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This week's title is Sometimes I'm Happy. The final entry time this week is 11pm (UK time) 30th September 2022. Predicted prize fund is £50!

Editorial

18th September 2018

Deciding on a theme for Hour of Writes is a tricky business. It must be precise enough to inspire writers to create pieces with clear connections to the theme, but broad enough that each entry will be unique. Of all things Attack And Receive could have been inspired by, it came from a playing card in the franchise that dominated my childhood: Yu-Gi-Oh. With such an aggressive phrase, I was hoping for war, embittered couples, and intrigue. I was delighted to find all this, alongside some whimsy.

I was immediately drawn to Entry 3155, which explores a situation too many of us will be familiar with. It reminds us that those who suffer from violence often turn to violence, that this cycle is not easily broken. Entry 3155 also shows that there can be a lot of power in simple language.

Entry 3160, Red Poppy Boy (gets what’s coming to him), has a lovely rhythm that drives the reader through a story of addiction and consequence. This can be seen especially in the second stanza, with: ‘an A1 stealer / all state receiver / a total syringe believer’. Successfully employing rhythm always makes a poem more compelling.

With Entry 3163, we see a regular structure and rhythm used to great effect. The images were very vivid, essential for communicating a story with such a degree of movement and as many changes in scene. I particularly enjoyed the shift in scale in: 

‘Zipping through the midges and the dragonflies / We crest the spikes and fall into a murderous scrum’,

making the poem more dynamic and cinematic. 

For me, Entry 3159 was the obvious winner. Gentle and concise, the piece takes us ‘inch by inch’ through a race. The poem is dense with imagery, and it is a credit to the author that they evoked such a strength of feeling in me with so few lines. I keep returning to: 

‘The last water gone / Like legs / with nothing left / except blisters, cramp, / tiredness beyond enduring’

drawn by its subtlety of rhythm and simplicity of language.

Thank you to everyone who entered. Judging this competition was a wonderful excuse to sit down, have a cup of tea, and immerse myself in varied poetry and prose. You each responded to the prompt differently, making this process an absolute pleasure. I hope you all continue to write great work for Hour of Writes, and for yourselves.


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About The Judge

Jack Cooper works at the University of Oxford, in a laboratory that uses the sexual courtship of fruitflies as a model to understand core features of development and behaviour. His poetry has been longlisted for the National Poetry Competition, and shortlisted for The New Poets Prize and Segora Poetry Competition amongst others. Stephen King, Final Fantasy, and K-Pop are the great loves of his life.

You can find him on Twitter at @JackCooper666, and on Instagram at @JackCooper0696


Ephemera

Maybe I am crazy. The wind is like knives right now. I think my left glove is filling up with blood but I can’t take it off to check. I’m so tired. This might be the most tired I’ve ever been, and you know that’s something. This damned cold, it leeches the life from your bones. I’m worried I might shatter like a lightbulb. Breathe. This is just where I am right now. keep moving. Reduce everything down to the simplest actions and repeat them until you reach your goal. Focus on surviving each moment and if you survive enough of them, you’ll prevail... or die trying. Is there some sort of nobility in that? I’m not sure.

“This is an incredibly bad idea Tom. You’re a forty year old man who suffered a massive stroke in his early thirties. Your recovery has been impressive but… Tom, I don’t want to be harsh here, but there’s a reason you had that stroke in the first place. You are not physically equipped for this in any sense. It is, quite literally, suicide… Look, Tom… I… I don’t want to overstep but, I get the sense that you haven’t been happy for a long time. I think some part of you is looking for a purpose, something to get out of bed for, and that’s laudable, I applaud it, I really do. It’s good for you to push betond your comfort zone, really beneficial, and I support it, but… You’ve fixated on a really dangerous idea here Tom. I can help you find someone to speak to. In fact, I think a good friend of mine could really help you out. He’s not NHS but I’ll happily put in a word. But… I’m sorry Tom. As your physician I cannot possibly sign off on this, and you… you really shouldn’t want me to.”

He’s a good man. He would’ve sectioned me if I’d told him the whole truth, but there are private doctors with less scruples. I was happy once. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t. I know what I want now.

