Start writing!

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.


****

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

Mermaid Watson set up her stall with posters of naked bodies on either side of laminated certificates qualifying her as a tantric sex educator, cuddle therapy facilitator and sexological explorer. She added a liquid lamp oozing electric yellow in a wine-red fluid. She reviewed her fingers each with a ring from the karma sutra. She pouted in the mirror and adjusted her frosted blue eyeshadow. She rearranged the crystals, dusted her buddhas and added another video from world-renowned psychic Magda Haines. She had mantras, affirmations and tiny prayer stones, guardian angels and cosmic orgasm guides. This new age holiness also co-existed peacefully, at least in her stall with statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It was day three of the Body and Spirit festival. Muszak whined out a tinny Django Rinehart to the crowd. People were starting to gather around her stall. The usual giggling Japanese tourists, men with the look of a Thai holiday in their eyes, and middle-aged women shyly asking questions about the right gemstones for low libido.
She was explaining how a specific crystal could act as a love potion on a reluctant partner when nearby a loud male voice started preaching.
‘ it is ALL bollocks. Life isn’t magic. Let’s get real. Science is the only basis for knowing how the world works’
Outraged she rushed over to a stall three rows behind. The large sign in black and white proclaimed the stall as the Sceptics Shop. A tall, tanned guy with stylish glasses shoved a pamphlet on the benefits of scientific thinking into a young man’s hand.
‘Bros lets keep it real hey! ’ he joked with the teenager.
‘How did you manage to get in this time?’ she demanded ‘THIS festival is absolutely only for New Age businesses’
‘got a permit just like you did Alison ‘
‘So what promise fooled the organisers this time? she asked
‘I told them I would promote the benefits of meditation. Now get out of my stall’.
‘when was the last time YOU had sex you piece of cerebral stagnation!’
‘my body is none of your business. I’m calling security right now. ‘
Tod the security guy scowled in their direction and then decided to come over .
‘He giving you trouble Mermaid’
‘I can deal with Mr Bird’
‘Can I see your permit please?’ Tony Bird slapped the permit into Tod’s hand ‘She is asking me about my sex life’ he complained loudly. 'She's harassing me!'
Tod winked at Mermaid and then tried to descalate their standoff ‘Well she does include cosmic sex in her stall mate. Why not just lie back and enjoy it…?
‘You think you’ve got this place sewn up Mermaid. Well you haven’t I’m calling the Police !’ Tony hissed.
Of course Tony Bird would never call the Police. He had seen it all before. She was the one who was stuck. And it was inside her ‘New Age’ cult. No one in their right mind would call their child Mermaid……. this was a self inflicted name.
All he wanted was for her to revert again to Alison Mueller research assistant at Neuronics. Alison had a sharp mind for science and facts she had a fantastic bullshit detector. She was always offered promotions. And then one day in the middle of cutting up a brain, she crashed,walked out and never returned. Since then she wanted nothing to do with him. He ran back through their time together. It was full of Tedex dates, scientific conferences and papers. Why? Why Alsion? Why commit ‘intellectual suicide? Why leave me?
Alison rushed into the toilets. Inside she looked at herself in the Mirror. Mermaid had emerged from a sea of pain. She saw Tony, heard him, understood his message but she was not going back to being Alison. The laboratory might be ‘reality’. Humans probably are just conglomerations of chemicals and particles but this was no longer enough for her. Life was subjective and she could believe what she wanted!
His stalking her had to stop. Consulting her ‘Guide to Crystals’ she noted: 'Alexandrtite Can cause obsession or over-focus on something the person who enchants it chooses. The person can become delusional'.
Back at her stall she called Tony over and placed an Alexandrite ring on his finger. ‘Here take this as a peace offering’. Sure enough, months later she heard he had become engaged after a whirl wind affair with a woman at work.



May… Contain… Nuts

Last week's competition

Last Week's Winner!

Winning entry by Alex Fleet
Toby was literally jumping up and down in his seat with excitement. We turned the corner and in front of us was a great Victorian edifice, a long building, big as a ship, its functional, severe sash windows rendered a little less austere by the decorative brickwork patterns.

