Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Duck and the Devil - writing day six!

Twelve Step Writing exercises Day 6: Select a book on your shelf and pick two chapters at random. Take the first line of one chapter and the last line of the other chapter and write a short story(no more than 1000 words) using those as bookends to your story.”

Beginning to suspect these exercises aren't really set up to help me as a playwrite.

Still, what can it hurt? Unless I hilariously drop my laptop on my lap and it snaps shut and I – for some reason – accidentally have my fly open and my -

Anyway, point is, I have dedicated myself somewhat unreasonably, given the amount of house-chores that are building up, to taking these exercises at face value; where possible.

Now, I have been unkind about the other five exercises, some might say downright cruel, others still might say I've just waffled on for four fucking pages about absolutely nothing, to the point where whatever point I was actually trying to make has been long lost and all that's left is the withered sound of my blogovoice echoing in your tired, frustrated, turning to fried-jelly mind. To those I retort : touche. And also fuck you. But mostly touche.

So this exercise is actually a pretty good one, especially if you're blocked while writing a novel, or possibly while writing a play or – god-for-fucking-bid – a poem. The idea behind it is to give you a focus, to give you something to start with and something to aim toward. Believe it or not, this can often be the most daunting task, starting a project, or a chapter. You have your idea, you've done your plot pie-charts and your flowy flow-charts and your character crucifixes, but when it comes down to actually starting the piece, well shit – now that you're sitting at your re-opened laptop and have applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, actually starting can be quite daunting. Even if you're already halfway through.

Writer's, when learning their craft, are often told to create an opening sentence to their stories that grabs the reader by the boobs and crushes them into reading on. I'm paraphrasing but boobs is a pleasant word to write and to look at.

That's easier said than done and it can be something a lot of writers focus on to the detriment of the story itself; we often forget that no one's going to read this piece until it's done to our own satisfaction, or at the very least done by the deadline. We CAN go back and change it, but in the terror of not grabbing your reader's boobs, we often forget that remarkably salient point. We're also aware of the fact that other, better writers such as Dan Brown and Bob Marley got there first. Ha. Literally.

With lines such as :

Call me Ishmael”

A Screaming comes across the sky”

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen”

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth”

It was the day my grandmother exploded”

and the classic

'To be born again,' sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, 'first you have to die'”

You're really fighting amongst the pros, trying to come up with something special for your novel and your reader's boobs. That is very scary and can lead you to taking on a twelve step writing exercise rather than facing up to your responsibilities as an author.

So this exercise gives us our opening and closing lines and then lets us join the dots, and it can be quite a freeing experience to be led in this direction rather than struggling with being original. Remember, you can always replace those lines. And probably should, litigation being what it is these days. Blood-sucking authors.

So I'm going to choose a random book from my somewhat tiny collection, and from these simple buds, a flower of genius will emerge...

I've chosen Margaret Atwood's “Alias Grace”.

So the opening line of the piece will be : McDermot...was morose and churlish.

And the closing line : And so she laughed, and the two of us went up to bed in a very companiable fashion; but I made sure that all was locked up first.

"Twelve steps of addiction, step six : Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."

Dear internet, please let me contain my natural verbiage. 1000 words or less. Preferably less...

The Duck and The Devil

McDermot...was morose and churlish. This was nothing new for McDermot, in fact McDermot could happily state ( if McDermot could be truly said to have an ability to do anything in a happy manner ) that he had been born morose, and this had made him churlish; and morose and churlish he had remained and would so until the day he died. We often whispered behind his back that perhaps this last act would finally make him happy. We proposed that it was unfair that only the all mighty would see him in this state, and further proposed that until our dying days we would make it our job to make him crack a smile. So far, we had not succeeded and if truth were told, he was edging ever closer to the coffin by the day.

We were concerned that it would be that very smile we provoked that felled him. Of course, we doubled our efforts, which generally only made us laugh, to our detriment.

Standing as he was against the book-case, ruddy duck-nose pressed against the glass and ostrich-egg eyes trying to pierce the misty gloom of myopia his broken glasses had left him in, he looked nothing less than a child, pressing his face against a sweet-shop window, practically licking the glass to get a taste of the sugar he could smell within. I could tell I was about to laugh and to stop it bubbling forth before I was ready to explain it, I bit my tongue. It hurt and for some reason I can not explain, this in turn made me laugh out loud.

I can tell you now, at this juncture, that I have the laugh of a braying Donkey or of a hiccuping Hippo. It's not something I'm entirely proud of, but there's little I can about it, other than not laugh. And to be quite frank, while I have you in this little aside, that is not something I am in a rush to do. Where McDermot may be considered something of a curmudgeon ( if we were being kind! And since he cannot hear us whispering behind his back at this moment, let us be unkind and say he is as sour as balsamic vinegar but without the cooking advantages of the condiment ) I like to consider myself something of a jolly fellow. As, I would be so bold as to presume, do my friends. For I, unlike McDermot HAVE friends.

