In Response To…

Photo by Ricardo Cruz on Unsplash

I’m still working from home full-time and rarely going out. I’m not ready to start socialising in person or doing the tourist thing. So, when I recently took a week off work as holiday, I attended lots of on-line classes for creative writing and poetry. One of the common themes is to ask the delegates to respond to a piece of artwork in the form of a poem or short story. Here follows some of the prompts and my responses. All were written within the 5-6 minutes allocated in class. I think it’s a really fun exercise to do – to write without thinking about it too much, read it aloud and get immediate positive feedback.


MONDAY

The poem, ‘Richard’ by Carol Ann Duffy can be read in full by clicking here.

Grant me the carving of my name.

from ‘Richard’ by Carol Ann Duffy

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

This is my response to that poem.


Richard’s Third and Final Resting Place

Respect at last, gentle peace

you would not recognise this

City’s tribute. You’re home.


TUESDAY

The Heart of trees

by Jaume Plensa

This is my response to the sculpture (if you look closely, you can almost see the word, ‘Nicola’ on his body.)


Swept up under the carpet

a quiet protest

the weight on me to remain true

as he scars my name into his flesh

I am just, trust, a mast, ballast

strong like glue.


WEDNESDAY

Photo by Henry Lai on Unsplash

The brief was to write a short story in response to the prompt of an animal overcoming adversity.


I eventually found the hamster stuck in a pipe underneath the sink in the kitchen. How he managed to get out of his cage, I’ll never know. Well, I think I do know because the cat was crouching underneath a dining room chair, ready to pounce, and looked guilty as sin. I daren’t tell him off or I’ll get a scratch. Cats are the moodiest creatures I know – worse than any of my children – and I’ve got 3 teenagers.

You wouldn’t believe it, but there are actual YouTube videos on how to free trapped hamsters! I did it – eventually – by sawing the plastic pipe and pouring olive oil down the sides. It was the extra virgin stuff too. He plopped right out, bum first, into the breach.

Maybe I should have got one of the kids to film me doing it. I reckon it might have got a few hits.


THURSDAY

The brief was to write a haibun about a journey or place.

TERMINAL 5

Time is static, shocking, jerking me

I’m a tourist attraction in a glass cage.

Friendly, bored pods glide polite waltzes with lost teddy bears.

Waking up, smelling coffee just a sip or I won’t sleep.

overtired kids

it’s too late to go home now

air smells different.


It feels strange thinking about the time before, when we could travel freely. Maybe one day, I’ll be at the airport again. Is this living nostalgia? A yearning for a life we never appreciated at the time? Rites of passage missed? I feel like I’m thriving right now, so I hope that when we do start living normally again, some things will have changed for the better permanently.

My book of the week recommendation therefore combines the post-pandemic world and an airport. The brilliant ‘Station Eleven’ by Emily St John Mandel, which is soon to be released as a HBO tv series.

“The more you remember, the more you’ve lost.”



Be a lady

Be a gentleman

Be a human

130. The passive aggression of kitchen sink Jenga, staying out all night so someone else has to put out the bins, using the last of the milk after the shop has shut and other sagas from a shared house that seem trivial once you see who else you could be living with.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash

Here are some of my favourite books with memorable descriptions of houses and living spaces.

129. A Nata and a Natter

A #ShortStorySeptember tale for a new year. Freshly sharpened pencils, new notebooks and all that. It’s also for anyone embarking on a brand new life at University or emerging, blinking in the light, from their cocoon as Lockdown opens up.

I thought a black coffee would be the cheapest, and as it was a universally unquestioned drink, I would always have a legitimate and innocent reason why I didn’t know the difference between a latte and a cortado. But why did the barista give me a little bowl of candy floss? 

Mum was right, £12 a day wasn’t nearly enough for food. Getting into a good school was one thing, actually being accepted beyond a pity pet project was another. I’d noticed every small detail between us. I’d read the books and seen the films, but some considered my life still to belong below stairs. I couldn’t absorb, only observe. If I bought the same bag it wouldn’t have the rich patina of their experiences. How could I possibly know if I had “summered well”? At least my nickname of ‘Tom Ripley’ hadn’t followed me here. Well, not yet, but it’s a small world.

The waitress in me made me sit at a table for two, and I faced the door, so my new friend could see me when she entered. I watched her through the window as she embraced each of the couple in turn then smothered their baby in mwah mwahs. Then she looked up and waved at me. The bell above the door of the coffee shop dinged as she entered.

“Sorry I’m late. I bumped into some old friends and got chatting. You know how it is. They have the fattest, most edible baby I’ve ever seen. Anyway, Happy Birthday!”

She unravelled herself from her hand knitted, cashmere scarf, then peeled off various layers until she was down to a t-shirt and a pair of cords. I wished I’d picked a bigger table. She piled her coat, scarf and jumper onto her chair and then fumbled around in her bag for her purse. I spotted a small turquoise box wrapped with white ribbon in her bag.

Photo by tommao wang on Unsplash

Her necklace cost more than my rent, her watch worth more than my car. A shabby leather strap on a vintage Omega. Two Cartier Love bangles jangled on her wrist, and although she once claimed they were fakes, I very much doubted that was true.

“Is it me or is it hot in here? Do you want anything? Ooh, they do those little Portuguese custard tarts in here that I like.” she said while fanning her face. She stuck out her chin and tried to blow air upwards towards her hairline.

“Could you get me some sugar please?” I said.

She cocked her head, raised her eyebrows and studied me for a second. Then she pinched a bit of the pink candyfloss and popped it into her mouth. Clawing up the rest of the nest, she dumped it into my cup. It dissolved immediately to nothing.

I looked up to see her perfect, high ponytail flick a spin. Her dancer’s body turned first, then her head. Muscle memory.


SHORT STORY SEPTEMBER FESTIVAL

I’m dead chuffed to be part of the Short Story September Festival event on Saturday 25th September 2021. Although I won’t be reading, I am part of the ‘A Brief Pause’ Writers Showcase, and have a short story included in the anthology, ‘Small Good Things’, which is published by Dahlia Books on the same day. You can order it here.

Tickets to the event are available here.

Dangles a carrot of a 2-hour Kathy Fish flash fiction workshop.

It’s an odd feeling (pride, fear, gratitude), just before a story is released into the world. I know every word so well, the plot inside out. It’s finished, tidied, polished with a bow on top and now out of my hands or control. If you want to read a bit more about how I was inspired to write my weird fairy tale, then click here.

Here’s one of my favourite songs. ‘Maps’ by Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs. It’s been viewed over 69 million times on youtube and I just love Karen’s vibe in it.

Do you have an artificial friend? If so, then you may like this book. I did.

Modern sc-fi (like ‘Black Mirror’ or ‘Never let Me Go’) is one of my little obsessions in life.