Activity 3.4

This activity gives us some topics to research. I chose the lindy-hop because I had no idea what it was.

The lindy-hop is a jazz dance. Good old wikipedia contains a good selection of information:

It was born in the black communities of Harlem in the early 1930s, so that provides an interesting scene for a story. The wikipedia article also mentions a dance couple who used it in competitions at the time. ‘Shorty’ George sounds like a great character for a story – most dancers are tall and lithe, but not him.

From this I went to the archives of the Savoy ballroom:

This article includes an image of a newspaper cutting on George and his partner. There seems to have been some question over over named the dance – this could be an interesting source of conflict. The savoy website also revealed another name:

‘In a famous competition –really, a showdown– Frankie Manning and his partner Freda Washington outdanced Shorty and his partner Big Bea– and astonished the crowd of 2000– with the first Lindy airstep ever done.’

Youtube video from the time show the style of clothing and the way the competitions were run.

There is also a modern dancer who has taken on the name having been inspired by the original:

There is potential here to set the same competition/conflict in a modern day setting. This could be popular given the presence of Strictly Come dancing on the TV etc.

A quick look in Google books throws up:

Swing Dancing

By Tamara Stevens, Erin Stevens

There is more information in here – including the fact George had more than one dance partner. What of his private life?

This book also let me to the life of Frankie Manning – including his obituary in the New York Times:

Fascinating stuff.



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Activity 2:10 Calm then agitated

First 300 words where the narrator is in a calm state of mind:

The river is tumbling over the rocks here. It is a torrent of white foam and noise, like champagne spilling from a bottle. I try to imagine what it is like to be a salmon, desperate to swim upstream. The effort is too much for me, though. The warm sun is draining the energy from my bones, and sleep drifts sits me – an unseen guest at the party, waiting to draw me into welcome afternoon nap.

The picnic has been consumed, and my belly is full. I can hear my daughter at the water’s edge, shrieking loudly. Her brother, no doubt, splashing her with the icy chill mountain water. No other sounds reach me. No cars. No motorbikes. No other voices. We are alone here – just us and the mountain stream.

The rush of water is singing to me now. A joyous song of new birth, of promise and refreshment. Perhaps I will paddle later. It would be nice to feel the cool bubbles exploding around my bare skin. Were the water deep enough I would perhaps swim – naked as the day I was born.

‘Mum! Mum!’ My son shouts my name, but I do not stir from my resting place. Whatever he needs, it can wait a few more minutes. I am communing with nature, and it feels good. Perhaps one day he will learn to sit and drink in the beauty of the river without feeling the need to damn it, to control it. Or perhaps he will be an engineer and build far greater dams than his childish pile of stones and rocks. And my daughter, she will shriek his name with the crowds as they applaud his talents.

Then the same scene where the narrator is agitated

The river is tumbling over the rocks here. It is a torrent of white foam and noise, wil and dangerous. I  imagine what it is like to be a salmon, desperate to swim upstream. The current beats against me. My breath catches in my throat. I move forward and then I am swept back. The effort is futile. I can’t fight the force of nature. Even the sun is an enemy today. It’s heat burns my skin, threatening to turn pale flesh into angry red. I dare not sleep in this place – tired though I am, I know that if I do, the nightmares will come. I must stay awake. I must be alert.

The picnic has been consumed, and my belly is full. I shouldn’t have eaten so much. I feel bloated. What if … Suddenly I hear a scream. My daughter is at the water’s edge, and the cry is hers. I begin to struggle to my feet.  shrieking loudly. Has she fallen in? Has her brother gone to far with his horseplay and pushed her into the icy water. No other sounds reach me. No cars. No motorbikes. No other voices. We are alone here – just us and the mountain stream. No help is at hand. What if there is a flash flood? Or the current carries her downstream. There may be deeper pools below. People drown in mountain streams. Oh God. Darling, I’m coming.

The rush of water is mocking me now. It is singing a dark song of death, of cold promise and frozen limbs. I fear the water. The thought of its cold touch on my skin fills me with horror. I can swim, but what if I am not strong enough to fight the current. What if I cannot keep hold of my daughter? What if …?

‘Mum! Mum!’ My son shouts my name.

‘I’m coming! I shout back. I shouldn’t have let them play on the river bank alone. I should’ve kept them in sight. Foolish woman, that I am. I hurry towards the sound of their voices, fearing what I might see. He said he was going to build a damn. What if he succeeded and the water has pooled deep and deadly. My daughter is silent now. That is not a good thing. Are her lungs filled with water? Will she be floating, face down? Life less?

I shriek my son’s name as I rush towards them, praying it is not to late to rescue them from disaster.

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Activity 2.6 Conflict between characters

This activity asks us to write about two characters in conflict, and to bring out conflict with out resorting to stereotypes. I hope this short piece turns things upside down without being contrived.

Meal time

The table looks beautiful. Pale yellow roses, picked from the garden, spill over the edge of the glass jug as though eager to dance. A gentle jazz tune is playing, filling the air with relaxed notes of joy.

