Sarah Miles

Dec 162013
 

IMG_1601Christmas seems to have come early for me this week. When asked (which is not often) what I would like for Christmas the mind automatically jumps to material things. Tangible items to wrap and nestle lovingly under the Christmas tree.

You can’t wrap winning a writing competition, but if you could I want slap the biggest bow ever on top of it and give it pride of place under the branches. Actually, that’s not true. I would give it a good feel and try to peek though an unwrapped corner…

You get the picture – I was beyond thrilled this week when my entry ‘Dinner’ won the Mumsnet writing competition. At Blogfest there was a writers’ panel which boasted names like A.L. Kennedy and Lionel Shriver. Each was asked to give the worst opening line to a book and Lionel Shriver chose the opener from Herman Koch’s book ‘The Dinner’ which was…”We were going out to dinner.”

You could pick any genre but that had to be the first line, and I chose a piece of flash fiction, written in courses.

Anyway, it’s made my Christmas. Certainly can’t buy that. Even in John Lewis.

My Prize!

Oct 312013
 

John Brady closed his eyes for the final time and felt the darkness engulf him like a shroud. He was ready to go, tired of the world and all its nasty little ways. He had tried to make it better, to rid it of its own destructive forces, but nothing had changed and it was with a sense of relief that death came upon him gently and swiftly.

He awaited the nothingness, the finality; one final gibe at all those frantic preachers. He felt a surge of disappointment that he wouldn’t be able to stand back and laugh at them, show them he was right all along.

He waited. Time made no sense now but he was still here. Conscious. And corporeal. He could feel sensation in his limbs, the touch of the undertaker who washed and dressed him, the grip of men who ungraciously heaved him into his coffin and the vibration of the road as he was driven to the graveyard.

His coffin felt claustrophobic. He felt smothered, like that girl, his first one, who he lured into his flat and shut her up with his sweaty, stinking pillow. How dare she say no to him? Silly little tart.

There had been plenty more like her and every one of them got what they deserved. Whores, thinking they were better than him, thinking they deserved to live. He liked them to beg before he killed them. Teach ’em to wear next to nothing….

John Brady lay there, in his tomb, unable to move, unable to speak but fully able to feel his skin tightening as the decaying process began. He could feel the burning agony of his insides rotting away, his flesh being devoured by gnawing termites and the maggoty worms that slid into his eye sockets and through his festering brain.

Gone was the smug arrogance of proving there was no God, no heaven. Oh, he had been right about that, but he realised that what death brought instead was justice, agony and revenge. And retribution.

No Comment

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Aug 092013
 

no commentYou may (or may not) have noticed that I have decided to stop comments on this blog.  Not that I didn’t appreciate all the lovely comments that people made, but I think it’s difficult to comment on something somebody has written creatively. Creative writing is so personal, so precious to the author, full of so much thought and passion and hope that it is quite an ask to get somebody to comment or crit it.  So I have decided I am not going to. If you feel strongly enough, you can always tweet/email me about it and I would love to hear from you, but in the meanwhile I have left a like button which you can click or not as you see fit. And I think that is probably just enough. Did you like it? If yes, then just click – no pressure to effervesce. If no, then don’t click. Simple. If you really liked it there are a few more buttons for you to tweet/fb it or the one place you can leave a comment is on my About Me page. I can’t decided if I am being selfish or selfless but it’s done now.

Update: Due to, ironically, comments on social media I am enabling comments for certain posts like the 100WC for example. I have a feeling I might be eating my words too at some point…not literally, I hope.

My Thing

In previous posts I have spoken about the ‘thing’ I was planning. Well, now it is complete I can tell you that I have entered a competition which, if successful, will result in some of my poems actually being published.  Now, I am a dreamer but I have the Jack Russell of reality nipping at my ankles so I know it is unlikely that I will be embracing the shelves of Waterstones any time soon BUT if you don’t try, you never know. We had to submit poems on a specific theme and, as you might guess, mine was about a modern love affair strewn with old-fashioned love. So that is why so many of my recent poems have been on that theme. No doubt a few more will sneak in now and then because I do like to write about love but I am now itching to try some new things.  I have a half-written short story to finish and I am keen to try some different types of poems too. And one of my favourite things to do (I equate it to doing the crossword) is to take part in the 100 word challenge. I have abandoned it of late and intend to send a little TLC its way.

