An unexpected attack of writing

Early this week, a colleague was suddenly unable to attend an online writing workshop she’d booked (with the wonderful Matthew Curlewis of Amsterdam Writers – highly recommended!), so I jumped in and took her place at the last minute.

It took the format of a writing prompt, followed by a set period for writing, then any participant who wanted to could read their piece aloud and we all commented on strong or memorable aspects (no negativity permitted!)

One of the prompts was these images:

This is apparently a kind of tag cloud of Leonardo DaVinci’s words about water.

We were then asked to take these images as our prompt and write for 12 minutes.

If both had been presented as typed documents, I think my output would have been very different. As it is, the manuscript version on the left made me think of old documents, and old documents made me think of libraries, so I read the words on the right with a different mindset. This is what came out:

People always have this image of libraries as quiet places, with librarians pointing crossly to SILENCE signs… But actually they’re pretty noisy on the whole.

We have the babblings and stream-of-consciousness mutterings of the homeless or near to it come in for a warm in the reference library. The gushing of the middle-aged ladies – and some gents too – when we’ve saved the latest Marian Keyes or Jill Mansell. The whispered divisions and equations, resistance and revolutions of students; the undulations, reboundings and reversals of teenage lovers… In other words, we have it all.

But we don’t often hear violent crashing noises followed by breakages, confusion and furious roaring. Then again, it’s rare that we have a fully armoured warhorse, complete with mace-wielding rider, suddenly materialise in Autobiographies R-T.

Even when we are doing a Tolkien display for Year 5 again.

Fortunately, it was Wednesday morning, one of our quietest, and not long after nine o’clock – far too early for most of our patrons to have arrived yet – so the injuries amounted to a copy of the Silmarillion with a hoof print right through it – no loss there – and a severely mangled cardboard Tolstoy.


Explanatory intro 1: This is my second piece for my tea-inspired December writing challenge.

Explanatory intro 2: Following yesterday’s story that turned out to be set on the Isle of Man, I had the idea of using that setting for all the pieces in this challenge. And then one of my Twitter connections, @Katinesss, also suggested I do a collection of Manx short stories.

So… I’ll try to make all of these about the Isle of Man. It’s true that the island is always there, somewhere, at the back of my mind, and it’s about time it earned its keep and gave me some inspiration.

Explanatory intro 3: The tone of voice is all over the place in this one. The Old Nance story from yesterday fitted very neatly into a traditional Manx way of storytelling, but Anna kept trying to slip into the present.

Anna Corlett was six years old when she learned that not everyone could make things sparkle.

An only child, and living in a remote farmhouse on the slopes of Beinn-y-Phott with just her mother and father for company, Anna didn’t often get to meet other children. But lonely she wasn’t, for didn’t she have the sheep her da raised, and the chickens her ma kept in the farmyard, and couldn’t she talk to Jess the sheepdog whenever she wanted? Except when her father was out moving the sheep from one place to another, or bringing them in for shearing with Ned Cowell from over at Injebreck.

But when there were no sheep near and the chickens were all busy with their pecking and their worriting, Anna would skip down the path to the stream and sparkle things. She’d look at a twig, or a piece of sheep’s wool caught on a fence post, and she’d do a kind of twist in her head. And in the next instant the twig would be up and marching around with a handful of its fellows, making a rigid little figure like the toy soldier she’d once seen in the window of a shop in Laxey, all fine and shining with a bright red uniform at him and boots as glossy as you could see your face in. Or the wool would be floating around over the short grass like a tiny cloud, with raindrops falling from its downy underside.

When asked about her day, she often told her mother Jinny that she’d made things sparkle, but it wasn’t until one day that she’d sparkled the dough in the mixing bowl and made it leap out onto the floured kitchen table, in a series of little round squishy balls that tumbled over and around each other, that her mother finally took notice of what she was doing.

Jinny shrieked once, briefly, then to Anna’s amazement waved her hand at the dough balls skipping flourily around on the table – and they all stopped. Just went from sparkled to still again, not gradually slowing down like they normally did.

And then Anna’s mother smiled at her and wiped her hands on her pinny and said, “Well, now, I’m thinking we need to have a little talk about this before your father comes home. And next week you and me will pay a visit to your Great Aunt Nancy in Lonaby. It’s been a while and I’m thinking she’ll want to see what a fine big girl you’ve grown into”.

Just writing whatever comes out of my head.