Sunday 24 August 2008

Prompts Aug 24

I've been away a few days, but here:

When all this is over, I shall give them the finger
The weakening eye of day
I saw an x-ray of a baby
Unwearied still, lover after lover
Not even in my thoughts
I did not think death could undo so much
She is beautiful. I dream about her.
The rain flies down the street, flaps outside our door
All the sun long it was running
Appointment in Basingstoke
The stove’s heat mottling her legs
Moving the books
Her dead body wears the smile of accomplishment
I know where you are
Thinking of an old lover makes it hard
We renounce everything except the self
Uzi Wedding
Her floured hands at the baking board
Show me the kitchen, the knives
Three thousand years ago they didn’t give a fuck
I would like to be terminally ill
Red and yellow, silver-back, half-imagined things
16 GIG
I kept my wife’s heart in a canary’s cage
I’m going to sail round the world
I cannot speak to you
Horses passed from dawn into the night, horses, horses, horses.
We come to terms with shade, the principle of grey
One or two blackmailers, a poisoner
Unnatural Acts
Every fear is a form of desire
Use the back entrance

Saturday 16 August 2008


In the depths of the Greyhound terminal
The soldier takes pride in saluting his captain
A white mare
My days wind out, aimless, hopeless
Old men and women, rich and poor
Gold, Gold, Gold, Gold, Gold
A cricket bat, a box
Nothing to do with Hamlet
Two men in blazers
The boys are not well
It’s about the end of the world
Clear plastic
An aged man is a paltry thing
This is fresh
I shall hide behind being old
The fun starts here
We pace along the battlements, hoping
Two men have been found
Edgar wins!
A winding staircase, candles flickering
A Mexican green pepper
Without love, the world is too heavy
Rage-driven, rage-tormented
When we were young we had pretty toys
They are holding a public meeting
I started running weeks ago. I will not stop
I’m trying to come to the point
On the cover of TIME
Through icy streets
There are places where I have not been
They reject spirit
This man can sing!
I imagine a land, rain-soaked

Friday 15 August 2008


2008 has been miserable for me writing-wise.

Boot Camp has shrunk to an all-time tiny and that's a problem because it has a certain 'critical mass" (around 20-25 members, 12-15 active) when all the buzz interacts and energy spirals.

under ten members the opposite happens. it goes quieter, duller, I get depressed and my input is less inspiring.

i stopped logging the hits (after 5-6-7 years of doing it), a few more left, one old member without even saying goodbye.

This August (only announced July 31st at 22:00) I thought "Sod this!" and launched the AUGUST BLAST, a one-month kick-ass attempt to write X words, X flashes, X stories.

My target was

31,000 words

31 Flashes
31 Subs
05 Stories

as of midnight Thursday 14th I had achieved

22,020 Words

16 Flashes
01 Subs
05 Stories
02 "Poems"

The big issue with "blasting" is, "What about quality?"

Does working harder, faster reduce quality? Most would presume, "yes."

BUT THEY'D BE WRONG. Some of the best Boot Camp stories have come from flash nights, or Children-in Need (24 stories in 24 hours) or Blasts like this one.

I've written one not-so-good story (but probably publishable), one short which is a bit throwaway (works but a bit so-what?) and two very iffy poems. But the rest is strong and getting stronger as the month goes on.

it's as if the "Just Do It" attitude releases tensions, removes fears and the brain-muscle exercise starts to pay dividends.

In a few months I will list the stories and poems and what happens to them.

I predict I will place 90% of them, 20% "well" and win at least two first prizes from the batch.

Wanna bet?



This was a good blog, then I got distracted trying to finish off the chapel in Wales. (Still trying)

But now that I'm here...

We are running an "August Blast" in Boot Camp (guests partake free) and though it's a long way from the most active we've ever had we have crept up to 53 flashes, a few poems and seven stories for the month.

