Well it’s been a while since I last posted a writing 101 post, but to be frank, I have been unnecessarily busy and I’ve been finding it hard to be inspired by the tasks. But this one intrigued me! I thought it would be an interesting one to look at because I thought I could give it a nice sense of reversal. Anyway….
“The day they came to evict Mrs Pauley was a nice day. A sunny day. Two of them came, in a police car. The filed out of the back with the landlord in tow; he was marching behind them looking menacing. I could see them walk over her neatly mown lawn. They churned up all her flowerbeds. It was awful.
“But yeah, you see. I never really liked Mrs Pauley. She smelled funny and always looked weird. I once heard her say a bad word. But Dad wouldn’t believe me when I told him. He said she did a lot of charity work and was an upstanding member of society. I think he just liked her. Not in like… not in like a sexy way but in a like mummy way. No, a granny way. Yes, a granny way. Anyway… she did say that bad word and I heard it and then a big pigeon flew out of her garden and down the street. It was the same day Mrs Lubbard’s dog ran away. He was barking in the garden and then he was gone.
“The landlord was fuming, said she’s been in her ears for months and he wasn’t standing for it anymore. He was shouting so loud I could hear him from all the way across the street. It was so random and funny. Anyway. He knocked on her door and then was like. ‘Mrs Pauley, please get out of my house. You’ve been warned enough times.’ And then she opened the door and said her bad word again.
“Then she started to get bigger. She kinda grew taller than the policemen. Her neck grew longer and she started changing colour. First she was all pink like a piggy, and then she was more purpley and then she was bright red. And then her face went all long and forwards like a big dog thing. But it wasn’t like a dog. Then she got a lot of shiny scales all over her and big spines on top of her head. Then the door started falling down and the police and the landlord ran backwards and fell over. Mrs Pauley walked forward on all fours and breathed fire all over the grumpy old landlord. It was amazing but her lawn is all burnt and black now. Anyway. Mrs Pauley turned back into a person then and stood there in the middle of the garden with no clothes on. She said another bad word and then vanished with a huge flash of light as bright as the fireworks at Jenna’s birthday party. All that I could see when I went to have a look was a pile of burnt policemen. And the landlord.”
I’ve been looking forward to this task since the first in the serial. If you haven’t yet seen it, it’s right here! Go and read that post first for a little more context for this one.
A basic recap though. This is a lore story for the novel I am writing. Body of Matter. which is set in post-massive scale natural disaster England and Wales. The nature of this disaster is a breed of spore emitting plants which use humans as hosts for their spores. These spores latch onto human skin and grow into… well growths. And when these growths are in full effect, they have a mind numbing quality on their host, and can eventually kill them.
One change I made from the first part is the name of the protagonist, which has gone from originally being Lola, to Sara and now to Carys. I am MUCH happier with Carys. It suits her, and it’s Welsh, which is where they are. So there you go. I’ve also tried to develop the characters a lot further in this one. So let me know how I did!
The pod sat there, grim and pulsating. A fine mist of spores hung in the air around it. Alun held onto his mother’s arm tightly.
“Alun, dear, it’ll be okay”
He looked at her, eyes wide and tearful. “Where did school go?”
“Alun, those things took over your school. It’s not safe to go anywhere near them now.”
“But we are near it. It’s there.” He pointed at the spore pod and shook his head. “It’s right there and we are near.”
“We’ll be okay in the car so long as no one opens the window,” said Tim. He was trying to work out another way round. The pods could only be destroyed safely by fire. Any other attempt to destroy them invariably saturated the air in spores in a matter of seconds. It was a distress reaction. The thing had latched itself on the side of a bank which lead down to a narrow bridge over a fast flowing river. It has encroached so far into the road there was no way of avoiding it. The car would run over it and spores would fill the air in their millions.
“Could we get to the bridge at Pontyllewellen?” asked Carys.
“We’ll have to, but I doubt we’ll have the fuel to get all the way. Did you bring the hosepipe?”
“Course. Look, we could try and syphon some fuel from the truck we saw on the road a mile or so back that way. Can’t we?”
