Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Old habits - a 425 word short story

Here's a piece of flash fiction that I wrote just before Christmas. It was inspired by a 425 word writing competition run by Viva Lewes - thanks to Tara from Short Fuse (now Story Salon) for flagging it up!


Brighton author & poet  Louise Halvardsson also wrote a great piece on the same theme, which you can read on her myspace page.  

Old Habits - by Amy Riley
Fingernails to the quick – that’s me. I bite them every time I have a deadline, and being someone who always leaves things to the last minute, that’s every time an article’s due in.
It’s a frosty winter’s night as I pull the electric heater close and hunch over my pad. It’s 4.25am. Five more hours. My head hurts and sleep beckons, but I resist.
A badger wanders past. 
Frost cracks across the patio, coats the grass and looks like an icy lace shawl under the half moon’s light. 
The wind blows and heaves from the north, scaring me. I’m alone. I look up at the door, making sure no one’s trying to get in, and continue to write.
My writing takes me on a journey through a valley, where I can count the ghosts. I rifle through my pages of handwritten notes, wondering why my handwriting never improves over the years, wondering why I never bothered to learn shorthand, why I can never finish things.
A man’s voice calls through the pages. A hoarse voice, whiskey cured and Marlborough reds deepened, he can still curse on his deathbed. 
‘Goddamn, give me some brew,’ he says to his son-in-law, who goes out to the fridge. 
He was a man living out in the woods, nursed by his daughter and forgotten about by history. The oldest living Confederate, he claimed, with a cheeky glint in his eye.
‘You shouldn’t drink,’ says the daughter, who wipes his brow with a towel.
‘I can do what I damn well like’ says the man. ‘I’m going to drink my beer and I’m going to tell my story to this nice young man visiting us.’
The man looks at me, licking his lips, watching as the son-in-law, a heavy man with a blue lumberjack shirt, surrenders the can.
I was the one who travelled hundreds of miles, looking for the man they said had killed three bears with his bare hands, and I’d found him, invalid, sickly, dying of cancer.
As the sun begins to rise, I type away my notes, which I carried from Arizona to Texas to here, in a rucksack, by bus, car, motorcycle, train and then plane, and see my story take shape.  
It is like watching a miracle happen, and I know that I’ll be able to finish the article, re-read it, sub it, then email it to the editor for 9am.
I tell myself I’ll start earlier, plan it better. 
But old habits, true to the saying, die as hard as the oldest living Confederate.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Old books make light reading

" 'There are three things that I like,' Amanda exclaimed upon awakening from her first long trance. 'These are: the butterfly, the cactus and the Infinite Goof.'

Later she amended the list to include mushrooms and motorcycles.

While strolling through her cactus gardens one warmish June morning, Amanda came upon an old Navajo man painting pictures in the sand.

'What is the function of the artist?' Amanda demanded of the talented trespasser. 'The function of the artist,' the Navajo answered, 'is to provide what life does not.'

Amanda became pregnant during a fierce thunderstorm. 'Was it the lightning or the lover?' she was sometimes heard to muse.

When her son was born with electric eyes, people no longer thought her foolish."

- from a slightly water warped version of Tom Robbins' 'Another Roadside Attraction'

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Day 1 of detox

Just a short post to say that I, like 90% of the rest of the country, am embarking on a seriously hardcore detox.

For anyone who knows me, the last time I detoxed from anything was back in January 2005, and I managed to ween myself off from alcohol for the whole month. I had some moral support in that my then boyfriend was also giving up the sauce, which was a huge inducement for me to stick to it.

Despite flying solo these days, I think the memory of my day long nausea will be enough motivation for me to stick with a detox for a while. I wasn't sick, but just that edgy sort of queasy, which stayed with me for the whole day. I have removed two wine glasses, three wine bottles (empty) and moved my new years eve emergency bottles of Westons cider to the wine rack - out of sight, out of mind. I decided to incentivise the whole project by mentally deciding that the lovely new bottle of Prosecco would be consumed if I could last out for a month.

