Tag Archives: Dumfries Writers

Who Shot The Sheriff Eric?

I’m a writer with a day job, I don’t get out much.

Apart from occasional nights.

This was one of those occasions.

A couple of weeks ago I drove through to Dumfries after finishing work in Carlisle (30 miles, for those who don’t want to Google Map it) to attend the ‘Open Mouth‘ evening in the new building The Stove Network have on the High Street. Regular readers of this blog may remember this as the event I declined doing workshops at. It became apparent very quickly that, because of the high level of talent on show, I had made the right decision. I’d have been hopelessly out of my depth if I’d have ran alongside these guys. There would have been zero chance of talking my way out of that one. There was also the fact that it was more poetry based and script so not only would I have been up over my head I’d have been in the wrong pool to begin with.

stovenetwork

Personally I don’t do poetry well. When I was doing a creative writing A-Level back in college I attempted some as part of the coursework but I just couldn’t grasp it. My stuff never flowed, always sounded juddering and fell into traps of trying to make words fit when they really shouldn’t have. I also had a strict refusal to tackle anything ‘heavy’ via poetry so I wrote stupid stuff like betting on Elvis still being alive and preachers in the street. It was described by my tutor at the time as ‘poetry lite’. I don’t use that phrase as something to hold against him, he was speaking the obvious truth and I agree.

I got to The Stove around 7pm and there was plenty people there. All the way during the drive there I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I’d seen the outside of the building last summer whilst my day job had stationed me in the town for a few weeks but I’d never seen inside. The building itself is a former retail premises bang in the middle of town. Dumfries, like many other town of its size, has suffered during the economic downturn and many shops have closed their doors. The theory The Stove have is that it’s time for a change. Rather than the local council attempt to woo large companies into a town centre they can instead prevent the slide of boarded up windows by having a hub for culture there instead. From the looks of it they’re doing something right.

There’s an exhibition in the room about Rock Against Racism with various posters and articles on the walls. I spent a few minutes looking around to get a feel for the place. It wasn’t long until everybody sat down for the performance part of the evening.

nazisarenofun

Now I’ve heard of poetry slams before but never looked into them that much. Tonight though we were in the presence of Bram E Gieben, the UK champion. It’s safe to say he blew my mind. Whilst I don’t have footage of the evening (I’m always worried I’d put performers off by taking out my phone and filming) he’s on YouTube so here’s a sample.

See? The words just pour out of the guy and he does it all ‘off page’ which is another thing I could never do.

We also had Emily Elver who was fantastic. At one point she asked if we wanted ‘a new poem about bingo or an old one about sex’. Of course everybody went for the sex option and the following piece about science fiction based fantasies was both touching and hilariously funny. I can’t find it one YouTube but here’s another.

There were other brilliant ones too, some who were performing for the very first time having attended the workshops during the day. There was a woman who did some excellent rap, another guy did one about his experiences growing up in care and somebody else forgot theirs completely halfway through and instead finished on the politest sounding ‘oh fuck’ I have ever heard in my life (and everybody still cheered). Sarah, the host of the evening, also had a brilliant one about visiting her doctor who turns out to be her cat.

I couldn’t stay the whole night, around 10pm I was reminded by my rumbling stomach that I’d come almost straight from work so hadn’t eaten anything since lunchtime so I walked back to my car and drove home for food. I had tiny blast of inspiration during the drive, not easy to contain at 60mph. Pulling up outside my house I could only recall one line though..

‘I’ll drink Pepsi through your final straw’.

It’s a start I suppose and a result of an evening that made me want to have a crack at spoken word again in the near future. You surely can’t have a greater legacy than that?

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Hail Sabin

An e-mail arrives.

In the opening line I’m described as ‘a force for creative writing in the region’.

I nearly spit coffee across my desk.

It’s an email with details of an event local to me which is dedicated to getting school kids to write. It has workshops to go through poetry and story telling. In the evening they’re putting on a bit of live performance. Would I be interested in coming and doing a bit of teaching?

Yes, but not yet would be the simple answer. A longer one would be something on the lines of feeling I’ve done nothing of note so far in any kind of writing field. I have had one movie made and screened and a show put on in a small theatre. Neither of these things paid any money, neither of them have led to anything else. I have a quick nightmarish thought about being surrounded by a group of school kids, pads at the ready, when one leans forward and asks “What have you done then?”. I struggle for an answer and upon giving my writing CV verbally they look at me confused with an air of “Who the hell does this guy think he is?”.