“That sort of truck uses the wrong kind of fuel. We do not want to be putting this car out of action with all the stuff we have packed up in it. There could be spore sacks anywhere around here. We can’t risk it. We’ll have to go back to the village.” He looked uncomfortable. He could hear his wife and son having a conversation in the back seat. Amanda was doing her best to reassure Alun, but Alun was not going to be easily reassured.
“That’s another forty minutes away. Will we even make it that far?” said Carys.
“God knows. But I know I am not ready to give up trying just yet.”
“Alun says he needs the toilet,” Amanda butted in. “Can we stop and let him out when we find a bathroom?”
“Amanda… We don’t have the fuel to be finding bathrooms. I’ll go with him; he can go at the side of the road.”
“It’s number two,” said Alun.
“Tim, please, don’t make him shit on the roadside. The poor boy’s been through enough of late.” Carys remained silent. She knew that once her mother had Alun’s wellbeing in her head, she would not let it go. Alun had been her proudest moment. She’d taken him in as if he were her own. It had been long before the plants sprung up. Alun had been an unwanted foster child, passed from person to person, from school to school. He had suffered with a speech impediment all his life, and people ignoring him or talking over him had soured his behaviour. Most found his demands, and his behaviour, too difficult to deal with.
“Poor little mite, he’s been shipped from family to family for his whole life. Just because he’s funny in the head!” said Amanda. She sipped her moccacchino and set it back down on the saucer.
“And you’ve taken him into a loving house, you’re a treasure Amanda, you really are,” said a short, plump woman sitting at Amanda’s table. The woman’s name was Janette, to her left sat a middle aged woman, Helen, with a nose sharp enough to cut steel plate. Together the trio called themselves The Sisters and had a monopoly on online beauty product sales in all of Mid-Wales.
“So, darling,” said Helen “where did you get him?”
“Oh, you know, one of those ghastly children’s homes.” Her statement was met with a chorus of ‘Oh god!’s and ‘Awful’s and Helen even managed to hide a gasp with her perfectly manicured fingers.
“Amanda, you are brave doing this. How will little Carys take it having a new brother… with difficulties?” said Janette.
“Carys and her father can do whatever they wish; Little Alun will be with me. His difficulties, as you say, won’t be a problem. I’ll give him whatever he wants! I have the money to, so I shall. He’ll be the best treated boy in the entire county, mark my words. Disorders won’t be any trouble to me.”
“MUM. I need the toilet.”
“Tim, dear, we have to go and find a bathroom. There was a road back to a farm or something a few hundred feet back that way, can we not go and check up there?”
“Amanda, if we run out of fuel we’re stuck.”
“Oh don’t be such a worrisome old man, Tim. I’m sure there’s a tractor or something up that lane we can use!” Tim thought it better to not argue, as he often felt when his wife was arguing for his adopted son’s welfare. Carys shot him a warning look as he stopped the car and turned in the road.
The lane was thick with mud from the recent rain. The car lurched downhill and they eventually came to a solitary farmhouse. Tim was first out of the car, followed by Carys.
“You two make sure it’s safe and then Alun can come with you to find a toilet.”
“Nothing like lending a hand…,” said Carys to her father as they walked towards the farmhouse.
“Don’t talk about your mother that way. She is just looking out for that boy.”
“Sorry, dad. I didn’t mean to insult her. I just wish she’d be more practical.” The door was hanging open. Carys slowly pushed it open and called out. No answer came.
“You and I both, but I’m trying to keep her alive as much as I am trying to keep her happy. You love her, don’t you?” said Tim.
“Well, yeah, of course.”
“Then you’ve got to cut her some slack. She’s not dealing with this anywhere near as well as you and I are. This whole situation is completely out of hand and I know we should have tried to get to one of the protected towns or cities before now. But it’s too late for it.” The hallways was low ceilinged and covered in dust. Carys went straight to the kitchen and checked the cupboards.
“It’s clear. Someone’s had the lot.”
“Damn. Well at least there’s a working toilet. Let’s go get him.”