We pulled up near the massive front door and as Toby ran up the steps his Mum, my daughter Kathy, was there grinning from ear to ear. It was lovely to see them as Toby ran into her arms, had a great hug, then turned and ran back to me and hugged me too. “It’s super! It’s huge!” he shouted as he stood once again with big eyes sweeping from one end of the building to the other.

His Mum laughed. “It’s not all ours, Toby, we have just a little bit of it. There are lots of people live here, all of us in little houses built inside. You’ll probably see them other boys and girls, so just you keep an eye out and let me know if you see any!”

I don’t think Toby was interested in making friends at that point, he was just in awe of the size of the place. “It’s like a museum” he observed.

Yes, I pondered, it has a history, that’s for sure. It used to be a lunatic asylum, years ago. The nuthouse, it was called in those days. Now it had a more upmarket name, something which sounded as if it had been replanted here from an elegant London street.

We walked in through the great door and into the equally large hallway. Toby ran to the lift and pressed the button for the top floor, for that was where Jackie’s flat was. As we went up in the lift he and I smiled at each other, our secret smile, just between the two of us. Somehow at times we seemed to be the same person. We loved to wind up Toby’s Mum, because we seemed to communicate without words and she would stand there perplexed: “How do you two do that?” she would say exasperated, when we had agreed something to do together without a word being said.

I could feel the electricity sizzling between us strongly as we went up in the lift. I knelt down and we stared at each other, his eyes clear and blue, mine browned with age. He stepped forward and I held him close, feeling him tremble slightly with excitement.

The doors rattled open, the same steel doors from all those years ago, the ancient concertina type where you had to be careful not to get your fingers jammed between the rails when the door opened.
Toby looked at his Mum to confirm which way to go and ran along, counting the numbers on the doors, skidding to a stop outside his new home. Jackie let us in and Toby disappeared, but we could hear him whooping and shouting, his running feet echoing from room to room.

Soon he was reporting back: “It’s huge!” he said again. This was true: the ceilings were high, the rooms were big, the windows were big enough to stand in. Jackie and her boyfriend Sam had moved from a small terraced house in London when his company relocated and had then rented another small terraced house while they looked for somewhere to buy. They had moved in here over the last couple of days and Toby had stayed with me and we had some quality time together. Meanwhile, Toby had settled in well at his new school which was conveniently close. It was wonderful that they had moved here as I had been living nearby too, having inherited an aunt’s house which I had moved to a couple of years back. I used to live here. For a while. But that time was best forgotten.

Toby wolfed down a snack, then went exploring again. “Would you like to have a look outside, Toby?” his Mum asked.

Outside, the extensive lawns were laid with paths criss crossing from one end to the other, which kept Toby amused as he ran up and down them as fast as he could. “Can I cycle on these paths, Mum?”

After a while, Jackie looked at her watch and went in to start dinner. Sam would be arriving back from work in an hour’s time. Jackie’s work she could do anywhere, anytime: the marvels of the internet.

I stayed outside with Toby and he carried on exploring the woods below the lawned areas, hiding then jumping out as we walked around. There were trees to climb, paths circling round and round so he could run as fast as he could but still be in the same spot one minute later, which bemused him. It was lovely to see him, free and fast, enjoying the fresh air, as free as a bird. I felt my tension relaxing.

We went back to the flat, in time for Sam to arrive home. Toby hugged his Dad, then ran back to me and asked where all his toys were.

Jackie served up straight away though, and after a leisurely dinner Jackie got Toby into the huge bath, then afterwards handed him to me, wrapped in a snug warm white towel.

“Story?” she smiled at me. Toby nodded emphatically.

As I carried him along the hallway, Toby snuggled close to me. He was warm, with the scent of a clean towel and clean skin and Toby’s own delicate scent when his skin was close.

I put him down at his bedroom door and left him to clamber into bed while I just popped to the bathroom, still warm and steamy from Toby’s bath.

