Saturday, 13 May 2017

Flashes of fiction.

Today I attended a flash fiction workshop hosted by Greenacre Writers and led by Ingrid Jendrzejewski, who has won a number of flash fiction competitions including the prestigious Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2016.

Ingrid's aim was to take us out of our comfort zone. She set exercises to do just that! She also introduced the concept of the iceberg where only a small proportion of the berg is visible with 90% beneath the surface. The limitation of words in flash fiction - be it 6 words or 1,000 - means keeping much of the story hidden. What is visible is only a small part of the story and needs precision so the reader can still understand it. To quote Hemingway, who says it so much better. "...a writer...may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them." (The Art of Fiction, No 21 The Paris Review.)

Ingrid also spoke about the many forms of flash fiction including prose poems. Different publishers seek different forms with some preferring the narrative style - a concise short story, while others publish the prose poem forms - research is key in finding the outlets for your particular style. She also gave us some excellent examples of flash fiction including stories by Tania Hershman to read and consider, as well as plenty of resources for books, workshops, and publishers for our work.

If you have the opportunity to attend one of Ingrid's workshops I can thoroughly recommend it!

I have had a few of my flash pieces published and many more rejected. On my return from the workshop I found a tweet from Reflex Fiction with a link to my piece 'No Mirrors' - its publication today meant it that while it reached the long-list in this competition, it hasn't made it any further. With renewed enthusiasm gained from Ingrid's workshop, maybe my next one will do better!

By discovering several typos as I was writing this, I can now confirm that several genres exist: flesh fiction (courtesy of Rosie Canning) lash fiction, flask fiction and flush fiction. Take your pick.


Saturday, 15 April 2017

Confessions of a speech and language therapist.

April 16th is World Voice Day.

Ever since I was a speech therapy student (we added the 'language' bit later) I have worked with people with voice problems and now specialize in that particular area of SLT.

My voice patients vary hugely. The youngest was two and a half and the oldest some ninety years older. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and ethnicity. Some are professional voice users, others not. Anyone can have a voice problem.

I take my work very seriously but there are a few smiles along the way. I had to keep a straight face when one lady told me that the doctor was quite wrong telling her she had noodles in her throat, as that wasn't possible because she never ate noodles, horrible things. She meant nodules. Nothing to do with what you eat but often related to shouting. Which she did quite a lot. She answered her phone in my clinic to speak to her son and I almost lost my hearing.

I still wonder whether I irrevocably ruined one singer's career. He assured me he always drank a special concoction before a performance 'because it coats my vocal cords making it easier to sing.' I forbore to point out that it had obviously lost its efficacy as he was in my clinic - but instead gave him a little anatomy lesson. If his miracle drink ever went near his vocal cords he would be coughing and spluttering and wouldn't sound much good. He seemed quite devastated with my explanation, having been quite sure that his vocal cords were positioned vertically in his larynx along which the liquid would slide neatly down to his stomach. Without his placebo - can he still sing? Gargles don't act on the vocal cords either, by the way.

I asked one lady, who had very mild dysphonia (voice problem), whether her voice prevented her from carrying out any activities. 'Not really,' she replied, then said, 'I am a bit upset about not being able to sing in the supermarket.' She added 'you know, when you just want to burst into song in the supermarket? I often do that. It cheers me up.'

She and I do not shop at the same place, or at least not at the same time, because I have never heard snatches of song whilst shopping. Children yelling sometimes, but singing, no. I wasn't sure whether restoring her voice would go down well with her fellow shoppers or not!

Another patient who worked in a supermarket (was it the same one?) was surprised to see me when I was picking up a few things for dinner, and asked if I had come to check up on how she was using her voice at work. I reassured her I was just doing some shopping (thank goodness I wasn't buying six bottles of gin and multi-packs of chocolate!) But what a job that would be - I'd get to quite a few places. In the last few months I'd have been visiting schools - a lot, theatres, night-clubs, fitness classes (perhaps I should!), shops, hairdressers, taken bus rides and taxi rides, visited the The Old Bailey, and The House of Lords to name but a few.

Teachers sometimes admit to shouting to their pupils to keep the noise down but I wasn't expecting to one patient's explanation for her hoarse voice. 'I have to shout at the lions.' But it all in a day's work when you're Lion Keeper at a wildlife park! Checking up on her at work would have been a jolly day out for me. Must get that written into the job description.

At one hospital, I saw a patient who was an anaesthetist at the same hospital. She popped in for her appointment wearing her theatre greens. 'Will I be more than an hour? I've got to extubate someone in about 70 minutes. They've got my mobile number if there's a problem in the meantime, so I might have to dash.' She wasn't kidding, but there was of course, another anaesthetist to hand! (In case you are concerned about H&S - she would have changed into new theatre greens on her return. Now they are no longer worn outside theatres at all!)

I thoroughly enjoyed the scene in the waiting area when another of my clients turned up for his appointments in his work clothes. He was a specialist tribute singer. Other patients were a little surprised to find themselves sitting next to a very convincing Elvis.