“I think there’s a larder. I’ll check. Gimme a minute.” Tim came back with Alun’s hand clutching his tightly. Amanda had elected to stay in the car and keep watch. “Dad! I found something you might be interested in.”
“Give us a second, Carys. Here it is, Alun, I checked it myself. No spores or anything.” Alun silently went into the toilet and closed the door after himself. “What’s this thing then, Carys?”
“Flour and yeast. Two large sacks and well twenty or so sachets?”
“You star! I’ll help you shift them.” They each carried one end of a sack, and slowly hefted it to the car.
“Where’s Alun?” said Amanda as Carys and Tim loaded one of the sacks into the car boot.
“He’s in the toilet,” said Tim.
“You left him in that house alone?” Tim looked taken aback.
“Well you could have watched over him if you’d have come in too.”
“Someone needed to watch the car, didn’t they? All our things are in here, if a no-good type came across it who knows what would have happened?”
“Yeah…” Tim sighed and averted his gaze away from her. “I suppose you’re right.” Carys shot him another stare and they went back to collect the second bag of flour.
“It smells funny in there,” said Alun, opening the door to the toilet. “Where can I wash my hands?” Luckily the taps were still running. Tim led him to the kitchen. The second bag of flour was heavier, and took a lot more cursing and squawks of pain to move. After ten minutes of struggling they lifted it into the back of the car, to sit in-between Amanda and Alun. She prodded it.
“Do we need this? It’s terribly grubby.”
“That’s flour, Amanda, a bag that size will keep us in food for months. Sorry it’s so inconvenient. But it’ll help. A lot.”
“I’ll go in the front then. Carys, you can take my spot.” Carys sat down next to her brother and the sack of flour. She found herself almost constantly having to swat him away from it as he found loose parts of the back to pick at.
The lane was a lot worse to go back up than down. The car bogged down in a few places and Tim had to rev the engine fiercely to get them out. About halfway up they got completely stuck.
“Carys, go out and push while daddy drives.”
“Can I have another pair of hands to help me with that? It’s a big car….”
“Don’t be silly, you’ll be fine!” Carys got out of the car and stationed herself behind it. Her trainers sunk into the ankle-deep mulch.
The farm had been quiet for month. Not a sound, nor a movement. And what is a parasite with no host to latch itself onto. Foxes, badgers, rabbits, none of them had any chance of survival. But humans. They were a different story altogether. They made the ground shudder when they walked. The tremors of their cars could be felt in the loamy Welsh soil for miles around. A young girl pushing a car was a target.
Carys saw it a moment too late. Through the trees the pinkish membrane violently lurched and a stream of microscopic spores wafted downwind towards her. She gave one last hard shove and the car came free. She screamed and ducked behind the car but her arm was caught in the mist. She looked at the pink slime which now coated her left arm and walked back to the car.
“Dad,” she said. “I’m hit.”
In this task, my word was ‘front door’ which goes nicely with ‘shut the front door’ which is a pretty popular minced oath for STFU. Minced oaths being… Oh sugar, Fiddlesticks, Flippin’ Heck! and so on.
On to the letter…
It’s been several months now and frankly I’m getting sick and tired of hearing the caterwauling your family has been expelling out of your house since you moved here. So please, will you please consider, in the nicest way possible. Shutting the front door. Please. I will ask you again, just shut the front door. It’s not too much to ask, is it? I mean, your wife has a laugh like she’s running a cheese grater over a cat’s foot. Your cat sounds like someone running a cheese grater over your wife’s foot. Your son and his playmates should know better than to play that kind of ‘music’ at full, amplified volume, at 3 in the morning, on a work night. You’re the worst of the lot as well. You with your motorbike, revving it all the time and treating the road like it’s the Isle of Man Motocross. So just shut the front door. Shut it. That car alarm of yours has been going for 6 hours now. Shut it. I am fed up of you shooting squirrels in the garden. Shut it. Your wife can surely stop playing the drums. Shut it. Just shut the FRONT DOOR.
Well this was a fun little task to do. I remember walking back from school one day a good few years ago a man came up to me and said something which really stuck in my mind… I perhaps didn’t pay so much attention to the foreshadowing aspect of this task, but I made a small attempt at it at least!
