New Shoes

February 14, 2018

This was written as an example of how specific details can make stories more realistic and hold more weight with your reader.

This was the first lesson, in which I asked students to consider and then writer about a pair of shoes which had been important for some reason to them. Maybe they had been particularly special or maybe they had been horrendously ugly. Why did they stand out to you? What can they tell us about you or your life?

In the next lesson, we looked at perspective and had to write as the shoes. The kids came out with some exceptional pieces in the end.

Here is my example using a pair of trainers I got when I was a teenager which I remember still as being the flashiest pair of shoes I’d ever owned.

**

They smelled like cool. All the students at school had talked about these – now I finally had a pair. The pink tick sparkled at me as if they had a mischievous glint in their eye; the laces twirled and danced upon the tongue; the air bubbles in the base seemed to pulsate to an inert beat which my footsteps were ready to join. I remember when I first put them on: “ha,” I thought, “it’s like walking on a cloud.” I’d never really been cool at school – I wasn’t unpopular, just not popular with the right people, if you know what I mean. However, these shoes were going to change that. I could feel it.

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Character Description

February 5, 2018

This is an example I modelled for students for Character Description. I had to meet the Success Criteria that we had made which was:

  • Describe how they look
  • Describe how they act/react
  • Use direct speech
  • Describe how other characters react to them
  • Describe their clothes

This was written in front of them in full flow… with some input from the students!

*

His grey hoodie was too big for him and fell over his hands like a willow tree over a lake, gently brushing the surface of his fingertips. He couldn’t help but fiddle with the sleeves, nervously scraping his nails across the stitching. His hair was shaved close to his head but he had long eyelashes which shadowed his dark grey eyes.  He saw her coming before she saw him.

“Hey!” he shouted, clearing his chest of sandwich crumbs and rising from the brick wall. She smiled at him, but then looked away, awkwardly acting as if she didn’t know him. She was like a mouse skittering across the kitchen floor so as not to be seen. Flailing madly, he ran across to her – shoving his body in front of her and glaring.

“Am I not worth one little hello, Andrea?!”


When teaching Pathetic Fallacy

February 3, 2018

I often think to myself – I don’t write enough! My blog has lain dormant for over a year now and notepads lie empty and un-scribbled in.

But I’ve realised, of course, that I write all the time! I write examples for students almost every day which we analyse or use as models for techniques.

So, I thought that I’d start to post some here – starting with this extract which I wrote during a lesson on Pathetic Fallacy. The task was that I gave them timed writing tasks with different weather examples in different orders. We were to see how much the weather changes and order affected the story we wrote. Here’s one I wrote where every picture was of a kind of vague drizzle. The time limit was 5 minutes.

*

Outside the window, the pitter patter of rain trundled on, endlessly. It wasn’t that powerful rain which knocks you back and soaks you through instantly, or that light rain which seems to caress your face like a mother to a child – but a pathetic weak rain which insipidly creeps up on you, gradually corroding the outer layers of skin, until there you are – stripped of all protective layers, wrinkled finger tips and shrivelled heart – ready to sit on a park bench and simply give up.

The clouds weren’t a violent purple grey of surging anger, no, they were a tepid light grey like the suit trousers of an insurance salesman or the skin of someone who is not quite dead… Yet.

And the air hung like a meat carcass in the butcher’s shop – dead – but not yet of any discernable use. Awaiting eventual consumption.

It was cold.

But not too cold.

He longed to be frozen – for his fingers to ache with frost-bite; for icicles to pop from his nose like stalactites – just so that he could say:

“Ooh, it’s a bit chilly out, Margaret”

Or

“We’ll need to get a fresh pair of gloves for you if this continues.”

But, no.

It was not too cold and neither was it warm.

Life was a luke-warm cup of tea for Nigel, and he wanted out.


Koh Phi Phi

August 31, 2016

Stepping off the boat

the waves of sales

men crash over us

following the scent

of our currency.

The current flows

 

Into the land of lads and ladettes –

To large linoleum dance floors,

And listless signs proclaiming

“You know what goes well with beer?

 

Sex.”

And everyone has it dripping in the sweat

That circulates through the square;

The throbbing beat of nineties classics

And the traffic of hungover teens

 

Living the Thailand dream.

And I feel like Philip Larkin

Watching them

on the long slide.

To happiness. Endlessly.

 

He accepts his own impending mortality, however.

 

I’m 28.

And this is torture.


Nighttime Flight over Bangkok

August 12, 2016

On a large rickety table
He places a black cloth –
It hangs over the table like the night over the city.