One of whom, I don't mind telling you while we're here whispering quietly to each other, I quite fancied and had this very evening been pressing to join me in the boudoir for a cocktail or two. She was beginning to thaw, throwing me saucy sideways glances when she was sure I could not see. I, for my part was so aware of this attractive and attractively bedecked young lady, that there was absolutely no point at which I could not see her.

Bloody hell!” exclaimed McDermott. “Bloody bloody hell! If you can't keep your caterwauling to yourself, be so kind as to vacate this room at once until you have yourself under some semblance of control!”

I can only apologise, McDermot” I preened, winking to Margaret and taking pleasure in the fact that though her hand instantly leapt to her mouth, it was a smile she was covering and not a cough. “Something amusing occurred to me, and before I knew what I was doing, I was chuckling to myself.”

Hmph” he spat. “Hmph. If that was you keeping it to yourself, my ill-dressed and entirely too thin wisp of a friend, I would truly be dismayed to hear you sharing it.”

Indeed. Can I help you McDermot, to find what you're looking for?”

He turned and took me in. My assumption is that what he saw was my blurred outline, flickering in the candle-light. I smiled, placating, all the same. He squinted, his forehead folding forward until it barely raised above the bridge of his blood-shot nostrils.

And what, pray tell, was it that amused you so much you felt you could foghorn my ears like that?”

An amusing though, McDermot, about a child.”

A child?”


You found the thought of a child amusing?”

This particular thought, yes.”

About a particular child?”

No. Rather, the child was – how can one say – one of a generic nature. The thought, however, was specific, and rather amusing to me.” I took Margaret into my confidence as I continued. “You see I was thinking of a child, his face pressed -”

Dear GOD man we do not need to hear this!” And he turned, somehow leaving his scowl facing us as he did so. “What I NEED is to find my bible. It is in here somewhere or I'll be damned!"

May we be of ANY assistance to you, sir?” asked Margaret, a playful smile still tingling against her sullen lips. She glanced at me for but a moment. And in that moment I knew at last the ice had thawed, and beneath, there lay a full-blooded woman, capable of prehistoric carnal acts of depravity. At least, I hoped so. If tonight was to my my last night upon this earth, let it be with this fine specimen of a human.

You madam, can take in the east wing. You sir, the west wings. You can close and lock all doors. You can make sure we are secure this evening. The Devil is pressing his face against the ground and means to break through! Of that I have no doubt!”

"How can you be sure, dear McDermot that The Devil is not already amongst us? Perhaps even in this room?" I put forward. He did not deem to answer my impertanance with even a sideways glance.

You don't honestly believe this nonsense do you McDermot?” I pushed, hoping my modestly false bravery came through. Of course he believed it. I had counted on it. I turned to Margaret, seizing my chance. “Come Margaret” I ventured. "We shall hold hands and check the wings together. We shall keep this devil at bay with our good spirits and wit! We shall jape with him anon, and he will learn to love us. I am sure, at the very least, he will learn to love you."

McDermot snorted. It fogged the glass and confused his eyesight further. Margaret looked to me for guidance. I took her hand for support, and whispered “never fear Margaret. The Devil will come for McDermot first. We shall make our escape while McDermot is breaking him down and rebuilding him anew! Good night, McDermot! We shall ensure your safety -” I winked to Margaret - “if you will ensure ours.”

And so she laughed, and the two of us went up to bed in a very companiable fashion; but I made sure that all was locked up first.

"Sixth blogging "Do" : Post to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Anywhere Else You Can.
Don’t be afraid to use social media to tout your posts. Anything that makes it easier for potential readers to find your blog is a must (and friends and family definitely qualify as potential readers).

Can do!

I can't lie, I enjoyed that. As always with these exercises, and to the detriment of the writing I think, it was rushed. I took some time to go over it, and to add or subtract where I thought necessary. As always, I would like more time to edit and redraft it. But the housework needs to be done, I have fish-cakes digesting that need a strong cup of coffee to douse them, and there's shit on the internet I want to watch on my laptop.

Tomorrow  :

"Twelve step writing exercise Day 7: Write a letter to yourself telling you what you need to improve in the coming 6 months."

As ever, thank you for reading!

Please comment and crucify, criticise or calmly ignore! I don't bite. Mostly.



  1. Excellent. I could picture them all in the room.

    1. Thank you ladykay! This brevity thing becomes me! Tomorrow's will be but a paragraph, while the last exercise just a word!

      Keep reading, keep commenting!


  2. methinks you are on the right track here sir a very enjoyable jaunt and was taken very much with the razor sharp wit that I did not get in the previous piece so perhaps brevity is not such a bad thing after all keep it up and maybe one day very soon I can pretend I know a famous author and when you pick up the booker you can say it all started with an arrogant arsehole from Dublin who commented on your blog page

    As If

    1. From one arrogant arsehole to another, I thank you!

      Keep the dream alive, keep reading, keep commenting!

      Though when I'm famous I'll forget all this ever happened. Fact


  3. glad to see all that Scottish meanness is alive and well