The bus was on time, which was pleasing. The sky was azure blue and the clouds were nowhere to be seen. The road was quiet, unassuming. A sudden yell broke the afternoon and made me look around, apprehensively. I quickened my pace, holding my school blazer around me tighter, as if that would give me some sort of protection. The pub at the top of the hill was busy as it usually was at lunchtime on a sunny afternoon. A man stumbled out of the door and dragged his inebriated self across the carpark. There was a raucous round of jeering from a group of men in the doorway. At a glance I’d have said he was in his fifties. He was significantly balding and was wearing a dusty and faded chequered shirt.
He turned towards me and started down the hill, gently swaying in his half drunken stupor. I pulled towards the road and averted my gaze away from him. “Fuck me you need a haircut,” he said.
I stopped in my tracks and was immediately inspired with a tirade of quips and comebacks. I spun round, almost theatrically and looked at him squarely in the eyes. I cleared my throat and he stood there completely dumbfounded.
“Firstly, no thanks, I’d rather have sexual relations with someone more around my own age, I’d also rather not turn into some sort of twisted gigalo who accept payment in scissor wielding barbers. It’s funny, you say I need a haircut, yet frankly, sir, you could do with some hair. I did detect a pang of jealousy in your tone. Perhaps you’d like me to fashion it into a wig for you? While my hair may be considered long for the average fifteen year old boy, it suits me a lot better than your luscious locks ever would. But tell me, sir, how did your hair go missing? Did the drink on your breath cause it to spontaneously combust? I wouldn’t put it past you sir. I wouldn’t recommend smoking with that amount of alcohol in your bloodstream; you’d turn into a dragon. Anyway, sir, I must be getting home.”
The man blinked at me foolishly, looking like he didn’t know whether to punch a fifteen year old smart-ass or weather that was one step too far. In the meantime, I started walking, rather briskly down the hill, and away from him. I chanced a glance back in his direction and he was still stood there scratching his head.
Okay… That wasn’t how it happened. More or less everything after his statement about the length of my hair is a lie. Except the briskly walking away. I did that.
I spent ages trying to come up with something original for this one, let me know if you think I did!
“Tell me then, Sir, why did you pick me and not one of the other girls?”
“Please, Rebekah, call me anything but Sir in public.”
“Oh, sorry… Sir.” I took his hand and looked into his eyes. “You’re beautiful,” I said. His crow’s feet became more defined as a grin formed on his face. He looked down at me, his firm hand gripping mine.
“When did you decide on that judgement?” he said.
“Oh… I don’t know… When I caught you with your shirt off after hockey last spring?” I could still picture it now. The way his dark, wiry black hair glistened with sweat on his Persian chest mesmerised me. The park was quiet as the winter dusk drew in. I turned to face him directly and stood up on tiptoes. I planted a kiss directly on his cheek. I felt his breath on my neck and a slow and pulsing shiver ran down my spine.
“I should get you home,” he said. I hated how professional he was sometimes. He’d never take any risks.
“Can’t I stay with you tonight? Please?”
“Not tonight, I have the entirety of year nine’s papers on the French Revolution to mark. I wish I could…”
I guided his hand to my leg, and motioned to pull up my skirt. “Sure you couldn’t do with some help?” He wasn’t looking. His face went pale and he was looking at something behind me. I turned and saw a woman walking towards us. She was carrying a ball of yarn and two metal needles.
“Mr Darvish, I believe you may have some explaining to do. Or would you prefer me to get the media involved?”
“Please, Mrs Dayton…” I looked up at him. His swarthy façade had gone and a tear was rolling down his cheek.
“I shall have to report this to the rest of the governing body, Mr Darvish. They’ll make sure you never teach in this country again.”
She was like the very best crack to me. We usually wandered into the park after she stayed back for her almost inevitable detentions. I expected she had been getting herself into trouble for exactly that reason. I’d been honest with her though. I wasn’t looking for a relationship, not immediately. It wasn’t legal immediately. I thought a year would be safe. Her graduation ceremony had been last July but with each day, I thought… Maybe today.
