Diary of a Booker Winner (in waiting) – 6

March 7th (March already!!)

Cover Letters written: 0

Agents Contacted: 0

Webinars on ‘Overcoming Procrastination’ signed up for: 1

Other literary-related ideas whimsically mused: Numerous – see one below

Whilst awaiting the Booker Prize nomination and in between preparing the acceptance speech, hitting the gym to aid my chances of fitting into my tux and wondering who to invite as special guests, perhaps I could teach others how to write? That seems to be a very common thing – writers educating writers in the craft of writing. I’d start off with a…

 Short Story Masterclass – FREE!

I’d use a photo prompt and encourage writers to “Imagine what could happen here…”

And then I’d share my own thoughts and efforts along with a bit of running commentary.

Right, let’s try it – here’s a pic

and here we go: Imagine what could happen here?

There ain’t much that can happen in an empty field with one solo tree in the far distance under a cloud filled sky. That said, and perhaps fairly, I must now remind you of the danger of assumption.

Let’s have a think…

Why would a man in designer trainers and jeans be heading toward that tree? And why would he be holding an, as yet unrevealed object in his right hand? Good questions – well done, you’re now becoming engaged in the story, the character is taking shape. You are feeling inquisitive…. you need to know what happens next….

Okay, click, back in the room. You weren’t hypnotised, not really, I could tell. Your interest was mildly piqued at best. But what if I told you the item he carried was a human body part? Does that help? Or what if I then revealed it had once belonged to his best friend? How about if I added it had recently been irreverently removed by an increasingly intense Irish priest in a prominent London parish?

Well, you might already want to read on. But maybe you’re not fully convinced? Okay, then perhaps I’d add more details and reveal that the sole tree was left standing for a reason – that it had once been part of a forest. An aged and dark forest. What if I then told you that the Tree Surgeons who had been directed to the task had refused to cut that one solitary tree? That they had instead formed a solemn circle around it, spat three times and muttered an ancient incantation before packing up their equipment vowing never to return.

Interested now? Well, yay or naye I’ve only just gotten started. This is a two-Typhoo special. But you won’t want to stop your read to put the kettle on because not only is the tale too gripping but it’s dark in that kitchen and having read this far you’re suddenly very aware that you are alone in the house.

The irreverently removed body part is heavier than you might imagine. The man carrying it accepts the burden because he is on a mission now. He needs to make amends, offer apology  and accept the punishment that will surely come. The irate Irish priest has been left hanging from the 12-foot Christmas tree on the right-hand side of the altar. Beside the lovingly constructed nativity scene.

Maybe we should keep the pace up with a back and forth switch of setting?

Back to that almost empty field now and every step toward the tree seems heavier than the last. The skies darkening with each pace. The huge tree patient, stoic and watchful under the threat of gathering storm.

Okay, hopefully a bit of atmosphere and intrigue has been created – now what if I started dropping a few more revelatory details?

The object he carried was the left of two – a bag of wind – one part of a pair of lungs. His friend’s last breath would be the only thing that could possibly save him. Such was the legend. The last breath of a three-nippled man… He wondered would he be able to squeeze one out. His fingers tightened on the dwindling sac and he fought to control a rising panic. Too late and it would have all been for nothing.

(And a time-sensitive mission will surely add tension?)

Part of his friend’s oesophagus was still attached – he placed it over his shoulder bagpipe style and quickened his pace.

Visceral detail is never a bad thing either.

The priest had been fully convinced when ripping the lungs from the body of the decapitated milkman. He’d known evil before and wasn’t taking any chances today. He was aware that Devil’s Breath was more than just a breed of decorous dahlia.

The death-inducing decapitation had been courtesy of the triple life-sized crucifix. The kneeling milkman had stood no chance. The ashen-faced priest had come scurrying from the confessional. He’d heard the unearthly crash, quickly surveyed the scene and immediately dissected its meaning. There hadn’t been any time to lose.

How about if I now revealed an irony?

The priest had been due to retire. He would have long ago if the numbers allowed. Vocations were down and the workforce spread thin. A Polish priest was promised to replace him soon but not for at least another month. Too late. The hallucinations had been getting worse and his sermons more erratic. The Bishop had been concerned. Piety was always a difficult spectrum to gauge – you needed some but too much and the prognosis was never positive.