There's never a dull moment!

If you are interested in finding out more about World Voice Day or want to know what a larynx looks like, take a look at the website.

More information about the voice and its care can be found on The British Voice Association website.

PS: Note to writers: It's vocal cords, not chords.






Friday, 17 March 2017

The first three months...

Spring is on the way.
Almost three months of the year are already past and with it, I hope, the worst of winter. The months have brought me mixed tidings.

I bade my daughter farewell in the first week of January for her journey to Australia where she is relocating having married an Aussie. They are going a long way round with a four month trip through 20+ countries of Central and South America. Thank goodness for email and Skype.

Losing my mother just a week later was a great sadness, although not unexpected. I keep reading or hearing things and thinking 'Oh I must tell Mum, she'll be interested to hear that,' and then remembering! She died knowing her granddaughter was going to live in the land where she was born which gave her a wonderful sense of continuity. In spite of living in England for 85 of her 95 years she still identified with Australia and in the brief notes of her life that she wrote to be read at her funeral, she mentioned how awful the weather was on the day she arrived at Tilbury in June 1931. She said it never improved much.

These two most important women in my life were also the two who provided some of my best conversations, so I'm feeling quite bereft.

On a happier note, the day after my mother's funeral I received a letter telling me I had won The Great British Write Off flash fiction competition and a lovely fat cheque! That put a smile on my face. I just wish the news had come a couple of weeks earlier so I could have told my mother who would have been delighted. The winnings will be put towards another trip because my daughter and son-in-law have now visited more countries than me and that's just not right!

I did add Australia to my country tally last September, so in the spirit of finding out more about books Down Under and Australian authors I reviewed The Book That Made Me edited by Judith Ridge, for the Greenacre Writers blog. Read my review here.

At the end of last year I had been interviewed by author Leslie Tate, who I met at an author event in November as he was interested in my work as a speech and language therapist as well as my literary endeavours. He posted the interview in January which you can read here.

So here's to spring and sunny weather, and productive reading and writing.






Monday, 16 January 2017

My mother's gift to me.

My mother introduced me to literature with stories. Bedtime stories and anytime stories. My early favourites included the Beatrix Potter books and Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit series. I loved My Naughty Little Sister, by Dorothy Edwards. That's what my older sisters called me, but I knew that the child in the book was naughtier than anything I could come up with, because she did lots of really silly things which I viewed with a four-year-old's contempt. However I was rather impressed when she went on a train journey by herself with only the guard to keep an eye on her. I also liked the Milly Molly Mandy series, by Joyce Lankester Brisley, especially as I had my own Little Friend Susan. I did wish Milly Molly Mandy would choose something other than stripes for her dresses though. She nearly did once. 

Like many children I also listened to 'Listen With Mother' with my mother! Co-incidentally it was first broadcast on this very day in 1950.

Learning to read was effortless and seemingly took no time at all so I read books for myself by age five or six but still liked my mother reading to me. One book that I enjoyed was Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John. Set in Switzerland it featured children who skied to school in winter which sounded wonderful, although I imagined the walk back up the mountains must have been a bit of a hike. Our house had plenty of books, including some of my mother’s childhood books and those belonging to my three older sisters. I read them all.

Stories didn’t end with books. I also loved those that my mother made up or the real stories about her childhood in Australia of which I never tired. When I helped my mother with household chores such as washing up, we made up stories with one of us starting and the other taking over. The best story we created went on for weeks about a crazy family who lived in the country and led a rather bohemian life, of which their father’s relations heartily disapproved. The step-mother, who bucked the trend by being nice to her step-children, was called Lorraine but she changed it to Raine as the children were Wood, Heath, Moore, and Brooke and she thought it fitted in better. Father was a little more conventional - I can’t remember if he had a name or not – so we got him out of the way much of the time by sending him abroad to work. 

As I grew older I devoured the children’s classics including two favourites, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and we would discuss what happened after the stories ended or have conversations about the characters as if they were our neighbours and friends. We especially liked Anne and the inhabitants of Avonlea. These discussions continued as I met the characters in adult classics including Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.

We often compared our real neighbours to characters. Barbara Pym’s novels teemed with people from our village, which had its share of helpful ladies. We also loved the Mitford autobiographies and novels and happily chatted about Farve aka Uncle Matthew and his frightful rages as well as the sisters’ exploits. How we envied the Hons cupboard as our house had no such cosy delight.

In recent years our book discussions remained one of our favourite subjects in our regular phone-call chats, along with family news. My mother continued to read both fiction and non-fiction – she liked memoirs of interesting people – until the last few weeks of her life. She would often dip into favourite familiars if she felt too tired to tackle something new. It wasn’t so long ago that we visited Tara to have tea with Scarlett and Mammy to see if Rhett had returned. We knew exactly how that story ended – don’t be misled by published sequels.

My mother was also very supportive of my writing, and was pleased about my few modest successes. A couple of years ago she passed me several exercise books of her writings over the years about life on the farm where we lived when my siblings and I were children.  

Of all my memories of her, the literary memories are among my most precious. I'm going to miss our chats about our book friends.