The park was lovely tonight. I took Rebekah’s hand and walked through the dimming light. She was trying her best to flirt, and maybe it was working a little. She had this little game of calling me ‘Sir,’ in exactly the way she had done when she was a student of mine. She was nineteen now, but still looked young enough to be in school. I usually went along with it, but not outdoors.
There’s no question that I found her attractive. She’d been the pick of the school. Every boy wanted to be with her. Apparently she’d always said that I was her ‘destiny.’ It was flattering, if a little disturbing at the time. I checked my watch and my heart sank.
“I should get home,” I said.
“Can’t I stay with you tonight? Please?”
“Not tonight, I have the entirety of year nine’s papers on the French Revolution to mark. I wish I could…”
Before I knew it my hand was being held against the hem of her skirt. I could feel her soft smooth skin. If I’d been more aware of what was going on. I’d have noticed the school governor who just so happened to be my former mother-in-law sitting on a bench nearby, knitting a new jumper for her dog. I knew she’d seen us. Somehow I didn’t think the months we had waited would matter to her.
“I saw the incriminating evidence a long time before its perpetrators saw me. It was disgusting. He’d been a part of my family since my daughter and he met in school. Now he was picking up school girls. Well I never.
“They were walking through the park and I was sitting, minding my own business, just knitting a nice new comfy sweater-vest for my pride and joy. He’s a lovely boy. Came best in class at the last show we entered. Proper pedigree of course, cost me about £4000 as a pup. But yes, quite, dear. I saw him with his hands inside her petticoats I swear. In public of all places!
“Well I never quite expected him to stoop that low, dearie.
“Well of course, I wrote to the head governor straight away. Surely it’s a bad mark on the school that its teachers can’t help themselves but to molest their own students in a public park. You know my daughter never said he was a slime-ball. But some people just don’t give you that impression, do they? That’s how paedophiles work dear.
“No, no, I mean they hide themselves, don’t they dearie. Lie about who they are.
“What do you mean there’s nothing that can be done about it? He was near enough raping a student!
“It’s irrelevant that she hasn’t been a student for almost a year now, surely!
“Good day sir. I will not be telephoning your constabulary again.”
Khaled Hosseini has a knack for heart-rending narrative. It was the case in his debut novel The Kite Runner and it’s the case in A Thousand Splendid Suns, his second novel. Thematically, the two are comparable. We have the child start in Afghanistan, we have two major characters who have a difficult and complicated relationship, we have the backdrop of civil war, coups and violence in both novels. Where A Thousand Splendid Suns differs is its characters.
The story initially follows the young girl, Mariam, who lives in a tiny mud hut in the Herat province of rural Afghanistan. She is a harami, essentially a child born out of wedlock, and as such is shunned by her father, Jalil Khan, (save for his false smile plastered visits every Thursday). Mariam’s prying into her father’s life gets her sent away to Kabul to marry a moderate shoemaker named Rasheed who is thirty years older than she is. Mariam, unfortunately cannot bear him the son he craves, and becomes distant and irritable towards her. Laila is the daughter of a woman-about-town in the area of Kabul Mariam finds herself. She is a blonde head-turner and turns the head of Tariq, a childhood friend. Tariq leaves Afghanistan under the oppression of the Taliban and Laila, once old enough, is taken in by Rasheed as a wife, with the intent of her giving him a son.
The relationship between Mariam and Laila is initially one of intense bitterness, but they eventually form a bond of an almost sisterly quality, despite their age gap of close to fifteen years.
The one problem I had with A Thousand Splendid Suns is that is feels somewhat regurgitated. It was an excellent novel, I have to admit first, and a powerful, emotional and moving read which evoked intellectual ideas as well as brought a tear to your eye. But, so was The Kite Runner. Some of the themes which Hosseini concentrated on in The Kite Runner were very similar to some of the themes portrayed in A Thousand Splendid Suns. They are still good themes and excellent to read, but they just hark too much back to his other work. It’s true enough to say that he writes about Afghanistan and he can’t write anything but the truth of what it was like and what happened there but I feel there could have been more to put the two apart.
