Monday, 25 May 2015

Leipzig (Part One) by Dave Rigby

Harz stared up at the building on the edge of the ring-road, oblivious to the roar of passing traffic behind him. The street ahead looked like a normal, attractive, old-town avenue, the lime trees in full leaf, people sitting at tables drinking from coffee cups and beer glasses.
Harz felt anything but normal.  He was trying to screw up the courage to go through the large wooden doors. The only other time he’d entered the building had been twenty five years ago, under armed escort.

They’d been gathering at the church – the Nickolaikirche – for weeks, to speak out freely, a small sanctuary in a city of surveillance. He remembered clearly what they’d been told that evening. If you’re arrested, don’t struggle, don’t be violent, just shout out your name so we know who you are and hold your candle tightly in your two outstretched hands. They’re less likely to attack you if you’re holding a candle.

And it had worked. He hadn’t been assaulted. He’d been arrested and taken to the building on the ring road.

All these years later, standing on the doorstep of the building, he could still feel the terror of that cell, still smell the sweat and urine, still see the two small beds and the blocked toilet in the corner.

He took a deep breath, pushed open the wooden door and stepped into the foyer. They were tables full of leaflets explaining how the building had been used by the security service. Harz wandered in a daze through the rooms, trying to take in the displays in the glass cabinets, the recording equipment, piles of cassette tapes, a pair of slippers just like the ones he’d had to wear, a seat just like the one where he’d been photographed from three different angles, a map of the city, full of pinholes, but no pins, each hole representing a property that had been used by the long arm of the security service.

Harz tried to bring himself to look at the framed lists and photographs on the walls, to read the words describing interrogations like his own, to comprehend just how many unpaid informants there had been – thousands of them, providing information about their neighbours.

His father had warned him time and again about the risks. But his father had been from a different generation. He hadn’t resented the restrictions. He’d kept his head down, worked hard at the gasworks, tilled his allotment and enjoyed a few beers at the weekends.  
His father had only lived for a year after the revolution and Harz had always wished there’d been more time for them to get to know each other as adults.

Standing on the pavement once again, back out in the sunshine he found he was shaking. He needed to get to the church. He hurried through the narrow streets, crossed the Markt, passed the Altes Rathaus and only slowed his pace when he saw the spire ahead of him. He ignored the tourists inside, snapping everything in sight and sat in a pew in the far corner, with his eyes closed, his breathing steadier.

It was his first trip back to his home town. After his mother’s death, he’d immersed himself in his academic life in America and tried to bury his memories of the past. He’d become an expert on the works of Goethe, lectured at seminars and conferences, gradually developed his reputation.

But, eventually, memories of the past had wormed their way back to the surface and he’d felt unable to resist the pull of ‘home’ any longer.

When he finally opened his eyes and began to rise from the pew, he saw a face, one he recognised instantly - the jutting chin, sunken cheeks, something almost cartoon-like about its exaggerated features. As the figure slipped through the church door into the sunlight, Harz followed, keeping his eyes on the man’s shock of white hair.    

Monday, 18 May 2015

Italian impressions - Emma Harding

First thing: the drone of a motorcycle, the rattle of shutters being raised, someone pushing a trolley along the street, full to the brim with bottles of water. A man calls out a greeting to his neighbour, who crosses the street towards him. They stand together, strenuously discussing the news, the weather, food, family - who knows? It’s not a language I understand beyond the stock phrases - hello, goodbye, please, thank you, the bill etc. The street is shiny - did it rain last night or has it been cleaned? The sky is bright blue, the sort of blue that proves you’re on holiday, the sort of blue that promises a dry, warm day.

Street-watching: a plethora of smells - cigarette smoke, diesel, drains, plus coffee, jasmine, ozone, garlic, oregano. Bread oven at full pelt, the queue pushing out the door and into the street. A stray dog lollops past, he’s carrying a plastic bag as if it contains all his worldly possessions. He disappears down a side street. There’s a guy sat on the church steps playing an accordion, a bowl by his foot. A gaggle of schoolchildren, all wearing red caps bearing their names, gather at the entrance. Some take pictures, a trio of girls sit down, while a couple of lads lark about, playing tag. A teacher gathers them together and they make their way, haphazardly, groups forming, pulling apart, then reforming, along the street, to the gelateria. Then there is a scramble of caps, arms, as icecreams are selected, produced and devoured. The dog returns, following the same route as before, still carrying his bag.

