Comedy you say? I’ve never heard of him!

Back to the writing! in this weeks class we had some great exercises orchestrated by the thoroughly interesting Peter Salmon. The aussie author used to work and teach at a writing retreat so he had plenty of great advice for us. I have to say though, a lot of what he said seemed to contradict what I have learnt over the last year. Mainly his idea that you just write, don’t outline, let your imagination guide you and then do the research and fact checking during the editing stage. I think the main thing I have to learn from this is that everyone crafts differently. At the Black Library weekender one of the key suggestions was to outline everything and so the last few weeks I have been writing rough outlines for the stories I’m writing. I think in the long run this will help me get a better handle on those particular stories. If I ever struggle for an idea I will just put pen to paper as Peter suggested and see what happens. 

The first exercise we did involved writing down something we loved. Then write down a gender and age. Pass the thing you love to your left and the gender to the right. Thusly I ended up with a 32 year old male who loved technology. My immediate response was ‘I can work with this.’ We were then given some time (I can’t recall how much!) to start a story with this character. The following, as yet, untitled piece is what resulted:

 

 

David looked vacantly into thin air as the phone rang incessantly on the hook. He wouldn’t answer it. It would be the same old rubbish as before and the time before that. They would get bored and hang up eventually. Then only the really struggling ones would come down and see him, trying to drag him away from his task.

He looked at the phone, disgusted as the imperial march played its last beat. His colleagues often wondered how he’d managed to set the ringtone. The force works in mysterious ways.

David had thought about disconnecting it, but someone would notice. He didn’t fancy getting in trouble again. Forget that.

He pushed the phone to one side and covered it in papers, anything to keep it away. Now hidden, out of hands-reach and twin monitors he carried on his work. The important work that is.

One once screen the black and green of a Unix coding screen, the other halfway through a raid, his elfin princess resplendent in kicking butt.

Meaty fists hammered the keyboard as he worked away. Deftly inserting code with the left, repeatedly tapping the ‘1’ key with the right. Who said men couldn’t multitask?

A message pop-up popped-up annoyingly over is game window and he brushed it away with a click. Some other idiot on floor five, who couldn’t open their disk drive and probably thought the tab key was a drinks ordering facility. He once met someone who was scared of the space bar.

‘forward-slash pizza,’ he chuckled to himself, second chin wobbling in sympathetic irony.

Over the rumble of his laughter he heard the door to the office open and close with a click, but his dismissed it as he had the pop-up, with a lazy sweep of the hand. 

 

You can probably see the influences already, but I had in my mind this IT guy that was fairly disgruntled and felt he had a higher calling. It then turned into a sort of comedy piece. I’ve never written comedy before, and as Peter suggested we try to go outside our comfort zone, I thought ‘why not?’ I don’t know if its any good, or if people would find it funny, but I have an idea of where I want to go with this and I think I will write it at some point. It may change drastically from what you see here, as it is, in its first draft. It’ll be a kind of spoof. That’s all I’m saying. 

The next task was to give this character, well, a character. Peter asked us a series of questions about the character and we had to write the first thing that came to mind. He didn’t ask us to share the answers and I don’t think I will as I want to write him first without giving too much away. But if people ask nicely I may change my mind. 

The third and final task was to write down a list of 50 things about a person close to you. I chose my mum and as such chose not to read any of it out. (I will read out something in class soon, promise!)

And that was that for the day. 

I’m off to carry on writing about a Far World, intersected with lunch and probably staring out of the window. Hopefully I will be able to tell you more about that soon! (its a great view) I mean the story, silly! 

Thanks for reading.

Keep reading, keep writing. 

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Lest We Forget…

I haven’t made a blog post in a couple of weeks, for two reasons. I haven’t had a writing workshop on my course. We have been looking at other things. Also, I have been quite busy writing stuff that I can’t post on here. One of which was a submission to Black Library.

So, I thought, given the importance of the date, that I would post a flash fiction piece I wrote for a magazine which never saw the light of day. I don’t believe it needs any introduction or any comment on setting from me.