In Other News

A small nugget of excitement (for me) is that finally, after 10 years of trying, I might finally be joining a book club.  I did sort of invite myself (desperate? moi?) so it may not come to fruition, but hey – you never know.

And finally, I have been included in this month’s Britmums Poetry and Prose Round-up. Many thanks to Helen at All at Sea for including my poem.

And finally….

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Jun 242013
 

Britmums Live 2013 Bib AwardsIn my heart I knew I wouldn’t win, although my head was telling me it was quite possible, that I had just as good a chance as the other five finalists. But, as you may know, I am someone who listens to their heart not their head. And it turns out I was right to do so.

Friday night was the awards ceremony for the Brilliance in Blogging Awards, held at The Brewery in London. An apt location for me if ever there was one. A bit like the fact that my daughter’s nursery is situated in a vineyard. But I digress.

Supper & Syntax was a finalist in the Writer category but, alas, that is where it remained. I was more disappointed than I thought I’d be, but unsurprised. Never mind, eh? Earlier in the day I attended a seminar at the conference which addressed getting published and then subsequently a ‘conservation with a literary agent’.  Both sessions were informative, encouraging and fanned that little spark in me that thinks perhaps I should try. What have I got to lose? What I learned above all is that anything is possible, there is no ‘right’ way to do it (but there are strongly suggested guidelines) and literary agents are not as scary as I had presumed they would be. We chatted with Luigi Bonomi from the LBA Agency. He reminded me a little of Phil Silvers to look at and actually he seemed just as amiable.  Certainly he was fair, honest and not dismissive of bloggers. In fact, when I asked him, he confirmed that bloggers were writers and writers are his bread and butter. So what’s not to love? (He didn’t actually say it like that, but that was the gist of it.)

So, even though it was not my name that was read out as the winner, my determination was already off the blocks in a kind of ‘sod it, I may not be at peak fitness but I’m going to run in this damned race if it kills me’ kind of way. Plans were hatching in my mind and metaphorical crocodile clips were being snapped onto the wires of ‘perhaps’.

Glory may not be mine but I thank everybody who took the trouble to vote for me and yes, I will be pestering the crap out of you next year to do the same. In the meanwhile, using the words of a great friend of mine (and Churchill, of course), I will keep buggering on.

I have a cunning plan….

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Jun 022013
 

…so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel.

One of my many favourite quotes from Blackadder. And actually, my plan isn’t particularly cunning, but I couldn’t resist.

A few posts ago I surreptitiously mentioned a plan IF a certain thing happened. Well, it did!  I made the final six in the Britmums Awards and because of this I have decided to go ahead and construct an anthology. The last time I did this I was in the heady descent to my GCSEs (and yes, I still have it somewhere!) and, of course, it was other people’s poems I was collating.  But, seeing as it is poetry that floats my literary boat and recognising my penchant for lurve (and all its highs and lows) I decided I would set myself a challenge. So, I am aiming for an anthology of love poetry with 30 poems in, edited and in some sort of sensible order.

That last part eludes me. I have no idea how to sort them, apart from not alphabetically, chronologically or in clumps of similar type. So, random it is then!  I have twenty poems so far and I am looking to write the final ten within the next six weeks.  This brings me to another challenge, writing to a deadline.  Usually I write poetry when the mood/emotion takes me, when inspiration strikes or when a significant event prompts it. But this will be a new hurdle of writing ‘to order’ so to speak.  I also want to cover the many and various types of love, so I need to check that is done too.

This may be old hat to some of you or perhaps nothing too amazing, but for me it is quite a big deal.  When I first published my poetry on my blog I did it peeking through my fingers because it is such a personal thing to put out there. I was worried readers would think it was a load of old tosh and then, when I bucked up the courage to join a local writers’ group, I was concerned they might balk at my lack of ‘training’. I’ve never done a course in writing or learned about story arcs and the like, so I beat myself up that they would scoff at my grammatical errors and get all snitty about its baseness. They didn’t, of course (well, not to my face!).  That was just my own paranoia kicking in, they were/are a lovely bunch and very supportive. And so, for me, making the Bibs final has given me that last confidence boost to think ‘well, I must be okay….’ and to go ahead and try something new.