In the bathroom, it was quiet. Except for the tap. The dripping tap. I couldn’t wait to turn it off fully but in that half a minute the panic had risen. I had so had it under control. It had been a long time. But it started to come back, the forgotten but familiar feeling. I could feel my muscles tense and consciously had to make an effort to relax. I flushed the toilet, and with that came the faint scent of antiseptic that Jackie had used on the toilet. It was not her usual brand. This was different. This was . . . familiar. I felt my hear racing again. I closed my eyes. The smell was strong. My feet were cold on the tiled floor. The room was cold. I shivered.
I opened my eyes. It was Jackie’s bathroom, not the one I had flashed back to for a moment. I breathed deep and slow, calmed myself. Coughed. Walked out and into the hallway.
I could hear the muffled cries of a child in the next flat, through the thick Victorian walls. The hallway echoed as I walked along it. Toby’s room was at the end. The door was ajar. The light was not on. As I walked towards it, there was a slight luminescence and as I quietly arrived at the door, I saw it was from the moon shining in through the tall sash window.

Toby was there, at the window, staring up at the moon. His slim frame was in silhouette, the moon caressing his head and shoulders with its cold light.

He had shrugged off his bathtowel and stood there naked, how he went to bed in the summer.

I didn’t need to see him turn his head to hear him say quietly “Look at the moon.”

He was transfixed. I was transfixed. I was looking at him, at me those years ago. That had been me, those years ago, a little boy, seven, standing at the window, staring at the moon, naked because I had torn off the scratchy clothes they had dressed me in and driven me half mad by the dripping tap, the scratch of branches on the window, the noise of the other people screaming, the crush of smelly bodies in the corridor, the way people did different things to what they said and didn’t tell me, the noise, the touch of everything. They have a name for it now, they know what it is.

But I was proud that it had taken four people – four grown ups – to hold me down before they could tie me to the metal bedframe, still to carry on screaming and contorting and lunging and spitting and biting. Screaming animal screams, louder than any of the other inmates. Somehow, in the end, they got the needle into me though, and for a while everything went quiet.

To look at Toby was a help. He seemed so peaceful and quiet, just gazing up at the full moon.

I became aware of the crying child next door. For a couple of moments it was there in the background. Then, I realised it was me. In my memory. I was sure I was silent but my brain was crying out. My little boy memory.

Tonight, it would have to be a short story for Toby.

Actually it would need to be very short.

I felt my pulse rate quicken, I couldn’t control my breathing. Then, I thought, what if Toby picks up on this? That would be so wrong. I need to leave now, get out this room quick. Then, from Toby I heard a noise, a strange gasp I’d not heard before. I paused. He was still standing there, but I could see the tenseness in his body.

The scream from next door was louder. The scream in my head was louder. I remained quiet though, still. But as I watched Toby he turned, slowly, towards me. I ran towards him. Something was wrong.

Before he even saw me his eyes were wide, tortuous fear contorting his features. He knew. He knew. Or at least he didn’t know, he felt. He felt the horror of the place.

Suddenly I felt so guilty. I had never spoken of this place, to anyone, after we had moved away. Somehow I had managed to get out. Did the things they wanted me to, somehow. Got out. We moved away, never to return, till a couple of years ago. When I married, I never mentioned it. It was in the past, would stay there. I was concerned when I found that this was where Kathy, my daughter and Sam, and beautiful little Toby were going to live, but it was then such a lovely place for them, different. I would cope.

But here I am. And Toby, contorted, stiffened by fear. Finally his eyes found mine but they were unseeing. They looked through me, past me. He stood facing me now, his face in the dark, black shadow from the moon. I could not see his eyes, his expression.

But then, his tiny chest filled, his throat gargled and he screamed, a deep, agonising animal scream that sent icy chilling shivers down my spine and zapped my fingers and toes, made my hair stand up on my neck and then I too was overcome with uncontrollable sobbing and before I knew it I had taken in great gulps, sobbing gulps of air and together we screamed, screamed in the dark room, lit by the full, full moon.
My Notes