And a little snippet of backstory – a moulding of the facts and piecing of the pieces –

It was incongruous in some ways that a Milkman and a Tree Surgeon would form such a strong friendship. But then perhaps not – the White Horse darts team was a great way for men to bond. They’d started chatting about 170 checkouts and the merits of concentration on the bottom of the board compared with the top. In weeks they’d moved on to Area 51, conspiracy theories and the occult.

Okay, what if I now revealed the names of the characters? Do I need to? Would that add or detract or merely lengthen the tale? Do you need a name to form a face?

The priest was Father John McBride and he has his own tale elsewhere. One that may reveal there were mitigating circumstances regarding the fervoured delve down the neck and frantic chest rip n tug. And in any case let’s remember the milkman had been dead already. Indeed, let’s forget about Father John altogether. Let’s not judge him here.

What if I now revealed that tree surgeons are by nature very superstitious. The job they do is not one to savour. They kill trees. They kill trees that are often far older than they. Stoic oaks and noble beeches. They don’t kill without conscience. Their pre and post cull rituals match the masons for complexity. Their prayers as solemn as any muttered by the grief-ridden at a funeral.

The lung-carrier suddenly needed to urinate. He honestly did. His life and soul were in mortal peril but it was his bladder that held centre stage. He hitched his burden to his left shoulder freeing up his right hand to unzip his jeans and direct operations. The tree was closer now. Taller, wider, alert and undeniably weighing up the approaching pilgrim.

What if I introduce other facts whilst we wait for him to finish? Some back story if you will. What if I begin to pad out the characters with more details of their lives, their loves, their fears? Is that what you want? Is that something that would help? Is that something you need? Or is the plot gripping enough?

That’s probably personal taste and mine is to be sparing. Today it is at least. I’ll limit your knowing for now, I’ll rely on the efficacy of your own imagination – it’s easily equal to mine if you allow it the time.

The man in the designer jeans now urinating erratically and consequently splashing his designer trainers with one lung hung over his shoulder carried only one other item.

How do you feel about that? In time-honoured story tradition I felt it was time to add a treasured possession. Evoke ‘use of the object’ – introduce a loaded trinket – a nostalgia infused knickknack or evocative creased and faded photograph – all stories have them – think of Frodo’s ring.)

Or don’t if you find that thought distasteful. Stay with me. Focus on this tale. Our protagonist has finished his relieving now. He has re-zipped, switched shoulders once more and is fighting his knees urge to buckle as he steps forward again. The key is on a chain around his neck. He touches it regularly- gaining reassurance and strength from its presence.

No, actually that’s not true, I don’t like it, it seems too cliched – the key for the box buried under the tree. Too obvious. Let’s scrap that and re- edit. Give me a moment.

Okay, here’s the real truth – there is no key – instead our hero carries the tassel from a burgundy leather loafer (not many heroes carry those). The prophecy decreed that the day they came back into fashion then it would be time. He’d seen a young man in trousers too short for his ankles wearing a pair on a stand at the London Trader show. He was selling property loans. Peer to peer lending, crowdfunding that promised 8% over a two-year period. The tree surgeon had willingly given his details. No, he didn’t object to being informed by email of any new opportunities. They’d shook hands and that’s when he’d dropped the complimentary pen, bent to retrieve it and looked directly at the young man’s footwear.

Did you notice I referred to him as ‘our hero’ – have I successfully planted that idea in your head? Are we now on his side? Are we committed and willing to go with him on this journey? Invested enough to want to know his fate?

Ah, but now I’m realising I’ve gotten a little carried away – this short story is already over 1700 words. Perhaps we should leave our hero now and continue his journey later.

(“Always leave the reader wanting more.”)

Perhaps we’ll continue next week.

In the meantime, you are cordially invited to post your own take – your own unique “tale from the pic”

Add it below.

H. B. O'Neill

H. B. O’Neill is a London born writer inspired by the City and its myriad opportunity for comedy, pain, drama and adventure. He is a prize-winning poet and short story writer, a screenwriter, playwright and author. His much-anticipated novel According to Mark is due to be published soon.

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