What I’ll do with it once it’s finished, I have no idea. Probably look at it on my laptop from time to time and give myself a metaphorical pat on the back. We’ll see.

Another secret hankering I have been spurred on to do (and this kind of links in with the deadline thing) is to go on a writing retreat. Now, much as I’d love to disappear off to Devon for the week in a cottage embraced with pink roses this is not looking likely, so I am planning to book a one day retreat in London, hopefully with another blogger pal who has done it before. It is in London, bans the internet *starts hyperventilating*, gives you prompts or crit if you want it and plies you with tea and cake.  A great brain simulator if ever there was one.

Don't mind if I do....

Don’t mind if I do….

Ooh, I nearly forgot,  one final thing I have signed up for, via my writers group, is a spoken poetry project. More on that later, though.

So, that is my news on the writing front. Feel free to leave any comments/tips/rude remarks in the box below 😉

The Tears of a Woman

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Mar 312013
 

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My mind was closed to any kindness. Comfort was unwelcome. I wanted to suffer, needed to suffer. For two days I had been wandering in a timeless fog of grief. My vision blurred with the blood, the ripped torso. All I could hear was the screaming as the precious flesh was punctured and torn.

His magnetism had always been palpable and, once again, today I found myself drawn to him, to where he lay, longing for the proximity of our bodies to bring me solace.

As I neared the entrance, I felt my stomach lurch and then rise quickly in a wash of panic. The stone had been heaved to one side and I froze. Raiders? Romans? The body? Had they taken him? Too scared to go further, I turned and ran, back through the dark streets which awaited the morning sun to enliven them. Retching, I returned to the house. My eyes streaming with tears of anger and helplessness. In the upper room I found them and threw myself at Peter’s feet.

‘What is it? What’s happened?’

It came out in a shocked whisper. ‘They’ve taken his body from the tomb.’

Peter and John exchanged urgent glances and went running down the stairs and out into the dawn light. I let them go and followed them slowly, my aching body anchored by fresh grief.

When I arrived, John ran to meet me, his eyes dancing.

‘It’s as he said! He has risen! ‘In three days I will rise again’…he meant himself! Don’t you see?’

I stared at him, confused. I didn’t see at all. I had never heard him say that…when did he speak these words? Why wasn’t I there? I looked down at my body. A woman’s body. Good for nothing but cleaning and bearing children, with no place in the world of men and judgement and power. But he had given me a voice. He had protected me and taught me what it is to forgive and accept. To love.

As Peter and John disappeared back to their lodging, I forced myself forward and peered into the cave. Inside were two men, dressed in white robes, sitting where his broken body had lain. I sank to my knees, exhausted and confused. And, in the privacy of that gentle place, I allowed myself to weep.

‘Woman, why are you crying?’

I stood up and steadied myself against the entrance, exhausted by grief. As I turned I noticed the gardener approaching and covered my tear-stained face with my shawl.

He echoed the same question, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

My mind was darting between reason and confusion. Did the Romans have him? Why would they be interested in a murdered Jew? Or the Pharisees? Caiaphas! Is this his doing? A final blow to dissolve his memory from our wracked bodies. I wondered if the gardener might know something. Perhaps he saw who took him, or helped them even. I bowed my head and asked ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

‘Mary’

Like the smell of your child’s skin or the pitch of its cry, the familiarity was overwhelming.

‘Rabboni?’ In elated disbelief I ran to him, and threw myself into his arms, never wanting to let go.

‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’

I looked into his eyes and a wave of clarity dried my tears. I nodded, knowing that it was not just my physical embrace he spoke of. I needed to let him go in my heart too. To cling on to the past would be too painful, an open wound. He was my healer, my saviour, my God.

Against every part of my being, I left him and went to find the others. They were together, in hiding, addressing each other with whispered urgency. I waited until their murmurs abated and caught the haunted gaze of Mary, still traumatised by her son’s violent death. I smiled and took her hand. I glanced around the room to address the eleven and then returned to his mother’s questioning face.