My own output exceeds my output for the first seven months of 2008

Interested? Go to Yuku's "BootCampKeegan"

I'm away today (so will be writing about 10PM - mustn't miss a day!) and usually the prompts are better than these (I trawl books, letters, poems and so on and "react"

These are a little less inspired

There’s a problem with Mrs Evans
White on White
When you are old, if you should think of me
Yes, but apart from the race massacres?
And they killed the cat
The edges of doors
Full English Breakfast
Katie is back soon
Rocked the cradle etc
Two single duvets
How do I love Theo? Let me count the ways
Twenty-eight hours
A lot of rough edges
No, THIS is a knife
Boil, carbuncle
It is cooler than we expected
I know she died, but how?
I keep my son awake
Go gently, go otherwise, but go.
We are arguing. Twenty? Thirty?
I don’t like how the wind comes through
My gnome has run off again
I heard he was Welsh, but OK
Blessings, Effendi
I may go, I may come back. But I will only come back if I went.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Naturalistic use of language

Over in Boot Camp, where I learn my writing craft [writes Tom C], we're having a discussion just now about writing styles. I quoted this, from Don DeLillo's Falling Man, describing the moments after the first plane had crashed into the Twin Towers:
He began to lift, his face warm with the blood on Rumsey's shirt, blood and dust. The man jumped in his grip. There was a noise in his throat, abrupt, a half second, half gasp, and then blood from somewhere, floating, and Keith turned away, hand still clutching the man's belt. He waited, trying to breathe. He looked at Rumsey, who'd fallen away from him, upper body lax, face barely belonging. The whole business of being Rumsey was in shambles now. Keith held tight to the belt buckle. he stood and looked at him and the man opened his eyes and died.

This is when he wondered what was happening here.

This, I thought (and think) is a good example of sparse writing. We have a bit of a tendency within Boot Camp to try to write like this - aftercarveritis, it might be called, but we often get it badly wrong and it comes out like Janet and John writing - "I did this. I did that. She did that. I didn't like that." And so on...

We agreed that this is a decent example of decent writing, although Alex suggested ways it could be improved. Nancy provided another quote - from Philip Roth's Everyman:
He was in the hospital for thirty days. The nurses were mostly agreeable, conscientious young women with Irish accents who seemed always to have time to chat a little when they looked in on him. Phoebe came directly from work to have dinner in his room every night; he couldn't imagine what being needy and infirm like this and facing the uncanny nature of illness would have been like without her. His brother needn't have warned him not to let her go; he was never more determined to keep anyone. Beyond his window he could see the leaves of the trees turning as the October weeks went by, and when the surgeon came around he said to him, 'When am I going to get out of here? I'm missing the fall of 1967.' The surgeon listened soberly, and then, with a smile, he said, 'Don't you get it yet? You almost missed everything.'

Wow! Isn't that even better than the DeLillo? The way it flows. The naturalness of it, the way everything has a point. Take the turning leaves, for example. How often do you read completely pointless descriptions of weather or seasons? Here it provides a bit of colour, a bit of freshness to the language, but it also means something. It tells us something important.

And, as Alex noted, look at the pacing of this extract, how it is a crescendo rising to that ending. As Alex says, "the best writing is brilliantly invisible." What better description could there be of that Roth passage?

Tuesday 30 October 2007

Tuesday, Some Prompts

A fat alarm clock
A fire is lit
A hedge
A hotel room in New York City
About to sit down with my half-pint of Guinness
And always tucked his daughter up at night
And the flesh of each other
Blue-backed, silver-bellied, half-imagined things
Brought back to me that September evening
Chanting, chanting
Drawn like a moth to the darkened black room
Dumb as a cloud
Her parents love her eyes, how hard she works
His donkey-jacket on the kitchen chair
I am sailing the world
I cannot speak to you.
I died first, I think
I thought we were sitting in the sky
I took myself on for the hell of it
I'm trying to remember as best as I can
Irish Daisies, Yorkshire Nightingales
It begins as a house
It's almost impossible to be here, you kneel
Later he moved quietly to deeper sleep
Light through trees
Like a dwarf on stilts
Men hurrying back across the river
My father decoded the world
My father, drawing the fire
My fellow inmates praise him
Nothing has turned the wood
Our baby's heart, fluttering
People stop me in the street
Right into the mountain
Rockall, Malin, Dogger, Finisterre
She moved him to the hospital
Sometimes in autumn
That other country? Where was it?
The boat chugged up to the little stone jetty
The doors between the days fall open
The past fades like newsprint in the sun
The Unit
The village gossiped
The voices carry from everywhere
Then dusk, and someone calls
Then I gave myself a fright
We were joined at the hip.
When all this is over, I mean to travel north
With ten minutes to kill and the whole place deserted
You do not scorch the sheets or wake your wife
You wonder if it's lovers

Monday 29 October 2007

A BC Thread

Recently a Boot Camper asked, "Does anyone else get scared?"