Do you remember the picnic in Chipping Camden? Well, the first picnic at least. That place has such a hold on you. I was going all out to be as swanky as possible, trying to go fully artisanal, real hipster stuff. I bought that obscenely expensive sourdough… I think the starter predated Edward the Confessor. I wasn’t trying to show off, I just wanted it to be good you know? But I made the fatal error of trusting you. “Oh yeah, I’ll find some pâté, no worries.” No worries… I can’t believe I had to spread Tesco potted beef on a loaf that cost fifteen quid.

That was happy.

That loaf was shit too.

God, you would be so angry with me right now. No, actually you’d laugh at me. Both? I’m seriously climbing up a mountain to find a man who grants wishes. Actual wizard shit- Shit!

That is a deep crevice. Like, ‘there’s no coming back from that’ deep. Hang on a second, I need to focus. Make smart moves Tom. Hah. This might be that abyss Nietzsche was talking about. It’s narrower than I was expecting but it’s definitely gazing back at me. I think I’ve got a good hold but it’s hard to tell. I have so little feeling left in my hands. Christ.

Look, I can’t stress this enough… It’s not like I don’t know that this is stupid, I swear to you I do, but… I don’t know. It’s symbolic maybe? Like, when I used to read the cards for you. We both knew it was bollocks but the ritual meant something. It did to me at least. Anyway, I t’s a mystical mountain and that’s pretty alluring.

I’m really just working through some stuff. When I get to the top all I expect see up there is the clouds… maybe the stars at this rate.

I hope it’s glorious. I hope that I’ve earned that. Can you physically climb your way to an epiphany? God, listen to me, it is a bit unhinged. I think that’s just how I am right now. Is that alright?

I like the stars. Remember when I pointed out Vega through the conservatory roof? I told you all about Lyra and how Orpheus ventured into the underworld and, you knew all of it, obviously, but… I was still struggling with the words back then. You were the first person I wanted to say them to so you let me. I wonder if Orpheus could play like you? I mean, he’d be baffled by a guitar but… I bet he wasn’t all that.

It’s always like this when I reminisce. I feel myself getting morbid now and I really don’t want it. That’s probably dangerous in a place like this. I mean, true story: at this exact moment, my index finger is the only thing keeping me alive. Don’t worry about it.

Memories are ghosts. Their ghosts you can only reach through a lousy medium with a torn Polaroid. You really can’t go home again, so…God help you if you lose track of it. Find a new one I guess? For me the past has always been inherently mournful. I really wish I could remember you without the sorrow but it’s hard. I don’t know… it makes me feel ungrateful I suppose.

There are some crazy icicles here, like a rack of glass lances. I kind of want to lick one. Oh crap, Knight Rider! Remember that? Punjabi MC? I had to carry you back so, yeah, probably not. I don’t think that would fly anymore. You know, two super white people trying to sing Bhangra at the karaoke? God, I loved that track. Almost makes me feel warm.

You know, I can carry a tune pretty well now. I want to join a choir but I’m kind of embarrassed. I need to get over myself.

I’m almost scared to give into the hope but… I think I’m pretty close. That would be great timing because I’m starting to feel a little euphoric. I think, in a mountaineering context, that means my brain is dying? I’m supposed to be worried about that right? I dunno. Would this be a good way to go? Is this a good story? I think it’s probably lacking important cont- Wait…

Shit, I think I see something. There’s a little red flag peeking above the horizon. It’s on a thick wooden pole and it’s been blown ragged by the wind. It was roaring so loudly before but now it’s like a dull hum. Might be my ears. I think there’s a building… It’s a tiny hut made of stone, but it looks solid.

I think there’s a light through the cracks of the door. It’s so small but… God, I can’t believe there’s really something here. It might all be nonsense but there is something here. There is someone on this damned mountain.

I might be crazy, but I’m going to march in there, even if it gets me an ice pick to the face. I’m going to march in there and do what I first dreamt of when I heard this stupid story.

I’m going to tell them about you. I’m going to tell them what you mean to me and how much I owe you. I’m going to tell them just how wonderful you are, and I’m going to get it wrong because I never had those words in the first place.

I’m going to tell them that, tomorrow, the love of my life is marrying the man of her dreams… and I’ll bite my lip.

