisms, smiles and thoughts, and I quite liked the sentence that described Rachel’s reaction to the novel’s namesake painting: “This was no ordinary vase of flowers. The sunflowers were his voice, and for the first time since the day we met, I started to truly listen.” Overall, there are some positive aspects to the novel, and it is certainly interesting to ponder Vincent’s relationship with Rachel and his work, but I would have enjoyed it much more had the language been more universal.

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advertising@wtd-magazine.com Special rates for writers!

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book reviews

Book Reviews By Alison Bacon

eBook Round-up July 2012

This month Ali Bacon recommends novels set in very different periods. Please note that the price of eBooks can vary from day to day. In Brighton Belle, historical novelist Sara Sheridan has chosen to visit Brighton in the post-war years. Mirabelle Bevan previously worked in intelligence in London where she became the lover of a secret agent. But now the war is over and the lover has died. She has fled to the south coast where she lives alone, working for a debt collection company. But one day when her boss is out of the office, she uncovers some strange goings on. Realising she has had enough of the quiet life she sets out to solve a mystery that soon becomes a murder. Even if I couldn’t quite get under Mirabelle’s skin (as close associates become victims of murder she remains strangely unfazed) she is a gutsy and resourceful heroine and the plot breezes along with the help of a Scots detective, a West Indian sister-in-arms and an array of colourful Europeans caught up in the wake of Nazism. The conclusion doesn’t just tie things up satisfactorily but also teases with the promise of a follow-up and I sense her on/off feelings for the detective could run and run. Could Brighton Belle take over where Foyle’s War left off ? Period murder mystery: Rating 8/10 Kindle edition, Polygon, £4.43. Also in paperback If there’s a tendency these days for novels to focus on a single character and over a relatively short period, Playing on Cotton Clouds by Michela O’Brien bucks the trend. It follows a group of teenagers from the end of school through to middle age. There’s no riveting premise or larger-than-life character to drive things along, but as an ensemble piece it works extremely well. We begin with sexy Aidan, a schoolboy already sleeping with a girl ‘from the grown-up world’. Then we meet the vying Grimes sisters and finally Seth, Aidan’s unlikely buddy, a studious boy who struggles to keep up socially and sexually. As soon as this loose amalgam of friends meets up on the local bridge, we’re slap bang not just in the eighties (the title is a Stone Roses reference) but also in the world of adolescence, that time when the boy/girl you long for is oblivious to your existence because he/she is just as completely obsessed with someone else. I grew to like this more and more as the group travels through the years, more apart than together, but never quite escaping those old rivalries and jealousies, never completely casting off the friendships. As they move on they remain sympathetic but also retain their innate flaws. We despair of their mistakes, the eternal ‘what-ifs’ of life and love. The pace is unhurried and for a while I thought this was going to be more a collection of linked stories than a conventionally structured novel, but actually I was wrong. The whole thing is skilfully drawn together in a perfect conclusion. If you liked One Day, this novel is in some ways similar, and, in my view, quite a lot better! General fiction: Rating 9/10 Kindle edition, Crooked Cat, £3.09 Alison Bacon lives in the West Country where she writes, blogs and plays golf (not always in that order). Her debut novel A Kettle of Fish will be published this autumn by Thornberry Publishing. Read all about her at alibacon.com or follow on Twitter @AliBacon

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art

Ahoy! :) I’m Cynthia Cioccari – lover of photography, art, sad songs, polka dots and cake. I’m attempting to be creative outside of my 9-5, please take a look at my Flickr page, website (shared with my fiancé Steve) and general ramblings on Twitter.

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the literary market

The Literary Market

In association with What the Dickens? Writing & Literary Gifts The Literary Market is a place where you can explore, connect and shop with artists both in the UK and Worldwide who hand make all things literary. A huge reason for me doing what I do is because I like to share and collaborate with others. I want to create out of all my projects an inspired literary community that work together to help each other move forward creatively.

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a bit of shopping with...

A bit of shopping with... writersgifts.co.uk

Shakespeare ‘Insults’ mug £9.95

Shakespeare ‘Love’ mug £9.95

Shakespeare ‘Naughty’ mug £9.95

v

THE NEW WRITER

What the Dickens?

thenewwriter.com

Also available on

The magazine you’ve been hoping to find

Spring 2012 issue now available!

magazine

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book reviews

Chapterhouse Theatre Company C

hapterhouse Theatre Company enters its 13th year of touring open-air theatre at some of the most beautiful country houses, castles and heritage sites across the UK and Ireland. From a first year of performances at some 30 venues with Romeo and Juliet in 2000, the company has established itself as one of the most successful and acclaimed touring companies in the country. In previous years, the company has toured with a variety of shows including Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night and The Taming of The Shrew, together with performances of classic works such as The Mystery Plays and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and our very popular adaptations of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. In 2004, the company produced the first West End show ever to tour open-air, ART, directed by Nigel Havers.