He was asking about writing from the deepest parts, how scary it could be.

My first answer was: it's a straight choice. How honest do we want to be? How true? I am only happy when I feel my work is lifting a rug (5% of the time, tops)

Later said:

It ISN'T necessary to directly use your own experience, however painful, however true, or deep or "drama-worthy"

And if you DO directly use something, it's IRRELEVANT whether it's therapeutic, makes you happier or sadder

What matters is the TEXT and what it brings to others

It doesn't matter AT ALL whether 100% of Ballistics is factual, only that it's TRUE. It can be true even if it's 100% fiction.

When you use "your past", your own pain, your own memories, really, the THINGS aren't all that important. What's important is the feelings, and what the events whether directly or indirectly used, SAY, make us feel.

If I use a personal experience directly and try to stay "accurate" I will lose truth. The world and exact accuracy usually kills message.

And later:

Lots of these things are hard to prove, but think like this.

When "a little brown dog" starts glowing, some memory or link to memory, either some maturing part of you thinks it's ready to discover, or some older part of you maybe wants to relieve an internal pressure, BUT THAT IS JUST ONE THING (presume for simplicity)

I suppose it's possible that the conscious and unconscious brain between them choose one single item. one discrete memory, but is it likely?

My belief is that the more we right, the more we try to unfuzz our history, the more we "go there" (I mean in that drifting, available, state) the more things might start to emerge.

The idea that I might isolate ONE and one only (one that might "REFUSE" to ever come out) seems crazy.

When memories and ideas come make sure that at least the emerging tip is not lost. RECORD THEM ALL.

many things may happen her

Example you are imagining/believing that this memory of a squashed cat REALLY MEANS SOMETHING but last week you remembered a
snippet of a song, or an image of an old radio, or someone's shoes, or a car. I have no idea. MIGHT IT NOT BE THAT THE CAT WAS A WAY IN BUT NOT THE KEY? Might it not be that one of you "lesser" ideas/memories will, in the end be more important?


And later still:


Do NOT presume that all this "must be" an unearthing of your specific past.

It does not have to be YOU or something that happened to you.

Example. Imagine that once you saw, as a kid, a kid getting bullied. You vaguely noted it. It was "gone." Years later you also vaguely note that the kid committed a heinous crime or suicide, or became famous or rich (it doesn't matter). MAYBE you realised the two were the same. Maybe you didn't. Maybe you connected the two bits, connected the relationship, the cause-effect, maybe you didn't.


so a thing might be part of our personal history, first hand

a thing may be part of our history second-hand, ie seen and heard in others

a thing may be part of our psyche THIRD hand, a news report of the above, a book, a play

a thing may, arguably be part of us FOURTH hand, cultural, like "paedophilia" and peadophiles loom so much larger in consciousness these days than they did when I was a kid... or "save-the-planet" or back in the sixties-seventies the fact that most of us went round half expecting a nuclear holocaust.

So memories do not HAVE TO relate to bad or good things you did or had done to you

Now whether or not you have a Hannibal Lecter past or lived with Jesus and ate honey and ambrosia every morning and your shit came out in perfumed bags, you conscious and unconscious pick up EVERY DAY the subliminal links to millions, billions of incidents.

When you read Alex Keegan you read (somewhere in there) HIS past, some of his sensibilities. How much of Dickens' psyche lurks in the bowels of his books... so the more we read and write the more we slowly accumulate "pressures"

if you read a current-vogue book about someone being abused, read absorb, "forget" how do you know, even if your life has been perfect, that this little nugget won't be eating away at you colouring your view of possibly EVERYTHING until you die?