From inside his long dark jacket
Glittering objects appear
And he arranges them in sprawling lines
And empty squares and unbroken rows
In the darkness.

Glittering gridlocks;
Shimmering miniature streetlamps;
Christmassy quadrants;
The small square glass window through which a family eats and argues and loves and screams.

Everything is for sale.

Everything is for sale.

Look at the shining lights, my friend,
And what lies in the dark can remain in the dark.

As if it didn’t exist at all.


Ohrid – Sofia through the Macedonian countryside

July 25, 2016

The paper land is ripped to reveal the sky –

A hand-torn collage of crete-paper trees,

Orange sugar paper rock faces and

Harsh lines drawn through the green.

Houses cut from old travel brochures

Dot fuzzy felt valleys or peep out

From behind make-shift leaves.

 

Later, as mum cleared the mess and put away the glue,

She could have sworn she saw my little rickety bus

Travelling through.


Porto Montenegro and the fall of Tivat

August 27, 2014

Montenegro is still up-and-coming as a tourist destination: we are staying very near to Tivat airport and I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly busy airport. But it shouldn’t be, yet: Tivat is not ready.

From the Tourist Centre, if you walk to the beach you find a concrete coast, half-tiled, half dirt-path. There are many cafés and shops but not enough people to warrent them really: a few leather-skinned families waltz past; young people hang about in packs by the henna-tattoo hippy; and the even-younger jump into the water from a two-foot concrete diving board while their parents bake on the beach. To the left is a huge construction site – three skeletons of buildings sit beneath their corresponding crane – and you can see these will be luxury hotels or even more luxurious apartments.

You can follow a small stream of people to these half-completed complexes and around to the other side, through a small alley past a metal fence, where large numbers of taxis sit in a line waiting for prey.

And the prey are here. Coming out of the half-constructed alley, suddenly you’re in a well-lit, palm-tree lined, white-walled, miniature-fountain-laden marina complete with smart restaurants, organic food store and row upon row of pristine super-yachts. At this point, you could be anywhere – in this playground for the filthy rich all character is edited out – any unkempt nook destroyed or replaced. It is not the real world.

Walking along one of the piers with the many yachts tethered to it, it’s difficult not to want to stand in the centre of it all and scream “You all have too much money!”. This is a town surrounded by beautiful wooded mountains with perfectly clear water in the bay coming in from the Adriatic and seriously hot summers and yet it is being turned into a faceless nowhere-land where people with yachts throw money around before going to the next faceless nowhere-land (Puerto Banus or the like). You can see that this whole coastline will eventually be encroached upon by this concrete imaginary-land. All the surrounding big roads signs in Russian and English proclaim ‘Quality Real-Estate Available’ so you know this is not somewhere aimed at locals. As the prices continue to be hiked up, they will eventually be pushed out. No, this new faceless nowhere-land is a party for the super-rich and I, for one, am glad not to be invited.


An Average Summer Weeknight in Dresden

August 9, 2014

It’s 10.30pm on a Wednesday and the Dresdenites are out in force: €1.20 half litres of beer in their hands and the company of all the locals sitting in rows alongside them on the curb and all over the pavement.

The people I’m with are hesitant of this anarchic way of drinking at first, but very soon we’re all dirtying up our jeans and toasting passing cars. What a cheap night out – sitting outside the bars without paying their rates.

And it’s not just the underage and alcholics sat here (as you’d imagine it being in the UK), it’s everyone from cool young professionals to hipsters to ageing punks to people who work in IT and everyone in between. At one point I see a woman walking alone who just sits down in the middle of the pavement and has a rest for a bit – so it’s not even just a drinking thing! They just don’t worry about it.

Police cars drive past as you take a swig and one almost revels in their ability to do nothing. This street drinking is a tradition in Dresden that’s “decades old” the hostel’s night receptionist tells me – and it shows.

“We don’t have much sun and a lot of rain, so when it’s hot here everyone likes to celebrate no matter what day it is” she continues, and I think to myself that the same is true of the British. However, we tend to stick to the pub gardens or head to a park – these guys just sit where they stand – and it’s wonderful.


10 things the guidebook don’t* tell you about… German Switzerland!

August 8, 2014

*For the record, as my brother seemed to think I was under the impression “don’t” is the correct word to use hear rather than the actual correct “doesn’t” – I am using “don’t” on purpose as I think it has a ring to it… All right?! 