The Day

by Michael J. Hollows

The noise grew to a cacophony as it had done each time before, wailing like sirens before finishing in a calamitous bang. British artillery shells fell in the distance, throwing up great clods of dirt that could be seen from the British army’s position. Each shell whined overhead, causing the assembled men to flinch and duck instinctively each time, despite the distance. It was always the same, the noise. Each time the commanders decided to try and pummel the Bosch into the ground, the boys at the back would aim their cannons and the shells would fly. The sound of massed artillery was not easily forgotten. But they had been through it before, countless times, to get to where they were today. It didn’t make it any less uncomfortable though.

Private Gerald Harlow ducked again as he heard the wash of another shell go overhead. He cursed as his foot slipped off the boarding and threw mud up his fatigues. The mud added to the wetness around his ankles as he placed his sodden boot back on the boarding with a squelch. He looked at the men lined up either side of him, they were all soaked through. Gerald had run out of fresh socks weeks ago, he had even forgotten what dry feet felt like. His comrades likened this place to hell, but at least hell is supposed to be warm, he thought bitterly.

The dull crump of the artillery added to the misery as Gerald surveyed his surroundings once more, trying to warm himself up. The equally miserable men around him were all of similar age. Young men gone from their homes to fight in the British Expeditionary Force. Many of them had had no other choice, no prospects. Some had chosen it. But Gerry, as the others called him, had enlisted underage to get away from his home; to get away from a difficult life. His family were poor and aging, few were left. Only his sister had managed to make any money for herself by marrying in to a somewhat wealthy family. If he had stayed at home, he would have been living in poverty now, the army had given him a way out. Looking around, it didn’t seem like such a good idea now.

The captain was moving along the line of men, swagger stick under his arm, whistle held lightly in the other hand. He was a good man, as he passed each soldier he offered words of encouragement and a brief smile. As Gerald knew from experience this was a rarity in the army. The man also reminded him of home, whether it was the comforting Hampshire accent, or the body language that reminded him so much of his late father, he couldn’t quite tell. A note in his diary that morning, that had also been transcribed as a letter waiting to head home, said as much.

Today was the first of July, 1916 and the letter had told his elderly mother about his experiences in the army at great length and about the men he had met. He had ended it with the line, “Today is the day, today I become a man.” After writing it he had thrown up into a latrine and headed out on duty. Several hours later he found himself standing where he stood now, with his sodden boots and the deafening sounds of artillery.

The squelch of footfalls preceded the Captain reaching his position. As with all the others, he stopped briefly, putting a hand to Gerald’s arm and with a commanding tone so easy to him he said, “Are you ready, son?”

Naturally, Gerald swallowed nervously and deeply, before raising his head to look his Captain in the eyes. He struggled to control his nerves and his hands were shaking gently by his sides, but he managed a curt nod. The Captain smiled knowingly and moved on, removing his hand from the Private’s arm. An odd sense of relief flashed through Gerald, before he remembered the oncoming battle and his stomach fell again.

He hadn’t noticed the absence of sound, but it seemed strange now. He had grown almost familiar with the noise of the artillery barrage and had somehow phased it out of conscious thought. Now it was gone however, its absence was far more obvious and somehow disturbing. The cessation of the bombardment meant only one thing and Gerald swallowed deeply again while he shuffled his feet.

The Captain turned on his heel and looked along the line of his men. Breathing deeply he bellowed, “This is it, lads. The big push, get rea-“

His call was interrupted by a series of dull explosions nearby, which made Gerald’s stomach lurch and almost tipped him forward where he stood.

Unperturbed the Captain continued his speech, “That’s the mines, men. Now when you go over the top Fritz will be reeling so much you can walk all the way without seeing a single one alive! See you there! Ready?”

Gerald heard his Captain’s words and felt reassured by them, surely a man of his experience knew exactly what he was talking about and as the Captain put the whistle to his mouth the Private felt an immense sense of pride. He was finally a man.

The sound of whistles broke out all along the trench as the officers signalled their men to battle and they were soon joined by the shouts of the soldiers, roaring at the top of their voices.

Gerald added his own voice to the chorus, screaming until his lungs burnt with the exertion. Without another thought he followed his comrades up the ladder, placing his foot on the bottom rung and propelling himself into no man’s land.

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