Well, I finally finished ‘Start Writing Fiction’. I’ve been busy with that and other things, so I haven’t had much time to blog about it. Because of this, I’m skipping straight to week 8.
For the last assignment of the course we had to write a story of up to 1000 words. I decided to extend a piece I’d written earlier as I really liked the character and the story had stuck in my head. I tried to take on board everything we’d been taught over the last 8 weeks. Before I started the course, when I started a story I’d always tried to think of a plot first, but I think this course taught me how important characters are to fiction. I found it much easier to start with a character and imagine what they were up to. Now I can pass a complete stranger in the street or on the bus and invent a whole story for them. It passes the time on bus journeys! Writing prompts are also good; I’m always on the lookout for unusual news stories and pictures to get me started.
One of the things I haven’t been so good at is keeping a journal; I still have scraps of paper littered everywhere. I think I need to be more organised.
It’s been a fun course and I’d definitely recommend it as it motivated me to write more. It’s running again in October if anyone is interested.
Anyway, here is my final piece. I got some lovely positive feedback from my reviewers, so I hope you like it too.
Perched on the edge of his single bed, Gustaf absorbed the silence as if it would give him the strength to make it through the day. He rose early, relishing the peace before the old crone woke and called for him. As the quiet permeated his skin, he imagined Elsa; the light tinkle of her laughter after he had told her a really bad joke; the sweet, fruity smell of her skin after she’d had a bath; her yellow hair brushing against him like soft cotton as they snuggled up on the sofa. At a young age he had grown to dislike company; all the jibes about his size and slowness had caused him to retreat. Elsa had been the only company he needed. Even though she was gone now, the absence of noise at this hour made her whole again. For five minutes every morning he could paint a picture of her in his mind to replace the photographs their mother had destroyed.
The moment Mother called, the image shattered into pieces, disappearing into motes of dust. Gustaf froze, staring at the threadbare carpet where her vision had been, as if to hang onto it for a millisecond longer. Coming back to the present, his shoulders sagged at the sound of his mother’s voice. The lightness of Elsa’s memory that had held him up now evaporated, as if the shriek was a pin bursting his bubble of happiness. So it was a little odd that he found the old lady subdued this morning, not sparring for a fight. He adjusted his glasses to get a better look, cocked his ear close to her chest to check if she was still breathing. She wasn’t dead yet, but she barely moved or uttered a word as he manhandled her like a ragdoll into her creaky old chair. The hatred that radiated from her bony frame was weak, as if ebbing away, a river running dry. It was about time it wore her out, it had taken long enough. This could be a good day, Gustaf thought.
Later, Gustav hummed as he surveyed the countryside from his driver’s throne: it looked like a picture postcard, Photo Shopped to blur out the bad bits. Too perfect. Too still. At this thought, uneasiness spread over him like a chill rain. This was not right. Where were the dirty pigeons shitting on his windscreen, the impatient motorists honking horns, pedestrians dodging traffic? It was as if all had all been erased, time pushed backwards. His muscles tensed in his neck and arms as he drove. Expectation trickled down his spine like cold sweat.
Then the girl appeared in a blur out of nowhere, illuminated by sunlight. The ethereal glow suggested to Gustaf that she was a saint. Or a ghost. Then he remembered he didn’t believe in that stuff anymore. But something about this child unsettled him: he felt memories wriggling like worms in his mind, trying to burrow their way free. He thought he imagined a cold hand caressing the back of his neck and jumped in his seat, hands slipping from the steering wheel.
When he hit the brakes, the bus juddered to halt, jolting him forward. Ignoring the protests of his passengers, Gustaf watched as the girl stopped and crumpled at the side of the road. Dirty blond hair obscured her face. The white dress was grubby and torn, as was the veil in her hands. Her bawling cut through the clamour of angry voices behind him.
Recovering himself, Gustaf clambered down from the bus, his knees creaking as he flexed them for the first time in hours. As he lumbered over to her, his bulky frame felt monstrous, cumbersome. With legs and arms like tree trunks, his unkempt beard and hairy knuckles, he could look fearsome to strangers. He smoothed back his hair and pulled down his creased shirt, trying to smarten up. When he reached her, he hunched to try and make himself childlike. It was an impossible task. As he drew close he could feel the vibration of the sobs which wracked her tiny body
‘Hey,’ he whispered. ‘You okay?’
For a moment the girl didn’t answer and Gustaf wondered if she was deaf. A few seconds passed until she slowly raised her head. Large blue eyes stared at him. She looked so much like Elsa; ocean blues eyes, corn blond hair. Skin so pale you could see the dark blue veins pulsing underneath the surface. He shook his head to purge the memory. This was not her. He didn’t believe in ghosts.
The girl shook her head, a movement so small he barely noticed it.
‘Where’s your mummy?’ he asked.
The girl sucked her thumb as she pondered the answer. Gustaf ached to comfort her. Since Elsa had vanished he had missed so many years of hugs and kisses, jokes and games. But he held back. He didn’t want to scare her away.
‘Gone,’ she said.
At that moment he felt as if giant hands were clasped around his neck, choking him. The echo of her voice, Elsa’s voice, made him choke. He rubbed his eyes and tried to focus, tried not to see Elsa, but a lost little girl.
‘What’s your name, sweetheart?’
She chewed her dry lips, picked the skin from her bitten nails, pausing as if she had forgotten it. Then a whisper:
‘Elsa,’ she said.