Emily presents the food on a china plate, which is a risky decision, but will hopefully lead to one less argument. She’s taken care to arrange the meal the way Agnes likes it. No food touches another, and the portion sizes are small and dainty – suitable for Agnes’ appetite. Too big a portion and Emily knows she will not even attempt to eat.

‘I’ve cooked your favourite,’ she says, setting the meal in front of Agnes. Her breath catches in her throat as Agnes peers at the food. Please, this time, let her eat.

Agnes pokes a finger into the mashed potato. Emily says nothing as she takes her own seat at the table and picks up a knife and fork. Perhaps Agnes will notice and not eat with her fingers. Lead by example, that is what the experts have told her.

The finger moves from the potato to Agnes’ mouth. She licks the food and grimaces. ‘Too much salt’.

‘Try the meat,’ Emily says, determined to remain calm. ‘It’s lamb mince, not beef. I remembered that you don’t want to eat beef.’

Agnes scoops meat and gravy into her mouth, still using her fingers. ‘It’s alright,’ she says grudgingly.

Emily reaches across the table, picks up a spoon and hands it to Agnes. ‘You’ll find it easier to eat with this.’

Agnes takes the spoon, stares at it for a long moment and then throws it on the floor. She glares at Emily, who ducks her head. Focus on the food. It will be alright. Just focus on the food.

When she looks up again, Agnes is chewing another mouthful. Gravy is smeared across her chin. Agnes smiles. ‘Roses from the garden?’


‘You’re a good girl.’

Emily accepts the scant praise for what it is. Her grandmother isn’t easy to live with – the dementia robbing her personality more and more each passing day. But who else will put up with her child-like behaviour.

The meal over, Emily clears away. Agnes settles in front of the television. Emily heads upstairs to do her schoolwork.

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Activity 2.4 An opposing point of view

This activity is a bit of a challenge. We are asked to write from an opposing point of view to the person who is reading / listening to the piece. This is pretty tricky and I don’t think i’ve nailed this in any way. The first attempt – about religion and freedom of speech – doesn’t work at all, and I abandoned it after a hundred words or so. I would need to give that much more thought. The second piece about two flatmates, one who is into green issues, the other who is a sceptic. is a bit better, but still doesn’t really do what I think the activity requires.


She drives me crazy. Look at that. The light is on in the hall again. And where is she? Upstairs in her room, tapping away on her computer.

Oh, yes, and the bathroom light is on too.

She mocks me when I deal with the rubbish. Life is too short for washing out glass jars, sorting paper from plastic. At least that is what she says. I argue that life will cease if we don’t. Global warning is real. The Earth is heading towards burn up. Flood waters are rising and storms are wilder and less predictable with each passing year. At least she can’t argue about that with me. The high street was impassable last week because the river burst its banks. She didn’t see the irony of not being able to shop for more stuff because of all the stuff she’s already used up and thrown away.

I switch the hall light off. I turn off the bathroom light. And then, because I’m feeling it is time she learnt a lesson, I tiptoe out to the garage, flip open the fuse box and cut the electricty to the house. Darkness falls. I wait for the cry of outrage as she discovers the broadband hub requires a power source.

I realise I’ve just become an eco-warrior. It feels good. Very good.

I have rights too

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. That’s my code for life. Simple, plain and easy. So don’t sit there with your religion and start challenging me with your thoughts. You talk about grace, about a loving God who is Father to all. Seriously, I’m not interested in your viewpoint. In fact you are making me want to change my mantra so it includes ‘Speak no religion’. Yeah, yeah – you say you’re not religious, you’re a Christan. Well it all seems the same to me.  Personally I’m all for banning discussion of religions.

What’s that you say? Freedom of speech? What about freedom of listening? I’m happy as I am thank you. I have rights to you know. The right to live my life without you giving me your viewpoint, your opinion. I have the right to not hear, don’t I? Of course it is fine for you to believe whatever you want. Just don’t do it around me, OK?

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Invitation to adventure

Activity 2.2 asks us to write a passage of fiction based on a letter and drawing on the use of contrast, conflict and tension. This morning I received a letter from my tutor that speaks of the new course as being both exciting and challenging. That made me thing of new beginnings, and of calls to adventure. From that inspiration, comes this:

I stare at the letter, bemused. I had expected a reprimand when I saw the handwriting – the sharply dotted i’s and neatly cross t’s a sure sign of my tutor’s high expectations. I had not believed I had lived up to his demands. My marks are too often average, although softened by his comments that within the dross rest nuggets of gold. He wants to help me mine the gold, apparently.

The prospect is frightening. The letter, not a reprimand, but an invitation to travel with him. An invitation to adventure it would seem. It is of course a great opportunity, and I have no doubt that my father will find the money for such a venture. Do I dare to go though? The journey from myfamily home in rural Suffolk to the spires and colleges of Oxford had seemed challenge enough just a few short months ago. Now my tutor speaks of Egypt.