The novel has its differences in that the protagonists are women, and as such are significantly oppressed during the novel. The idea that blame will always find a woman is a powerful one and certainly holds true in the narrative. The other notable difference is the lack of America in the novel compared to its predecessor. Hosseini moved to America and became a novelist, much like The Kite Runner protagonist, Amir. There are brief mentions of America in A Thousand Splendid Suns but it’s far more grounded in the east.
To put it simply, A Thousand Splendid Suns isn’t Hosseini’s best work, but only because it lacks the raw power of originality which his debut novel held so clearly. I’d recommend it as a good book to read, if you’ve already read The Kite Runner and enjoyed it. But for me, it has a bitter hint of a formula that works about it which knocks a few marks off a great book. The praise it’s been draped in speaks for itself though. It’s definitely worth your time. But read his first book first.
Apologies for the break! I’ve been rather busy, but I’m back now with task 8. I have done task 9 and I’ll post that one up tomorrow, task 10 has given me no idea whatsoever, so I’ll skip that one.
This one was an interesting task. But I must admit I don’t tend to use that many adverbs in my writing anyway…
The Six O’Clock air is heavy with moisture. It sticks to your skin like tar as you walk. The sky is populous with clouds. Blue flecks poke though it at intervals and a vapour trail draws a harsh straight line above you. The pavement is drying after the overnight rain. Darkness draws in, bringing evening. The semi-detached houses loom over you. The trees on the road are still saplings. They look miniature next to the tall street lamps.
The shop, red fronted, garish, bright and welcoming, stands on the corner. A newspaper stand advertises to unhappy local residents. The interior is a shock of colour. The aisles are stacked in a haphazard and uneven way, the produce is old and uncared for.
You walk to the back of the shop, pick up two bottles of milk, one with a red cap and one with a green cap. Then you turn round, reach into the freezer and pick out an oval shaped tub of vanilla ice cream. You check the change in your pocket and are relieved that you have enough. Passing the alcohol shelves you look at them with a feeling of longing. But you haven’t the money, so you force yourself to walk past. Cider can be drunk another day. The man on the till is Sikh. He wears a maroon turban and a gold hoop earring in his right ear. He has a pair of glasses hanging round his neck on a dark blue cord which looks like a shoelace. His assistant kneels on the floor stock checking the magazines. He ticks off Heat on his clipboard list.
The shopkeeper counts your money and bags your purchases. He hands you a glimmering silver 5 pence piece. A woman behind you glowers at a pile of coins sitting in her palm. She walks to the counter and asks for a packet of Marlborough cigarettes. You walk out of the door and back into the evening air.
This is a bit of an experiment, I wanted to see how effectively I could work on character building purely through conversation, so if it’s not mega polished, forgive me!
A couple of questions for the readers!
Who do you think is talking? What do you think I put across about their personalities?
“I hate it. It’s dark, cold, so lonely but it’s full of others just like me. But they just sit there in silence. Each one more silent than the last. Each different on the outside. We have different things on the inside. Yet we are all grouped to this one purpose.”
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about. I’m trapped here, tethered to the wall. You get to see the world.”
“I get to see the inside of hotel bedrooms. The backs of taxis.”
“I’d rather that than stay at home all day like I do now. But they’ll never let me go. They can change me, but that will just be losing a dead part of me, as they give me a new lease of life. It doesn’t make the new one any better than the old.”
“At least you can be fixed. At least once a part of you dies you don’t get thrown out with it. It happened to the others that came with me. They said we weren’t worth it. One got thrown away in Corfu and the other is still upstairs, but he’s got no purpose.”
“Pah. It’s a hard life being young, isn’t it? Folks were made of stronger stuff back in my day. But I’m falling apart myself. I can sense myself fading away.”
“You’re distinguished. I’m modern and unsentimental. Antiques are more valuable than I’ll ever be.”
“Please, I’m no antique. I came to this house in ’74. I’m kitsch. I’m tacky. I’m no antique.”