I’m going to ask them, please, make sure it doesn’t rain in Chipping Camden.


Recent ShowNotes


What… I… Do

Last week's competition

Last Week's Winner!

Winning entry by Seaside Scribbler
You may not believe me when I tell you what I do, but I need a boost. No, this isn't just a way to pull you into my story - though of course I want you to read on, and be lifted up a little by my words and the possibility that exists inside the lines. You just may not believe me, simple as that. But you should. And if you do, well, let's just say it'll help us both out.

You've met me. You won't remember quite what I look like, just that I was the one who helped at the right time. Pick me out of a line up? I doubt you could, because at those moments of crisis all we can see is our own predicaments and the fact we're probably screwed... until voila, along comes what you later refer to as a guardian angel, who saved the day. But you won't quite remember my face.

You're quite close to the truth with that one. Angels. Perhaps that's the best way to describe us, although angels would probably do what we do for free, because they're, like, angelic, and not simply out to save themselves, as we are. Anyway angels as you know them don't exist. But we do. In a way.

We're selfish, but we spend our time saving, helping. A selfish saviour. It sounds like an oxymoron but I'll try to explain.

That time you stood at the checkout and realised you'd forgotten your purse (back before apple pay and all that stuff gave us slightly fewer opportunities) and a kind old man stepped out from the queue and said he'd pay, and no, he didn't want anything back? That was us.

That time your kid nearly stepped out in front of a bus, or fell out of your car door when you'd forgotten to put the child lock on and there was miraculously a never-before-seen gap in the traffic that day? That might've been me.

That time you stayed a second longer - somewhere - because somebody stopped you and asked you a question? One of us.

What about when the train you were about to get on crashed/the plane caught fire on the runway/the bus went into a jack-knifed lorry - and you weren't there, even though you should have been? And you say, There but for the grace of God go I, as the camera pans over bodies under sheets. Not a common occurrence, but yes, that was me, or my colleagues.

Are you getting the picture? You don't have control, not ultimately. It's not God, or at least not any God you'd recognise. Even we don't know who's in charge, just that somebody is, because we were given a choice. And we feel a whisper - a 'this is the moment' and in we step.

Still with me? Have you ever searched for meaning? Wondered what it was all for/about? Of course you have. It's in human nature to wonder. We want answers, and if we can't find them, we make them up. You might say this is what I'm doing now, because of course lying is part of what I do. But this bit, at least, is true. I want you to believe me. I hope - I need - you to believe me and feel just a little tiny bit brighter about life at the moment. Be lifted back out of the grey of the past few difficult years with their ongoing weirdness.

What I/we do on a average day might look like this. Kiss my husband/wife/lover goodbye. Go to work/the shops/school pick up. Do the thing I am meant to be doing, come home. And if I'm lucky, I find a Job. And if I find a Job, I do the Job, and I come home again and I might cook your tea of eat the tea you've cooked or make love or put a wash on. I tend to avoid TV except if I need to train, because what a waste it is. What a waste of life. And I/we know exactly HOW precious it is.

How about now - are you still reading? Intrigued? Wondering about all those times somebody nameless and faceless helped you? Remembering how you wanted to thank them or pay them back and you end up doing it on social media because I didn't give you a number and you can't remember me? And now you might be thinking is: but hang on, why are you telling us this? Surely whatever you're on about (because I doubt you've quite got it yet) is some kind of a secret?

Well, yes.

But.

I feel like some of you need a boost. Sometimes I feel I've lived even longer than I have (you won't believe me if I tell you but let's just say I've seen several more prime ministers rise and fall than you ever will, and the first one I experienced was never photographed - yes, that long ago) and life at the moment is feeling tougher than it has, even though, even though for most of us it's the easiest we've ever had it. Trust me, life is easy, even if you think it's not. You're not spending the winter worrying you'll have enough food (although this year, perhaps), worrying about how many more of your children are going to die, worrying about being made houseless because your husband has died and you cannot own property because you were born without a penis. You're not having to farm and store just to eat. There are options, even to the poorest of you. Been there, done that, to use one of these horrible modern expressions. No. I'm telling you about what I do because I think you need a boost; a reminder; a wee stroke. You need to know some of the unexplainable stuff is actually unexplainable (to you.) It WAS a bit of magic that you survived/didn't get on that plane/were helped buy a week's worth of shopping/etc etc.