‘I have seen the Lord’

Her brow furrowed and tears watered my eyes as I smiled and nodded the affirmation she was so desperate to hear. Yes, Mary, Yes! He is alive!

I was soon surrounded by the disciples, Peter and John still fired-up with certainty but the rest caught off-guard and suspicious as to why I would have been first to see him, to touch him and believe. A woman.

Yes, I thought, a woman. Hadn’t they listened to him at all? When had he ever conformed to the patriarchal prejudices of society? Hadn’t it always been the least likely person that he embraced and exonerated? And, but for my gender, I was one of his most devoted disciples.

I saw him again. We all did. He stayed with us, briefly, and then, as he said he must, he left us. Full of hope, determination and faith. Full of Love.

 

Mar 022013
 

Last week, after much pontificating, I joined a local writers’ group.  I had been stalling on this for a while, partly because I feel resolutely under-qualified to go but also because the pressures and fatigue of everyday life ground me to a halt. Anyway, I finally plucked up the courage and energy to go after some cajoling and reassurance from David on Twitter.  It is held every fortnight in the upstairs room of a pub (which reminded me of the Bloomsbury set!) and runs, to my mind, very much like a cocktail party. Everyone drinks wine and mingles, chatting about what they are writing, projects they are embarking on and general literary love.  My fears that we all have to stand up and read out loud were quashed – if you privately want to critique each others’ work, that is fine, but there is not formality or requirement to share.  I really enjoyed myself and look forward to returning, if only to pay back the debt of the drink I had to cadge off someone as I turned up without my purse. Duh!  How to look an idiot within 5 minutes of meeting new people.

One thing the meeting did do is make me question what I write and why.  Naturally, I was asked my preferred form of writing (poetry) and subsequently, who are my favourite poets? I stuttered rather as I haven’t really given this much thought (that’s bad, isn’t it?).  As a theologian, I have always enjoyed the Metaphysical poets.  George Herbert’s ‘Love’ being one of my favourites.  But I also like Larkin, Duffy and Milligan.  Quite a mix.  I cannot be doing with the romantics, I’m afraid.  I recall with great hilarity the schooldays studying of ‘Ode to Basil’ which involved a woman burying her lovers’ head in an urn of Basil and tending to it.  I mean, WTF?  And Wordsworth’s daffodils leave me dry.  Whilst I’m on the topic, daffodils also smell of wee, a point I was making on twitter the other day and which prompted fellow member David and I to tweet lines to each other, forming a VERY impromptu poem (see below).  I asked David whether I could publish it on the blog and he reticently agreed so long as I make it very clear to you that this was two tweeters, 10 minutes, not a lot of thought and no editing.  I just loved the fact that a line of tweeting effortlessly transformed into poetry!

Thinking further about writing I realised I am drawn to love and tragedy.  As an actress I adored tragedies and was no happier than when I played Juliet, a figure spun between all-consuming love and early, mistaken death.  The books that I enjoy are fairly tragic too, randomly springing to mind are Birdsong, The End of the Affair, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Tess.  All favourites of mine.  Even in film, I enjoy the sadness more than the gladness. Am I the only one who, when watching Love Actually, savoured the unrequited affair between Mark and Juliet more than the funny bits?  Perhaps I need to lighten up a bit, focus on humour.  Alas, not a natural resting place for me – I am much happier languishing in love, death and Truth.  Yes, with a capital T.

My brain then drifted to lyrics – in my mind akin to poetry.  There are so many beautiful lyrics to songs and it astounds me how many people rarely listen to them.  I am now endeavouring to jot down some of my favourites for another post.  It will take some compiling and a lot of iTunes, I’m sure.  If you have any favourite lyrics, please leave them in the comment box and I’ll include them in my post.  I might even do it like a quiz…..publish the lyrics and give you a week to google guess them.  Have I mentioned my competitive streak….?

Anyway, I shall leave you with our Twitter-born poem to savour…be kind!