“But you’re reliable. I’d rather have that than worry every journey I go on that it’ll be my last. While you sit there, just lighting up the whole room. And you think you have reason to complain?”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t practical. I’m just dated. They’ll get some young pretty thing in and I’ll be outside waiting for the old iron man to pick me up.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, they’ll probably just put you upstairs.”
“Hah, I’ve never even seen upstairs Mr International. What makes you think I’m worth keeping?”
“Sentimentality, like I said. Anyway, I’d have your job over sitting in that cold bleak nothing for hours on end, waiting to be dragged around a foreign country, dumped in a room, be turned inside out over the course of a week and then crammed full again, only to be dragged back to that prison. You see them every day. I see them every year. Only once. They just store me away to keep me quiet until then.”
“Come on Kevin, we have to go. You can give voices to the furniture when we get back from Canada.”
Edward Lowbury’s 1974 collection of poetry: The Night Watchman was a lucky find at my local Oxfam book shop. Honestly, I knew I wasn’t going to have a hope in hell finishing A Thousand Splendid Suns anywhere near my self-imposed deadline, so I searched the stock room shelves for an interesting looking book of poetry, rather than using my Seamus Heaney wild card on my book shelf upstairs.
Edward Lowbury was an English poet and internationally recognised bacteriologist and pathologist. It struck me as an extraordinarily unique combination, but I went into reading his poetry not knowing his life story, just expecting a relatively unremarkable book of seventies poetry. The book itself was a pleasant surprise. The collection holds a fascinating tone. There is definite influence from his medical background which creates a unique air which his poems flow through. Weighty themes such as death, aging and the ideas of afterlives and previous lives are exquisitely handled. The nature it brings to the collection is one of growth. The collection is almost temporal, it flits back and forth through different ages and characters in such a way that challenges, yet satisfies. He toys with nature and colour and entwines these motifs carefully in several poems in the collection. His phrasing creates several layers of meaning, and through this his skill is really brought to light.
A poem can appear to be about one thing on the surface, but multitude of themes and ideas can be drawn out of it with a little digging through his rhetoric and manipulations. He is also extremely skilled at rhyming which perhaps harks back to the Georgian poets his poetry reflects, while it knocks on the door of the modernist Movement poetry. ‘Colour Symphony’ a prime example of this. Lowbury almost effortlessly adheres to a strict and awkward rhyme scheme which sits there waiting for half of the poem before you notice it. The awkwardness plays to its strengths, making for an interestingly jarring poem upon a reread. But he achieves this without causing the poems to sound heavy. The entire collection has a nature of joviality and eccentricity which really suits the poems.
‘Falls’ introduces the collection perfectly by setting up the inherent nature of the collection in the wistful yet scientific: “Pulled by the sky’s gravitation / smoke falls upwards.” The collection is full of similar gems. The poem ‘Having a Heavenly Time,’ is almost groan-worthy in its humour, yet still feels sentimental and wonderfully ironic. Burial at Sea is darker, yet still plays around the theme of death in a fascinating way.
But the collection for me is characterised in its duality by the final poem. Lowbury’s poetry and his medical scientific knowledge go hand in hand very nicely throughout the collection, and the almost contrasting themes are brought together in the excellently titled: ‘Wearing Two Hats,’ which targets significant themes once again, with the utter jollity of an AABBCCDD (and so on) rhyme scheme. He fervently contests his duality. “So in alternate runs / I’m doctor, scribbler; never both at once / and what my friends my see / is a split personality.” I thank him for his split personality. It makes a stellar few pages of poetry.
The Night Watchman can be found on Amazon.co.uk from £2.15
I’m well used to minimalist stories, and in my opinion if you can get an emotional moment into just a few short words then you really can end up making something wonderful. But that’s usually for other people to decide. For this task, I’ve done a 50 word story. I’ve become rather fond of 33 word stories, but for this one the extra 17 was definitely needed. Hope you enjoy!
I knew the letter would never have reached its destination. I kept it safe. I wished I knew the person who’d sent it. It was her heartbreak and her anguish, written in red upon a creased note, which pained me most.
Plees can I have mummy bak