And actually, I don't even know if I can explain it myself, and I'm part of it.

If you're reading on, congratulations. It means your curiosity is still alive, and with curiosity comes the possibility of Everything in Each and Every moment. You're beyond the mundane. Life hasn't killed you yet (forgive the pun.) You're the type of ones they ask. They. Yeah, even I don't really know who they are, and I've been doing this a while. They.

For me it was a tap on the shoulder at my lowest ebb. Like a masonic handshake that you'd only recognise when it came. I never knew They existed, but the moment that tap came, on went a light and I knew that something out of the ordinary had just happened. I'd had a life of struggle - I won't bore you, but they were a tough 51 years and though I'd not had enough, my body had. In those days 51 was ancient, and I was sort of being looked after but also sort of left to just conveniently die and leave everyone else a bit more food. I was low. So low. I was having what might now be called an existential crisis: Just exactly WHAT was the point in any of it? Everyone I'd loved had died, my entire life had been hard work and I was physically broken and mentally angry. In short, I wanted more, and I knew I wasn't going to get it. I'd tried praying - pah. I'd tried everything else before praying - but I was going to die alone and wrung out and wretched and alone. What had been the point?

I spent days like that. I heard my daughter-in-law talking about the cheapest coffin and I thought, I'll go and get my own damn coffin, so I got up and began to inch my way to the coffin-makers. Damn them all.

I never saw a face, but I felt a tap, and all of a sudden, I understood that there was a point/some magic/a power higher than us. So I stopped and turned and was greeted by a large cloaked figure - nope, not Death, though it was him I was expecting. A bit monkish. A face in a dark hood that asked me if I wanted a bit more time. A bit more time? I asked. How much? That depends, said the face under the cloak. It depends how good you are.

Apparently, I'm quite good. I'm still here. And there are some who are not, who started after I did.

The interview - such as it was - took a few hours and required me to do a practical demonstration and a LOT of talking. They wanted to see inside my soul, or that's how it felt. The practical was a random act of kindness (as it would be called today. I forget what they called it back then.) It didn't have to be big, but in the event I saved a young child from choking by doing what today would be commonplace, but back then looked like some crazy witchcraft. Three things happened: The child lived, I was under suspicion, I suddenly felt better.

There were sage nods from the cloaked figure. And I saw a smile. Welcome, the figure said, and melted away. I had questions, probably the same ones you do now, but I had more pressing matters to attend to - the fact I had seemingly brought a child back from the dead - and that I was walking a little straighter, breathing a little easier. I left the house of my late son and I began walking, and on the way, I did some Jobs.

I won't get into trouble for telling you this. It's secret and will remain so - you've no idea who I am and you couldn't find me if you tried. The internet is one of my biggest playgrounds and unlike others my age, I've mastered it as a tool for Jobs. Even tiny things help: that free stuff you got by accident and were unable to return to amazon/ebay/wherever; a bigger bank account than you expected, and you realised a payment to an awful huge corporation hasn't gone though (a guilt free gift!); the right post on social media at the right time ; that long forgotten friend/lover who got back in touch... Let's just say they had a helping hand.

It's clear what you get out of it: Help, in whatever way.

It's clear what I/we get out of it: More life. More wonderful, joyous, difficult, magical, addictive LIFE.

I don't know how many of us there are.

I don't exactly know WHY, although I know it's to do with Love. It's to help us keep on keeping on. We help you, you help us, the whole thing keeps on going. Who started it all? Not a clue. And I promise you that's the truth.

But if you're interested I can tell you what They like - selfless people; those who understand but don't wallow in struggle; those who are always hungry for more; those who aren't ready to go, who want to do and be more. There are other qualities, too. You must like people, even the ones who are on the surface unlikeable. Those Jobs pay the best, because you're helping to convert to - or restore - a sense of humanity. If this sounds like you, open your eyes, Open yourself up to the possibility that there IS meaning, that there IS something bigger than you.

And wait for the tap on the shoulder.



My Notes