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50 Shades of Sussex

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Jul 192012
 

50 shadesAs my phone bleeps, I know it is the text I have been longing for.  ‘Tea downstairs’.  I wriggle out of the sensuous duvet and writhe into my fleecy dressing gown.  As I walk to the bathroom I glimpse the grey tie and finger it slowly.  Yes…yes I MUST get it to the dry-cleaners today.

‘What do you want for breakfast?’ He says.

‘Oh, nothing.  I’ll grab some toast later’

“NO.  You must…eat”  The word lingers on his lips like a crumb of Marmite toast, desperate to be licked off in salty delight.

I surrender.  My lips part and my tongue searches fervently for the exquisite taste of the saltiness.  There it is.  Marmite.  My mate.

As I saunter into the lounge, the kids are playing Happy Families and greet me with a joyous ‘Good Morning, Mummy.  Icon of Motherhood.  Pioneer of Fairness.’

He comes towards me with a mischievous glint in his eye and pops a couple of balls into my mouth.  ‘Suck them’ he says.  And I do.  Their maltesery delight a melting chocolate sensation into my wanting mouth.  Sod the diet.  They are worth it.

Breakfast saunters by and as I wipe the grainy Weetabix from its oily cloth I realise that I have not signed the contract.  It is there in my bag.  Wanting.  Waiting.  My inky pen hovers over the dotted line like a virgin waiting to be released.  The ink splashes messily over the page and I am, in the heat of the moment, contracted to a year’s car insurance with Go Compare.

My day is spent grooming.  Shampooing, drying and then brushing’ til a glossy sheen shines from every hair.  Then I move on to nails, clipping them to minimise the scratch-marks they will surely leave when He is leapt upon as he walks through the door. When I have finished with the dog I decide to drink tea..Twinings…bag by the side.  It leaves me wondering if PG Tips would sate me just as much.  As I rise to prepare dinner I feel a heavy sensation as I walk.  Oh my! The feeling intensifies with every step and I realise that perhaps last night’s 5k was a little ambitious for my ageing legs.

He returns from work and eases into the kitchen with a hungry look in his eyes.  In his hand he holds a foil packet which he rips open and then shows me his nuts.  Holy Cow!  Salted cashews.  Then he asks the question to which he knows my answer is always ‘yes, Yes, YES!’  He leans in towards me, ‘Glass of wine?’

We get the kids into bed and when they are asleep we look at each other and know this evening will end as it always does when we are left alone together. He types in channel 401 and I pour myself another glass of wine and press that that little white bird on my iPad.  Both of us released to the devil within.  We succumb and conversation is no more.

 

The Journey

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Apr 182012
 

The Journey

The swaying of the train made her hands grip around her bag as if it was anchored and could support her. Outside the window, the trees were a blur of greens and it seemed to the woman as if it were the trees not the train which were moving, hurrying away from her, putting green distance between them. She’d started the journey with clearly defined logical reasons for it, which she’d neatly stacked up like a wall. But the rocking of the train, the judder as it had speeded up, had toppled them and the truth was now visible, poking out and ugly to her. Outside the window the moving haze of green trees was replaced by the still hard edges of a grey platform. She’d arrived.

The temptation to remain on the train was fleeting but strong.  When the doors opened she felt a rush of icy air that bit her cheekbones and watered her panicked eyes.  As she alighted the train she noticed that the platform was almost empty; here was not a place for urgent commuters or families hopping around in the excitement of an eagerly planned outing.  Here the passengers were huddled into the corners of the battered benches, focusing their stares toward their frozen feet.  The station was unloved and forgotten, just as she felt.

Unsurprisingly, there were no taxis to be found and the bus stop outside had been vandalised which left transportation to chance or local knowledge.  She reached into her bag and felt around for the town map she had ordered from the bookshop in her village.

‘You’re going a long way!’ the shop assistant had remarked, ‘got family up there?’

‘Something like that..’

Her reply was purposefully evasive as she did not want to lie nor have to explain why now, at thirty-nine years of age, she was finally making the journey that had been beckoning her for nearly twenty years.  Ten years ago, when her mother had casually mentioned it over Christmas she had rejected the idea wholeheartedly and refused to talk about it, to her mother or even her husband, Richard.