The other reason for wanting to purge myself of my favorite liquid poison is that I'm training for a half marathon in February, and I'm convinced if I stopped, it might just give me that health edge I've been craving. I mean, why do all of this training and ruin it in the space of a couple of wine glasses per night? My personal trainer at the gym said that drinking destroys something like 60% of new muscle built.

So perhaps this month will be my little experiment. I know the training is working. My distance, speed, stamina and physical strength are slowly but surely improving. Sans booze for a month? Hopefully I'll be incredibly and unrecognizably fit, and will manage my soon approaching three-hour runs with speed and agility, like I'm one of those super-fit speedy runners on the seafront who I watch the backs of enviously, while they zoom off into the distance of Hove Lagoon, while I sadly lag behind eating their dust.

Before and after photos? Don't hold your breath. However, if you're interested in seeing how slowly I currently run (albeit for very long distances), you can check out my Run Keeper profile here: http://runkeeper.com/user/amyriley/profile.

Brighton Half Marathon is on Sunday 20 February 2011. If you feel like braving the cold, come out and support. After collapsing in a heap at the finish line, I plan on spending the whole of the afternoon in the pub, where there will no doubt be some excellent photos of carnage - by which point, I will be able to drink as much as I want to!

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy new year 2011

I've been acutely aware that I haven't written a blog post in over a year. The reason? 2010 was a massively busy year. 

In April I moved house, once again, moving into a flat in the centre of town, with beautiful views of the sea.

In May, we ran our Grit Lit literary night at Redroaster and won the best literary event for Brighton Festival and Fringe! 

In June, I started running a monthly spoken word and live music night called Countdown for Black History Month, which was a success.  Then July, August, September and finally October! Man was I wiped!

I helped launch a successful new initiative called Brighton & Hove Community Reporters, which began in the winter 2009. My colleagues and I ran monthly meetups, and I ran free taster workshops all across the city, working with young people and adults, during the spring and summer of 2010, teaching them the basics of reporting in the community. 

Worked with so many fab people. I love hearing about the various initiatives they've started up as a result - community radio programmes, websites, and more. Claire is now co-editor of Brighton Mums, for mums, dads, and everyone in Brighton. Ron Sharatt and Suchi Chatterji run a radio show called Same Difference, a program for disabled people and those with an interest in disability, on Brighton & Hove Community Radio. Keleche Turner runs a show on the station called the Keleche Turner Show, and Susi Oddball co-runs the radio station. 
Suchi & Ron - "Same Difference" programme producers and presenters


The summer saw Caroline Sutton training up two batches of community reporters. The result? Over 20 fully trained up reporters and mainstreaming the training programme into the Friends Centre's adult education programme. The first training programme at the Friends Centre starts on 5 February 2011. Result indeed!

We also launched community reporting in schools during the summer, which was hectic, and I also ran IT training courses for 18-25 year old NEETs at the Friends Centre.

After a nasty breakup in August, I moved residence again in September, back up the snowy alps of Brighton. Now living a the John Steinbeck dream, with a writing cabin of my own. It's been good for my writing, and nearly done with the first draft of my third novel.

During the autumn, I produced a literary showcase for Black History Month in October, and helped out with a massive Street Party on New Road, our Film Festival and oh so many wonderful events.

In November, I studied with the famous Egyptian feminist writer Nawal el Saadawi for a weekend in London, started training for a half-marathon, and now write ferociously and run over 20k per week. I also got my British citizenship and man was that cause for celebration!

We ran our second Grit Lit of the year on 3 December, battling the snow and ice, and by the second week of December, I was definitely ready for wind down time. However, I got a job promotion and the flu for the last two weeks of work so not quite the right time.

Reflecting on it all, I'm not sure how I juggle so much and a full time job!
I'm giving a lot of thought about the coming year, and even though I have obvious regrets relating to my failed relationship, I'm hopeful that perhaps I'll get it right the next time around. What I am really thankful for right now is some really great friends, here in Brighton and around the world. Looking forward to spending this next year with you all.

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