Siesta: the cool dark bedroom is like respite. The bed neatly made, fresh towels in the bathroom and fresh water in the fridge. The simplicity of the room - just functional furniture, no ornaments or pictures, no patterned furnishings, the shutters keeping out the heat - is somehow calming, cleansing. Like the day has been washed away. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Get Pinning! Why Every Writer Needs a Pinterest Board

I used to collect cuttings: articles from newspapers, quotations, photographs, anything that I thought might come in useful at a later date when I needed to find inspiration for my writing. I even had a neatly labelled box file to keep them all in.

The snag was that I never did get round to using my wonderful cache of resources. Inevitably, I would be sorting out my study six years later and come across a heap of cuttings that were out of date, dog-eared and yellowed. By that stage they would only be fit for the bin.

Then I discovered Pinterest. You may have come across it. You can get it free as an app for your tablet or phone or Google it and put it on your computer. Goodbye, piles of yellowing newspaper cuttings. Hello, beautiful, colourful, space saving board of inspiration and information.

So what do I like about having Pinterest? And why should every writer have a Pinterest board?

First of all, even if you aren’t at all artistic, you can make your Pinterest board a colourful, attractive and varied smorgasboard of prompts and stimuli. You don’t even have to arrange them on a page. Just click on the Pin that you like and it will automatically be attached and positioned on a board of your choice. No messy Pritt Stick or blunt pair of scissors required.

It’s great for saving pictures that you come across and think, “That would be a really interesting photo to write a story about.” At the moment, I have at the top of my Writing Board a beautiful, atmospheric photo of a tree in the fall, rich red leaves against a misty autumnal backdrop; a picture of Halstatt Market; and a nocturnal photo of the iron gate of a Cambridge college. Any one of them could serve as a prompt for a piece of writing.

There are lots more prompts too, written ones, displayed in text or handwriting against a coloured background or a complementary photograph. Here are a few examples:

        “And suddenly you were my everything.”

        “There was a list of things that could have gone wrong that day, but being shoved down the laundry chute was not on it.”

        “Someone drops their wallet on the street. You pick it up and are about to return it, but then you see it contains a surprising photograph... of you...”

        You can also collect inspiring quotations about writing, such as these:

        “You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.”
                                        ANNIE PROULX

And how about this one as an antidote to General Election madness?

“less selfies,
more books.”

Or this piece of advice from Frank McCourt?

        “Keep scribbling! Something will happen.”

But Pinterest can also provide you with links to more substantial resources – articles on aspects of writing, podcasts, even videos. A veritable treasure trove!

If by now you are wondering what you are missing, why not take a look at Gale Barker’s Writing Board? To see more than the first few items, you will need to register with Pinterest, but it’s free. Even if that is the only board you look at, it will keep you busy for a while, as so far I have collected more than two and a half thousand pins!

Feel free to borrow some of mine. Before you know it, you will be starting your own collection of inspirational material – and there won’t be a single tatty box file or pile of yellowed cuttings in sight!

Happy pinning!

Gale Barker

Monday, 4 May 2015

The bus to BOTHWAYS

Country pub, left in a daze
(Well, it was my holidays)
I see a bus stop in the distance
And ask a local for assistance.
“How long until the bus to Bothways?
I don’t mind if I go the longways,
But please don’t point me wrongways.
And does the bus return on Sundays?”

The farmer looked me up and down
As if I were a circus clown.
“I wouldn’t journey there on Sundays,
(Unless you want to come back Mondays)
You’re facing backwards, anyways
The bus goes southerly to Bothways.
And more, you can’t go dressed like that
In fancy spats and silk cravat.
And if you see a Bothways cat
Be sure to doff your trilby hat.”

I scratched my chin in some confusion
(It may have been the beer infusion)
Looked up and down the leafy lane
And climbed aboard when green bus came.
I fell into a summer slumber
Until…  a hand upon my shoulder.
“Tickets please! What destination?”
I felt for change with hesitation.

“Return to…  Bothways, if you be kind.
That damned place so hard to find
Has placed a cloud upon my mind
And made my brow with furrow lined.”

The clippie looked me up and down
As if I was a circus clown.
“I’m sorry, no return on Sundays
(Unless you want to come back Mondays)
You’re heading wrongways, anyways.
Southerly runs the route to Bothways.
But when you go, don’t dress like that
In silver spats and cream cravat.
And for God’s sake, if you see a cat,
Please don’t forget to doff your hat.”

This piece of nonsense has been going around my mind for years since passing a bus stop labelled 'BOTHWAYS'. Perhaps there was a small space between 'both' and 'ways', but I didn't see it.