Romeo and Juliet Chapterhouse Theatre Company presents the greatest love story ever told as Shakespeare’s unforgettable tale of romance and passion tours beautiful openair venues across the UK and Ireland. Join family and friends to picnic under the stars and enjoy this wonderful new production, alive with magnificent costumes and original music. The Importance of Being Earnest With a cast of unforgettably larger than life characters, the delightful Cecily, the roguish Algernon and the formidable Lady Bracknell are sure to keep you wildly entertained! Picnic with friends and family and enjoy this exquisite new production of Wilde’s hilarious tale of doubles lives and mistaken identities presented in full period costume.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream Shakespeare’s best-loved romantic comedy whisks In 2012, Chapterhouse is performing in over 100 you away on a thrilling journey to the most magical of Britain and Ireland’s most beautiful and idyllic of forests. Star-crossed lovers, playful fairies and garden settings, such as Woburn Abbey, Lost raucous travelling players come together to create Gardens of Heligan and Hopetoun House; perfect one of the most fun and frolicsome evenings of venues for garden and theatre lovers alike. the summer. Open-air theatre lends itself perfectly to pre-show picnics creating an enjoyable and memorable experience for any audience. A wonderful opportunity for friends and family to sit back and enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company whilst indulging in a glass of chilled summer wine and watching a wonderfully traditional evening of entertainment.

Sleeping Beauty Young and old alike will fall in love with this delightful adaptation set in the 1940s and taking you on a thrilling journey all the way to fairyland. Come along in your favourite fancy dress outfit and join the fairytale parade during the performance! Magical theatre in magical surroundings for all the family.

Pride and Prejudice Whilst her mother tries determinedly to pair her off with the detestable Mr Collins, Elizabeth Bennett meets the rude and abrupt Mr Darcy. But is there more to him than meets the eye? After Emma all, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Emma is a young woman determined to pair her single man in possession of a good fortune, must friends off with their perfect matches. But could it be in want of a wife. be that amidst her plotting, her own true love has been there all along? Filled with glorious fun, this chapterhouse.org brand new adaptation of Jane Austen’s comedy of manners promises love and laughter aplenty. We have a pair of adult tickets to give away! Turn over to the Competitions page for details.

Open-air Garden Theatre 2012

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listings

Listings

The listings section is FREE. See the website for further details. Writing Websites

Paragraph Planet – Flash fiction website which publishes one 75-word short, short story (or novel extract) every day. A mixture of aspiring writers and established author. The site also includes interviews with published novelists, a writing group map and blog directory. paragraphplanet.com Writing Workout – Tone and hone your writing with a range of fun exercises against the clock. Kickstart new projects and work on existing ones with your results being available to work on at leisure. writing-workout.com

Online Book Clubs

The Sunday Story Society is a new online book club for short stories. We discuss a different short story every fortnight; future selections include pieces by Angela Carter, Kevin Barry, and José Saramago. Find out more at davidhblog.wordpress.com/sunday-story-society or follow us on Twitter @SundayStorySoc

National Theatre Organisations

Chapterhouse Theatre Company is a professional theatre touring company with many productions over the summer including Emma, Pride & Prejudice, Romeo & Juliet and Sleeping Beauty. Performances are at a variety of glorious venues such as Woburn Abbey, Guildford Cathedral, Nymans and many more! See page 96 for more details or visit chapterhouse.org.