So I decline which is a shame because there’s ‘a budget for tutors’ which, unless I’m getting the completely wrong end of a stick here, means I would have got paid. My first job related to writing would be to tell everybody else how to write? I have a deep discomfort with that idea.

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A Design In Fragments

It hasn’t quite fully clicked yet, the story for ‘Order For Burning’ remains a little bit incomplete but I think I’ve got the characters down at least. This is good step forward for now at least. Hopefully by the end of today (if I can actually stop writing this) I’ll blaze the first five pages. As explained in previous entries of Howling In The Dark I usually set about writing the first five pages of any feature script before I’ve planned most of the long term stuff out. That way, when you finally do finish planning you’re not looking at a blank screen because you’ll have already got a head start. Also, the start of any project usually means the anxiety of where to go with this scene or how a character would say that line hasn’t yet kicked in. I go in dumb just wanting the first five minutes to be brilliant. If it grips me and wants me to write the rest then, in theory, the audience will be griped and want to know the rest.

Mind you, I’m speaking as a guy who has never had a feature script made. Bear that in mind before taking any of my advice seriously.

One major dilemma I’ve faced in the run up to getting ‘Order Of Burning’ off the ground has been the battle between sticking to historical detail and getting a good story. In the actual events as far as I can tell there were originally eleven women found guilty of witchcraft around Dumfries at the time. One killed herself in her cell and another, Helen Tait, somehow got away with it. She was never executed, only sentenced to fifty ‘merks’ and banished from the region never to return. The main question I would have is how she achieved this. How exactly did she defy the usual crowd mentality and live to tell the tale (assuming she’d want to go around telling people she was accused of being a witch after that, I’d probably assume she’d want to keep her head down)? The records are not greatly clear in giving any detail on what happened so I could use artistic license to fill in the blanks or strive to find out.

Helen is one of my main characters, simply on account of her surviving all this makes her very valuable to our story in that it won’t be just a case of everybody going to die. She is the hope, she is the exception to the rule and as such she is front and centre in the current plan. I’m picking another one of the group to concentrate on and stopping there as any more would be a major headache to keep balanced.

If that’s the story based most in the reality of the situation then I’m also writing my own characters into a parallel story concerning a young man being trained by the Church as a ‘prodder’ to extract confessions from suspects, usually by the means of torture. Obviously, at one point these two strands will almost certainly cross over.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to start a document file entitled ‘Order For Burning’ and stare at the screen for a few minutes.

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Whispers In The Fog

whereishope

 

It’s written on my left hand so I can see it all the time when I’m at my keyboard. Upon dropping my son off at school this morning I explained that I was driving through to Dumfries today to meet some friends so I can talk about witches with them. For a few minutes he thought his Dad was actually off to meet some witches. I assured him this was certainly not the case.

I met Kathleen and John from Mostly Ghostly which is always a pleasure. During our hour and a half conversation we started to piece together some basic structure on ‘Order For Burning’. Kathleen brought along her folder of information about the women who were burnt on the Whitesands in Dumfries on that day and many more. It’s something I really will have to sit with and digest over the next few nights. Even after that short time though there was something forming and taking shape, as ever at this early stage it’s whispers in the fog but it’s still there.

The three of us thought about how to present the story of this group of women and one question kept coming up again and again. Where is the hope? A feature film about these women being doomed and an audience just watching them go to their inevitable demise is no good, There needs to be some kind of hope, a small chink of light in the situation that these women might just be let off and people may just come to their senses. Of course, that’s never going to happen but for those who know nothing of the story the promise should be there. I need to find a way of introducing this.

And this friends, is why I like writing so much.

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A Kickstart

Yes, yes I know..another Kickstarter. But wait, this one’s a little closer to home and something I consider well worth it.

The Spring Fling is an arts and craft festival that takes place in my home county of Dumfries and Galloway each May. As you’ve probably noticed from some of my previous blog posts it’s very rare for things like this to happen here. It’s a rural area and it doesn’t have anything that could be described as a city in it in which such events would probably take place on a regular basis therefore it’s important.