1. Generosity: the Swiss have been amazing hosts to me, I can’t thank them enough for making my time here incredibly comfortable. For example, when staying at my friend’s dad’s house on the outskirts of Zurich we came back from a festival covered in mud so left our dirty shoes and clothes on the porch before falling into bed. When we awoke he had hosed down our shoes and washed all our clothes and hung them out to dry for us. And there were four of us staying there – most parents would surely expect things to be the other way round but he wouldn’t let us help out – we were his guests and that was that. My friend Rowan in Bern joked that it’s easy to be generous when you’re Swiss because you just have so much money! Ahem…

2. Nearly everyone has a balcony. Standardly. 

3. There is no such thing as a “seedy area”. I went to stay one night at my uncle’s flat in a place called Trimbach which he said was “cheap and a little seedy”. This place was set into the foothills of the mountains, next to a river; everything was super-clean and the gardens incredibly well maintained; and there was a lindt chocolate factory nearby. I’m surprised there is a translation for seedy in Swiss-German at all! 

4. There are playful (maybe not completely playful) tensions not only between the people who speak different languages in Switzerland but also between dialects! People in St Gallen get taken the piss out of for not pronouncing their ‘R’s properly, and generally German German is frowned upon!

5. And despite being part of a different country the French-Swiss are still looked upon as snobby! The English will be pleased to hear that!

6. They think they are running out of space. Quite a few people said to me that there was so much construction of properties going on that there would be nothing left to build on soon. As a Londoner, looking around at Switzerland’s wide open spaces and even average garden-size and house-size this seemed absurd. It is possible to fit a lot more in I assure you. The thing is, with “foreign” often a dirty word in Switzerland (and I don’t think I’m being unfair here – just look at some of the political advertising from the last election), I felt that maybe it was political canvassing that might have caused this concern. A lot of tensions in England to do with immigrants are exacerbated by this myth that “there’s not enough room for them: we are full”. Which, of course, we’re not.

7. Fondue is only a winter thing. We managed to convince our hosts on a rainy summer evening to get the fondue pot out (every Swiss has one!) and, my God, that stuff is rich! I needed to stay seated for quite a while afterward to let the cheese settle!

8. Education can go on forever. The fees for degrees are relatively low, so you can stay in education for as long as you want, pretty much. My friend is just finishing his bachelors in Linguistics and thinks he will now do another bachelors in Law. Not even a Law conversion – a full bachelors followed by a masters. Why do we put such a high price on education in the UK? It makes no sense.

9. They make really good chocolate ice-cream. Go on, have some. And the ice-cream shop in Bern was open later than the supermarket. You can tell where their priorities lie!

10. Train stations are city hubs. They are the meeting place, the eating place, the shopping centre. There is a rule that allows train station shops to be open every day and later than normal shops – so they have become the place to be, it seems!

I am currently in Dresden, Germany and my post about here (a new favourite city!) will be coming up shortly! Tschüss!


In Between Belgrade and Budapest

July 31, 2014

As I am about to embark on another month-long European journey, I have been looking back at some of the things I wrote and picked up along the way when I last did this. That was back in 2007, when I was on the verge of turning 19. That time, I spent all year saving up, and had my interrail pass ready and so many plans that ended up ignored. This time I’ve been far less prepared, pretty much doing the whole thing on a whim.

Back then, I had had a difficult few years leading up to that point, and this was my first true taste of freedom, and my first solo travelling trip. I suppose you could say it changed my life – in that I realised that travelling was going to be a big part of me and my life. But then again, I was still me: I didn’t feel different and I didn’t find any inner strength that meant I could escape the troubles I returned to afterward. That came a lot later, after a lot more poetry.

Anyway here is a poem that I wrote on a night train from Belgrade to Budapest. I was in a cabin with these cackling old hags (for want of a better word) – in my mind they are almost pantomime versions of the witches from Macbeth, the floor between us their cauldron. Across the horizon lightning cracked through the sky over and over again in intensely close dry storms, and all I could hear was the lightning, thunder and their laughter, non-stop, all night. LJ

In Between Belgrade and Budapest (2007)

Jumping along rickety track
Window held open
With a ball-point pen.

Sharp shrieks scatter
Across the silhouetted landscape.
Straining to escape the confines

Of the carriage and open myself up
To the cracking sky,
I push down rounded-plastic
And tap a roll-up into the breeze.

Flashes of exposure engulf my
Awaiting skin. Impulses of awakening
As lights dim

From towns propped up on the edge
Of the horizon.

Momentarily, I glare into the cabin:
Smiles from women with broken teeth;
Cigarettes hanging from broken mouths;
Destitute little dots returning
Or leaving, ricocheting through the static.

They are
Deep in foreign conversation so
I return to the opening chasm above

Ignoring the decaying butts and composted dust
Wiped into the fraying green rug
Beneath my feet.