Magazines

Writing The New Writer is different and aimed at all writers: the short story writer, the novelist, the poet, feature writer, anyone with a serious intent to develop their writing to meet the expectations of today’s editors. Launched in September 1996, in every issue you’ll find original short stories, a showcase for new poetry, articles, book reviews, market information, news and readers’ views. thenewwriter.com Mslexia is an independent publishing company that provides information and inspiration for published and unpublished women in the UK and beyond. In addition to a quarterly magazine and Writer’s Diary, Mslexia runs workshops and events, and a series of high-profile competitions for poets, novelists and short-story writers. mslexia.co.uk

South East

Writing Creative Writing – an introduction It doesn’t matter if you haven’t written since school – come along and discover the writer within on this confidencebuilding 10 week course on Monday mornings starting on October 1st 2012 at South Portslade Community Centre; Tutor, Bridget Whelan portslade.org, 01273 422632 or email comed@paca.uk.com Creative Writing – advanced An imaginative 10 week course designed to offer support and inspiration to the emerging writer. Morning and afternoon sessions available starting on Thursday October 4th 2012 at South Portslade Community Centre; Tutor, Bridget Whelan portslade.org, 01273 422632 or email comed@paca.uk.com Writing from Nature at Foredown Tower Take inspiration from the natural world, and look at the familiar in new ways at this unique site on the edge of the South Downs. This is a short Wednesday morning course starting on November 7th 2012; Tutor, Bridget Whelan portslade.org, 01273 422632 or email comed@paca.uk.com Help! I Want To Be Published! A short course for aspiring fiction and non-fiction writers that combines practical guidance on the nitty gritty of getting published with advice on how to make your writing stand out for all the right reasons. Starting on November 6th at the Friends Centre, near Brighton Station. Tutor, Bridget Whelan friendscentre.org 01273 810210

London

Writing The 60-minute Writer Fit creative writing into your busy day in central London. A relaxed, informal rolling programme for writers of all levels of experience who enjoy being thrown new ideas and experimenting with poetry and prose. This Friday lunchtime class starts on October 5th 2012 at City Lit in Holborn. Tutor: Bridget Whelan citylit.ac.uk 020 7831 7831 Writing Your Family Biography A non-fiction course for students who want to learn how to use writing techniques to transform the bare bones of family history into a gripping read. This Friday afternoon course starts on September 14th 2012 at City Lit in Holborn. Tutor, Bridget Whelan citylit.ac.uk 020 7831 7831 Ways into Creative Writing An imaginative and supportive course covering prose writing and poetry -suitable for the beginner. This Friday evening course starts on September 14 2012 at City Lit in Holborn. Tutor, Bridget Whelan citylit.ac.uk 020 7831 7831

the sunflower edition ~ 97


competitions

Competitions Jane Rusbridge, The Devil’s Music, ROOK, p6 To win a copy of both books, simply answer the following question: Where was Jane born?

Email your answer to: competitions@wtd-magazine.com

Chapterhouse Theatre Company, p96 To win a pair of adult tickets (you get to choose your preferred show and venue), just answer this question: Name one venue that ‘Emma’ will be performed at this summer. Please include your name and contact details. All entries must be received by 15th September 2012. Congratulations to our winners from last issue: Jenny Snell, Iris Lewis, Caroline Auckland and Joanna Gurr.

98 ~ what the dickens?


submissions & credits

Submissions

Credits

Exciting news: We are trying to get the magazine printed! This means our deadlines will move, as we have a print deadline to meet as well. Therefore, we need to do two issues at once next time! Sooooo...

Editor: Victoria Bantock

The next issue of What the Dickens? Magazine will be out on 1st October 2012. The theme will be ‘Pumpkin’. WE ALSO WANT... The following issue will be out on 1st December 2012. The theme will be ‘Journey’. ALL SUBMISSIONS FOR BOTH ISSUES MUST BE IN BY 15TH SEPTEMBER 2012! Full submission theme details are on our website: wtd-magazine.com

The Old Curiosity Shop: Sandy East Extra contributions: Gail Aldwin, Caroline Auckland, Ali Bacon, Lois Bennett, Jen Hammell, Richard Hearn, Paul Hirons, Harriet Matthews, Danielle Plowman, Rachel Quinn, Michael Rowland, Donna Staveley & Sally-Shakti Willow Magazine & Web Design: Ben Ottridge benottridge.co.uk Advertising contact: advertising@wtd-magazine.com General contact: victoria@wtd-magazine.com The Old Curiosity Shop: curiosity@wtd-magazine.com

YOUR GUIDE TO LITERARY PLACES & EVENTS TO VISIT IN THE UK Coming soon at: LITERARYUK.ORG the sunflower edition ~ 99


Every friend is to the other a sun, and a sunflower also. He attracts and follows. Jean Paul Richter

What the Dickens? Magazine: Issue 5 - The Sunflower Edition  

What the Dickens? Magazine A bi-monthly magazine for all creative folk focusing on literature and the arts. Issue 5: The Sunflower Edition...

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