The campaign is to get the festival more exposure outside the region, by featuring work in Newcastle, Glasgow and London but the organisers need money to do this and £3000 is the total set. It would be brilliant if it made this total as it currently sits just below halfway with only a week left. I don’t have a vast amount of money to throw around but I’ve still stuck £20 in there to help along the way.

I don’t often do ’causes’ on Howling In The Dark, they drive me nuts enough appearing on my Facebook news feed, but this is a group of people who have brought this festival to the local area for 11 years and want to do more. Go to the site, check the video and put something in even if you’re not local. The knowledge you helped if it does get there will truly be something.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/308013317/spring-fling-going-national

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The Postman Calls

I was having breakfast this morning when the post arrived and this landed on the doormat.

My very short story ‘The Last Drop’ is featured on the back page but there are also a great many fantastic pieces of micro-fiction included. Head over The Fankle for details on how to obtain a copy which you most certainly should if you’re a rational thinking human being.

Another mission off the tick list this year but I’m hoping to be back for the next issue.

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Micro Fiction

An e-mail arrives from The Fankle.

‘Hi Cameron
Thanks for this. We’d like to include it – but we were wondering if it
wanted/needed a title. What do you think?’

I had stupidly not thought about a title when I was writing it, I was too busy attempting to keep the word count down due to it being a micro fiction edition (stories with less than 250 words). It’s been given the title ‘The Last Drop’ which seemed apt considering the subject matter. The issue isn’t out for a little while yet but they’re will be the obvious post on here once it does land. For those in the Dumfries and Galloway area the magazine can be found here and for those not from the Scottish lowlands then you can get it posted your way by doing this. It’s 85p for a single issue, of which I’ll have written 31 words of the new one, but whilst you’re there why not subscribe anyway? You’d be getting a fantastic slice of what’s going on as far as creative writing goes in Dumfries and Galloway.

If you’re that way inclined and are from the area then why not submit something for their consideration? The theme of the next issue will be ‘Resolution’ and the deadline is December 31st 2012 so there’s plenty of time. I’m already seeing what I can piece together.

It’s been a fair few years since I was last published in print, about ten to put a figure on it, so this is a very pleasant surprise and goes on the achievement list of 2012 alongside the Henry Barstow performances.

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Never Worn

An e-mail arrives from The Fankle.

‘Dear Cameron,

Thanks for submitting your story to the Fankle. We had a lot of
submissions this time around and in the end we weren’t able to use
yours. However, the next issue will be a flash fiction special so
we’re looking for very short stories (on any theme) of up to 250
words, but the shorter the better. If this has whetted your appetite
for stories, then perhaps you might want to give it a go

Thanks again for your submission.’

So whilst I’m not in this edition of the magazine at least it seemed to be an invitation to try again and that’s something I fully intend to do. 250 words isn’t a lot to play with but then again Orson Welles was happy with six words in the past.

‘For sale. Child’s shoes. Never worn’.

 

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Draft 2

I’ve spent the day redrafting the game show stage play into something that’s just about readable to the outside world. There’s a list of various pointers that read like a software update bug fix. The ending ten minutes are a stand up set in which the main character gives up every thing he’s written down and has a small scale nervous breakdown brought on by gin consumption. This sounds wonderfully straight forward until you factor in that the play takes place on 1986 therefore the humour has to be of the time. Whilst I wrote a good few jokes for that section most of them felt out of place as a result of the setting and had to be dumped.

I’ve also toned down the political aspects of the play. In the first draft there was a lot of references to striking workers, most of the darkness between scenes was caused by power cuts and the lack of electricity is a major reason for the delay in filming this episode of the game show which gives the story its drive in the first place. I had a rather clumsy opening in which the main character aligned himself with Thatcher and expressed his disgust with those ‘sat at home not contributing’. It was horribly ham fisted and needed to go so it’s been cut down to a line or two. I could have gone down the political route with it but I cannot get around the fact that I’d be too heavy handed with it. It does feel a little bit like shying away and pushing the comedic elements forward to cover for it but I’d much rather write a sharp, funny script than an overblown one. Time will tell as to if this is a mistake or not.

I’ll probably leave the script alone again for a few days just for the changes to settle. In the meantime I’m trying to get a short piece of writing done for ‘The Fankle’. I haven’t written anything short story related for about 12 years however so I can’t imagine how this one will go.

 

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