Here is the short fiction story that came highly commended in the National Poetry Day Bournemouth flash fiction competition. It’s titled In the Highlands.
Droplets fall in parallel lines and the rain plinks against the earth. Banana leaves fan the mist, and beneath the covered balcony of the lodge, there’s activity in the kitchen. I’m startled by shouts in Tok Pisin then I concentrate, trying to make sense of the words. Elias appears barefoot in the doorway and watches the downpour; his springy hair shows a scattering of flour. He lights a cigarette rolled in newsprint and takes a long drag. ‘Im bagarap.’
‘Bugger up, indeed.’ I assume he’s referring to the weather, but it could be a disaster in the kitchen, judging from the smell of burning that wafts. He disappears inside before I have a chance to practice my conversational skills, not that he really wants to talk to me. It’s easier being with the women in Papua New Guinea. They chatter and stroke my hair with fingers thin as vanilla pods.
When the sun splits the clouds, I walk to the edge of the gully. The land is covered in a lemon light and the river is a piece of twisted foil. In a clearing, little children emerge from kunai houses, squat wooden buildings with smoke seeping through the thatch. One boy is naked but for a belt of twine strung around his middle and his head’s been shaved. The hair is used to make ceremonial wigs which the tribesmen decorate with bird of paradise feathers. I have at least learnt something during my study tour.
‘An-i-ta’ The three syllables of my name bounce over the distance from the lodge. I return to find Elias with his hands cupped. Whatever he’s holding, I hope it isn’t alive. Last night a moth the size of a dinner plate had me cowering under the covers.
‘Lukim yu.’ He hands me a clump of moss and the roots of an orchid show. The flower hangs delicate between the leaves. I lean close to breathe the scent of honey.
Elias’s smile is broad and his brown eyes dance. ‘Nais.’
‘Very nice.’ The flower nods as I examine the structure and the dotted markings on the waxy petals. I find words of thanks in Tok Pisin, ‘Tenkyu.’
Elias shows me how to strap the orchid to a tree and each day I walk the garden to admire the plant. The gift is an entry into his world.
Myriam San Marco and me
National Poetry Day was founded by the Forward Arts Foundation to promote a love of reading and sharing poetry. Each year there is a different theme and in 2016 the focus is ‘messages’. A poetry and flash fiction competition was organised by Bournemouth Poet Laureate, Myriam San Marco, to celebrate this national event. I am delighted that my poem Starlings was awarded first prize in the poetry competition and my short fiction In the Highlands came runner-up in the flash fiction section.
Myriam is doing a great job in promoting the work of local poets and I’m indebted to her for providing this opportunity. I’d also like to thank poetry judge Louisa Adjoa Parker for selecting my poem and the feedback she provided. Thank you also to James Cole who acted as a judge for the flash fiction competition. Congratulations to Sally Lewis for taking first prize for her flash fiction piece about texting. At a celebration on 5 October in The Winchester, there was a chance to hear the winning and highly commended entries. I especially liked the superb performance by Kech Wo.
This success has given a huge boost to my confidence and I’m keen to develop further poetry. My aim is to create a series of connected poems and I’m looking forward to making progress towards this goal.
Here is the winning poem:
Side-by-side we sit, watching the wipers swipe
You gnaw tags of skin beside your nails,
I grip the steering wheel like a life buoy.
Staring ahead, I pose the questions
you don’t want to answer.
Talking from the side of your mouth,
you dismiss the concerns that fill my head
like murmurating starlings.
I’m spending this week at Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre. The house is a thirty-minute drive from Inverness and yesterday, there was a huge blue sky and enough sunshine to make me want to put on sunscreen. Today, as I sit in my single room, at a tiny square desk I look onto a blurry grey scene. It’s just the weather for settling down to the tasks in hand. Another rewrite of my novel, a bit of poetry and a three-minute film script for starters.