We have many lives now. We absorb from news, poetry, shorts, novels, plays, films, video, TV, the web, in a way people never dreamt of even fifty years ago

but note this... what tweaks you, what sticks with YOU, does so because you are particularly susceptible, receptive to that image or idea

THERE'S A REASON FOR THAT and that's why you have to take an instant snapshot of the "thing" put it on a whiteboard and keep it alive.

If not, if for example, your psychic guardians 'don't want you to know" it will be gone, probably forever in 24 hours.

Think of it as a little fall of mud outside a cave. Mark the spot before mud covers it up.

But remember that it is not "inevitable" that the event or memory or feeling energising this connection is SPECIFICALLY something that happened (physically to you). It might be a combination of things. You might never have been touched by the creepy paedophile from next-door who hung himself when you were thirteen, but maybe you heard his name once when you were out drinking with the office-girls and a childhood friend went white, you FELT.... but the group were playing X and now when you hear X you feel torn, twisted.

It could be anything (or nothing, just an accumulation of juxtapositions and pressures from images, words, ideas from your reading/watching.

If demons made someone write Silence of the Lambs, The Exorcist, Apocalypse Now and hundreds of others, what happens to US when we watch them (even if we laugh)? IF those writers were exorcising their demons (if) what do we absorb?


So... I access a feeling, a hurt. a memory and I write about something else.

Yes, that's one way. Often directly writing about something merely energises the defences and we get shut down, anyway. But if we can sense the ache-pressure-fear-disgust (or exquisite pleasure) and find some literary outlet that seems to reflect the feeling, it may well be that what we write will be suffused with the "power" of the partly-unearthed memory.

Say I had walked in on my mother fucking the neighbour and not only that but she looked horrible, told me to fuck off (and then extrapolate)

Yes it may be possible to one day unearth the actual memories and write about them as fictional or actual autobiography but often these writings fai because the memories are bitty and we obsess on the missing parts "wanting to tell the truth"

But if, from the feeling we write about a parent betraying a child, a FICTION, we then can use the pain we felt.

Later someone asked, about these recorded "cues", should they keep one warmed up, ticking over, or should they have many?

Of one I said:



I have many things on the go so the one that wants to can begin to fester and expand. Second two things or more may choose to interact.

Note the verbs. the thing wants to, the thing chooses

NOT the author

One BCer posted this:

It might be worth reading this article which Alex posted on the BC blog.

It came from the notes from a Kingfisher Barn course a couple of years ago, and talks about using half-memories:

and then

Note, I am not trying to write (or post) "perfect" articles. I believe that we don't learn so well from the perfectly-formed, but learn better from bits-and-pieces, spontaneous responses which generate questions and then, hopefully, answers.

Thursday 25 October 2007


A rat crept softly through the vegetation
All day, all night, all weathers
April is the cruellest month
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks
Everyone suddenly burst out singing
Footworn and hollowed and thin
For I have known them all already, known them all
Groping along the tunnel, step by step
Had we been lovers
I believe there were no flowers then
I have come from the borders of sleep
I lay with my young bride in my arms
I lent upon a coppice gate
I love it as a child might love it
I see the image of a naked man
I thought we were sitting in the sky
I was much further out than you thought
It was after the war
Let us go and make our visit
Love without hope
Move him into the sun
No one is twisting her arm but there it is
Nothing but wild rain
Now it is autumn, falling fruit
Once we had toys, pretty toys
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me
Ten minutes to kill
The darkness crumbles
The fascination of what's difficult
The flood subsides, and the body
The staggering girl
The trees are in their autumn beauty
The troubled midnight
The voices carry from everywhere
The whitewashed wall
The words we have for things that die
There is one story and one story only
There will be time, there will be time
They sing the dearest songs
This is my first time here, a stranger
Turning. And turning and turning
We are at the races now
We drank coffee, talked for an hour
We hired a private nurse
We shall pick his bones, whisper
When she rises in the morning
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Why have you made this life so intolerable?
You did not walk with me
You would not know him now