Kathleen Hazel Bamfield, née Stephens. May 1921-January 2017.



Saturday, 14 January 2017

Lit Ward 10 Under Threat.

The Reader by Mary Cassatt, 1877
Dr Read’s blood pressure was far too high. Nurse Gorgeous took off the monitor and hustled him into the miniscule staff room of Lit Ward 10, made him sit down in the only comfortable chair and fetched him several books. ‘You’re not going back on that ward until your blood pressure is down,’ she instructed him. For a moment she thought he was going to argue but he meekly turned to the first page of Decline and Fall, a choice he felt was apt.

After an hour’s reading Nurse Gorgeous checked his blood pressure and was reassured that he was improving but she wasn’t letting him back on the ward. However it was time for an important meeting. She bleeped Dr De Licious who was helping out in the overcrowded admissions ward.

‘Our ward is under threat,’ Dr Read told his staff. ‘The Chief Exec will close us down unless we can come up with a massive savings plan. The surgical ward has had to take three of our beds, and with the pressure they’re under I couldn’t refuse. They’ve had to take Nurse Page too as she’s primarily a surgical nurse. The only reason the Chief Exec hasn’t cut off our funding altogether is our outcomes, which have remained excellent with the exception of that unspeakable man…’ he stopped.

His colleagues knew who he was talking about. The Minister for Health was Lit 10’s only failure. Far from being turned in to a nicer person during his stay on the ward a year ago, he’d become far worse since his discharge. All three felt he deserved to end up in The Hague for crimes against humanity. ‘Article 7, section k,’ muttered Dr de Licious.

They formulated a workable plan. They reluctantly decided that Lit Ward 10 must become a day ward with just two beds on a general ward for those who had other medical needs besides Lit Therapy. They had already established a successful dayroom programme for staff requiring Lit Therapy. Many staff taken ill during shifts had found Lit Therapy prevented further days of sick leave. 

Dr Read had also instigated an out-reach programme to most other wards with great success. The only disadvantage being a number of books they supplied went home with these patients on discharge and were never seen again. However it was a small price to pay and had resulted in the hospital having a much smaller drugs bill. This was the reason the Chief Exec had allowed Lit Ward 10 to carry on at all. He didn’t hold with such nonsense as reading. Far better to give people lots of medication with long complicated names but even he had to acknowledge reading was cheaper and savings were the order of the day.

Nurse Gorgeous found a manager’s office on the second floor that was used for only one hour a week. She requisitioned it for the new Lit Ward 10. The Chief Exec had to admit this was better use of a bright airy office which had several comfortable chairs, a very nice set of fitted shelves containing one book, its own kitchenette and a large walk-in cupboard which would do as a staff room, so long as no more than two people were it in at the same time.     
    
The office was currently used by one of the consultants for her weekly team meeting simply because it was always empty but she agreed to officially relocate to the hot-desk suite (a draughty porta-cabin) but secretly held the meetings in her secretary’s house over the road from the hospital. Nobody knew whose office it was until a cleaner recalled it had belonged to the Chief Exec’s Bright Ideas Manager, who had precisely one idea, then gone on holiday and never returned. No one had missed him in over six months. The single book on the shelf was a copy of How to Get Ideas. Its efficacy seemed in doubt.

The new Lit Ward 10 was ready with a minimum of fuss. It had been nicely decorated six months ago owing to the BIM’s one idea and needed only a few more chairs, a couple of occasional tables and a coffee machine. Dr De Licious and Nurse Gorgeous headed for Ikea after work with a shopping list and some money from the League of Friends.

One of the porters volunteered to relocate the books and equipment from the old ward in his own time. He had once been admitted to Lit Ward 10 after collapsing with exhaustion near the end of an 18 hour shift. He had been put to bed, allowed to sleep for hours on end and awoke to a cup of hot chocolate, breakfast and a copy of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra which had revived his flagging spirits. Life had been so much better since, even with the long shifts he still had to endure. Besides, Nurse Gorgeous was a smasher. Lovely girl – that Dr de Licious should get on and propose, he thought as he trundled the books to their new home. A copy of Animal Farm fell from the pile. He stopped to replace it.

The following day the patients took their seats in the comfy chairs and opened their books. An atmosphere of peace and content settled over the new room. Letta, the ward’s housekeeper, mixed up her special brew of Jamaican hot chocolate and took it round to the patients and staff. It wasn’t the same as the old ward, which now housed the increasing number of surgical patients from a nearby hospital which had been downsized, but the staff knew they would continue to do a great job in restoring people’s equilibrium and help them cope with the constant messes made by the government and its unspeakable ministers.

A patient brought in a donations box and everybody slipped a few coins or notes in. By the end of the first week there was enough for a number of new books, supplies of hot chocolate and a fresh bottle of gin. The patients knew that they were benefitting from the best NHS medicine in the world and wanted this to remain for perpetuity. Lit Ward 10 would survive – at least for the time being. 

What books would you recommend Nurse Gorgeous buys with the donations?