‘It’s not an option.  I don’t want to know, I don’t want to see him and I don’t want to talk about it again.  Ever.’

She had stormed out, tears of anger and betrayal coursing down her slender face.  How could they even suggest it?  After all this time.  It was unspoken, taboo, a subject she had closed many years before, when she was just twenty years old.  The possibilities of youth and life had been wrenched out of her, stolen mercilessly and for a year she had barely spoken about it, locked in grief and torment, anger and confusion.  But she had been dragged from the depths of misery, like Eurydice emerging from the Underworld and Richard had been her Orpheus.  He had always been there for her, after the accident, during her time with bastard Pete, mopping up after the nasty break-up and then throughout their very happy marriage and the birth of their children.  He had been with her every step of the way.

It was a bright spring morning when Jessie and Tom were chasing butterflies in the garden and Richard was at work that there was a phone call and she felt like she had glimpsed back into Hell having never escaped it after all.

So here she was, hundreds of miles away from her home and family.  Lost without their comfort and familiarity, the strength they gave her to weather the storms.  In the biting dampness of the station she had longed to slip her arm into Richard’s, snuggle into his shoulder and let him protect her from the elements.  As she walked up the unfamiliar road she thought about her daily trek with the kids and dogs, how they thought the wind was a monster trying to steal your breath and would run as fast as they could to get ahead of it.   She smiled.  The thought of Tom and Jess warmed her.  Their blonde hair that shimmered in the sunlight, their big blue eyes widened by their unquashed need for answers.

‘But why, Mummy?  Why did the Romans invade England?  Why do trees lose their leaves?  Why do we have to die?’

Why, indeed.  She shuddered.  That was a question she hated answering.  Usually she palmed them off with something trite like ‘the guinea pig was old and is now very happy in guinea pig heaven,’ or that ‘to make room for all the new babies in the world then some of us have to die.’  Once she had even told them it was part of ‘God’s Big Plan.’  But she didn’t believe in God.  Not a God that would first let her sister die and now this.  There was no room for that sort of God in her heart.  The door had closed.

She looked at the map and wondered if she had lost her way.  There was  a rumbling behind her and over the brow of the hill came a bus with ‘Shotsworth’ on its destination board.  She stretched out her hand to hail it, an intuition learned back in London and sure enough the brake lights glowed as the bus dawdled to a stop three hundred yards ahead.  She quickened her pace and stuck her head into the open door.  The old, ruddy-cheeked driver leaned forward,

‘Hop aboard, young lady! Where do you want to go?’

Home, she thought, that’s where I want to go. But she smiled back and said,

‘Shotsworth please.  Is it far?’

‘About 10 minutes from here.  You come a long way?’

‘London’ she replied.

‘Blimey, bit of a shock to the system up here then, eh?  You’ve had quite a journey!’

‘I have,’ she said.  She took a seat near the back and closed her eyes.  Yes, I have, she thought to herself.  I’ve had quite a journey.

The bus ground to a shuddery halt and her stomach lurched.  She peered out of the window and when she saw the sign her body stiffened.  A wave of nausea swept over her and she could feel her heart beating hard and fast.

‘Shotsworth Prison!’ the driver called. ‘Journey ends here’.

 

 

 

Love

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Mar 121994
 

Love comes not to satisfy or fulfil, but to challenge.  It does not thrive on being an emotion, but by its intensifying power which permeates the soul and pervades every thought, action and intention.  It is an amalgamation of euphoric ecstasy and tragedy, the two often becoming indistinguishable.

Some may never find love.  Others may not recognise it and discard it to be regretted in the years to come.

Love can be experienced many times and in many ways but true love strikes only once and it strikes the heart with forceful and continuous blows.  It endures all rationality and will.  Even if resisted or forgotten, it is never lost.  In any relationship there is always one who kisses and one who offers the cheek.  Sometimes the roles change and sometimes they remain the same.  Love is giving and receiving in many different ways; of bodies, minds, hearts and souls.

When love is requited the love is destined, true and celebrated.  When love is unrequited that same love is obsessive.  The lover is infatuated and pitied.  Love is then a crime for which the lover is brought to trial, judged by a jury of friends and hanged until their heart is broken.