This is the second visit I’ve made to Moniack Mhor. I’m still in touch with a tutor from the first course I attended in 2010 and have to thank Ronald Frame for his continued support of my writing. This time the tutors are Elizabeth Reeder and Ian Stephen.
I was lucky enough to win a bursary to attend the course which you can read about here and here. The internet connection isn’t great so there are few distractions and as getting this post on-line is proving a bit of a challenge, I better end here.
Enjoy your week.
With Deborah and Janet, I spent a few days in Edinburgh. As well as going to the Botanical Gardens (where this photo was taken), we also went to sessions at the festival, fringe and international book festival. So many great events to attend, but my absolute favourite was the free fringe show offered by Harry & Chris, a personable pair who have an upbeat take on life shared through a spoken word and acoustic set. Have a listen to Whaddyawannado and Simple Times on soundcloud.
After a busy day at work, Dave and I went to Lyme Regis. We walked along the Cobb.
Enjoyed pretty views over the harbour towards the town.
Bought locally caught scallops to eat with chips on the beach.
A perfect end to the day.
June was a turbulent month primarily due to the referendum. When the results came out I was in Spain and was woken by a text from Ryanair suggesting I celebrate remaining in the EU by reserving a £9.99 flight. All was well, I thought, and I tuned into BBC radio coverage to discover that things were far from expected. It was strange receiving this news in the place where I first began to think of myself as a European. In 1986, I lived in Santiago de Compostela, shared a tiny flat in Plaza San Agustin where I was woken each morning by stall holders preparing for the daily market. I have to thank Brian Henry who encouraged me to study while living there and this set me on a route to gaining a university degree. I made friends, explored the cities and the countryside in my Mini Traveller and built a strong and enduring love of the place. I’m truly devastated that the referendum has robbed me of my European identity and feel that so many opportunities may be lost. It was certainly a flaming June, but not due to the weather.
Gail and Cathie, Malpica, Galicia
For the last three weeks I’ve been travelling with Cathie on one of her biannual trips from Australia. (We met in 1981 on a double-decker bus headed for Kathmandu). She has found my obsession with tapping into Brexit news on my iphone and seeking support from FB friends to be curious. She is of the opinion I should accept the majority decision and if this had been an election, I absolutely could. But, the referendum result has such huge implications and challenges what I know to be true: collaboration is of benefit to everyone. It pains me to think about a disconnect from Europe where I’ve found friendship, enjoyed learning and developed intercultural projects.
Thanks to the internet, I’ve signed petitions and emailed my MP. I joined a rally in London and have fallen out with my husband. (He voted leave but we don’t talk about it any more.) On the upside, I’ve seen several shows in London and spent a day at Wimbledon. After queuing from 6am, Cathie and I got tickets on court 2. It was the second day of the tournament and we watched Australians Kyrgios and Tomic win their matches. (The Fanatics were entertaining, too, with their timely chants.)
I guess it’s time to enjoy the summer and wait to see what autumn will bring.
I’ve had a recent success with travel writing – my submission about a journey to Enga Province in Papua New Guinea was highly commended in the Mairi Hedderwick Travel Writing Award. (Have a look on the link, where I have a short bio and a photo!) As a prize I’ve been given a £200 grant towards a course at Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre. I’m looking forward to heading north later this year.
Here’s a photo from Enga.
I ate this for breakfast at 10am following a forty minute walk from the centre of Weymouth. (I must say a cream tea is remarkably enhanced by some fresh strawberries in addition to the clotted cream and jam.) In the background is Sandsfoot Castle, the ruins of a Henrician blockhouse, built to defend the south coast of England following Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and his break with the Roman Catholic Church. Over time, the cliff on which it is built became eroded by the sea and most of the gun floor of the castle fell into the sea. What remains is a ruin that’s fun to explore and gives an idea about the construction of a Tudor castle.
Back in Weymouth, there was plenty more activity with a folk festival in full swing and dancers everywhere including these lovely ladies.
Now at home, there’s sunshine on the deck, and I think it’s time for my first Pimms of the summer.