I must confess that part of me is stirred by the thought of travelling to foreign shores. Oh to see the pyramids of Giza with my own eyes. And how wonderful to be the first, perhaps, to uncover the secrets of a pharaoh long buried from our modern world. But also fear ensnares me. How will I manage with a people who speak a language so alien to my own. What of the hot sun and the spice-laden food? They say even the water makes one sick unless you take great care with boiling and cooling it.

Excitement and challenge vie for my emotions. And under it all lies the doubt that the letter was intended for me. Surely it is a mistake. There are others far more gifted in the class. Others who have shown they can memorise vast tracts of academic knowledge. They spout forth dates and dynasties and facts and figures as though such things were born with them rather than learnt through long lonely hours in the library.

I look again at the letter. Flashes of brilliance – it is written right there in my tutor’s script. I can imagine him at his desk, scratching the words onto the paper. There will be a twinkle in his eye, a small smile playing around his lips.

I sit at my own writing desk and draw a fresh sheet of paper from the drawer. For a long moment I consider its creamy perfection. Then I dip my quill into ink and begin to compose my reply.

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A363 Activity 1.5

The challenge of this activity was to write in a particular voice that reflects a specific genre. I opted for a post-apocalyptic story scene.

Water, water everywhere

They ration water these days. No matter how many times we explain it to the Old she doesn’t understand. Time and again I find her banging the kettle against the tap in frustration. She is at it again today when I arrive to check she is out of bed, washed and dressed, and ready for her weekly med check.

‘Water is off again,’ she snarls as I gently take the kettle from her.

‘Kylie, we have water in the cooler, remember? I collected your ration for you only yesterday.’

She snatches at the kettle. ‘Want tea.’

‘I will make you tea.’ I won’t, of course. Tea hasn’t been available for over five years, but Kylie has lost her sense of taste. As long as the liquid in her cup is a sludge brown and hot enough to need blowing on before drinking she is content.

She shuffles into her living room. Assisted living provides plenty of tech. Moments later I hear the ping of her vid screen kicking into action. Does twenty-four-seven entertainment make up for the lack of amenities such as running water? We all tell ourselves it does.

We’ve become good at lying to ourselves.

I retrieve bottled water from the cooler. A minute later I’ve microwaved it with a spoonful of artificial flavourings and colourings. I once read that real tea was full of stuff that was good for us. Some even claim it was a cancer-preventative. Maybe that is why so many of us have tumours that suck the life from us. Instead of tea we swallow down chemicals and lies.

Kylie is chatting to her daughter when I take the ‘tea’ to her. It’s a recording, not real, but the programming behind it is clever. Even I was fooled at first. When I questioned the medics they told me to say nothing. They told me too that it was a sackable offense to disrupt the fantasy life of an Old. It’s for her own good, they said. I guess that means Kylie’s daughter is dead. Tumours are not the only killers these days. The storms have wiped towns and cities off the map across vast swathes of northern Europe.

I put the tea beside her, and tap her arm to draw her attention to it. She smiles happily at me. ‘Say hello to Jennifer,’ she says.

I smile at the screen. ‘Hi Jennifer’.

‘Hi. Is Mum behaving herself for you?’ the screen asks.

‘She’s as good as gold.’

I rest my hand on Kylie’s shoulder, reassuringly. ‘Enjoy your chat.’

I hurry from the room, sick to the stomach at my own deceit. But I’ve seen what happens to people who don’t play the game. And dying of thirst is a tortuous death. As long as the water rationing continues, I will do what is asked of me.

Maybe one day I will even begin to believe in the lies.

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A363 Activity 1.2

The activity asks to play with a paragraph of fiction, adding to it and using a particular title as inspiration. I don’t know that this piece particularly reflects the title, but I hope it has the feeling of a mystery novel about it. The provided text included the church clock striking the wrong time, which reminded me of a story I want to write about a particularly place in France. This would perhaps work as an opening for that, and I may develop it further for the first TMA.

The Betrayal

The church clock strikes eight, so those villagers who are awake know without checking that is it four o’clock. The heat of the day is beginning to dissipate, and sleeping dogs rouse from the shade of thick stone walls. Soon evening will steal across the square and the sound of a violin will drift in the wind.

Angeline stands at her kitchen window, watching the shadows creeping from their hiding places. Four o’clock – not long to wait now. Her suitcase is packed. Her papers, perfect forgeries obtained at great expense and not inconsiderable risk, are tucked safely in her purse. There is nothing more she can do.

Her gaze moves from a neighbour’s dog, scratching lazily at its ear, to the sign on the wall opposite her window. Written in white on a blue background it reads, Rue de Deux Places. She was told it meant the road of two squares, and indeed there are two small squares in her line of sight. Each one contains a neat quartet of plane trees and two benches that have never been sat upon. Even the village youth who frequently imbibe more cider than is wise stay clear of the squares and their seats. Raised from an early age on the stories and legends, they prefer the welcoming banks of the canal for their trysts rather than the brooding atmosphere beyond Angeline’s kitchen wall.

She glances at her watch. Soon, very soon, it will be time. The violin will sound and the portal will open. And she will step willingly into another world, leaving behind all that she has known, all that she has loved.

She is ready.

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