WRITING IN SEARCH OF A STORY
By Norman Warwick
I view creative writing as that art form. To create poetry that people remember all their lives and turn to in times of happiness and sadness for either company or consolation is surely the work of an artist. To write a melody that lingers forever with its listeners must take God-given artistic skills.. There is a skill in telling a story that has its audience hanging on every word.
Among those new residents who have retired over here from other countries there are certainly writers, authors and storytellers who have contributed, at least in the English language, to the literary landscape.
I think, for instance, of Stan Arnold as one such writer, who has penned a trilogy of adventure yarns telling of his days as a musician in the UK. The mafia-style gangsters are instantly recognisable, the venues even carry that distinctive smell all music venues have the morning after and the dialogue rings true to character throughout the three books.
Aspirant writers in English on the island, whether merely those who like to scribble impulsive work and then throw it away and start something new or those who have long been working on their novel-in-progress have, for many years, had the option of attending what must have been the longest-standing writing group on the island.
Until 2019 Lanzarote Creative Writing Group (LCWG) was facilitated by Sue Almond, a retired school teacher from the UK, who has now returned ´home´ with her family to spend time messing about on a boat on the English canals and waterways.
´I started the creative writing group in 2005,´ Sue told Sidetracks & Detours this week. ´In our very first year, six of our members saw their name in print as the author of works for the first time in their lives.´
´Together, over the years, we have improved our writing skills, gaining confidence through writing exercises and practice,´ Sue says, before adding, ´We have met new people and enjoyed each other´s Christmas celebrations, birthdays and even weddings. We have enjoyed regular lunches and made lasting friendships and had fun. As a group we have presented occasional poetry evenings and have sometimes had guest speakers, usually published authors, at our weekly group meetings, and have found them to be a useful source of information and ideas.´
Sidetracks & Detours can certainly attest to that, having interviewed for these pages one or two of Sue´s guest speakers at the group meetings in the past couple of years.
Isobel Blackthorn lives in Australia but having earlier lived here for a short while she set her first novel, The Drago Tree, in Lanzarote, and was both delighted and surprised when an Australian publishing house accepted the book.
Undertaking a short ‘world tour’ to promote it, she was accompanied, on her return to Lanzarote, by a female representative of the publisher, spending three weeks here (just outside Haria) giving talks at libraries, book shops and at Dickens Bar for LCWG, where the group met each week in Costa Teguise.
The novel was something of an anti-corruption mystery thriller and she gave an insightful talk and responded enthusiastically to the many questions from the members.
That was more than two years ago now, and I recently read an on-line article, with great interest, telling how the publishing house had since re-launched Isobel’s book as a travel guide, and it was now a best seller in that genre, mentioning as it does several off the beaten track and well known Lanzarote locations.
The Drago Tree can be spotted in most book shops over here. Fascinated as I was by her talk, and by an in depth interview I conducted with her for UK radio, it was another professional author who later gave a reading that stunned me to silence.
I had been warned, and should have known better, but when I arrived at LCWG for a talk by Karen Ricks, for whom English is a second language, I was the only guy to turn up among a dozen or so ladies. As Karen spoke about, and read passages from, her ‘lesbian erotica’ novel I learned more from that session than any male creative writer could ever wish to know. Joking apart, although a real psycho-drama, hers was a superbly written novel of human insight.
Sue Almond describes herself as having been the ´co-ordinator´ of the group and says, ´I have been a qualified teacher for over twenty years, and have invited people to share that experience. I was also a judge of professional theatre, a lifetime scribbler of both prose and poetry and, most of all, an enthusiastic lover of words, language, stories and poetry. My writing group was always the highlight of my week.´
The group boasted a chapter of fine writers and as their facilitator, Sue was a far more gentle mentor to aspirant writers than I ever was when running my own such groups in the UK. I had managed weekly classes in three different metropolitan boroughs for many years before coming over here, and was somewhat reluctant to now become a ´student´ again.
However, Sue made me very welcome from the outset when I joined within a fortnight of arriving here on the island. It was a fun company to be part of, and there was, often, great hilarity. Sue always set interesting topics to stretch our imagination, based on our life stories.
Because we are the sort of people we are, well-travelled and reasonably courageous to have embarked on the journeys we have, there were some fascinating revelations. Many ´Wonderous Stories´ were told.
I´m sure there are many writers on the island who are immensely grateful to Sue for all she has done over the years and who, like me, wish her well on her return to the UK.
They will be hoping she continues to write her on line blog which has always been a useful tool kit for her many members. For writers looking for ideas and ways to fill that imposing blank page, Writers End blog site holds a host of suggestions, and for anyone who is already a member of a writing group, or indeed, who already runs one, there are plenty of ideas that can be used in group sessions. Importantly too, in view of her impending departure from Lanzarote, Sue has also ensured that her blog offers plenty of useful advice and ideas, all tested and proven by over a decade of leading Lanzarote Creative Writing Group. Meanwhile I hear that former writing members like Jim Loughrill, Aileen Hendry and Jenny Graham have re-started the weekly meetings of the group.
With so much of my own on-going writings about the arts and culture here on Lanzarote, I´ll be making sure I get them down river to Sue, somewhere in England, so she can offer her always valued critiques. No doubt she will echo, kindly, previous criticism of my writing, made by others, as ´portly pretentiousness´ and being ´full of hideous, gargantuan sentences !´
I hear, though, that other members of LCWG less wordy than I, have books ready for publication later this year, that have certainly benefitted from their authors´ attendance at Sue´s writing group, and from authors´ visits to the Writers´ End blog site.
Those authors, and all those who have enjoyed the camaraderie and conviviality that Sue engendered amongst her group for so many years, will recognise that she is, in writers´ terms, moving on to a new chapter and looking for new adventures.
Sue has a gift of being able to identify the ´story´ in everyday life and can turn the most insignificant overheard remark, or exchanged glance, or a vehicle parked outside a closed sign on a shop door into a matter of great intrigue and mystery. She is an avid reader and a great story teller and has been a great friend over here to those who admire such skills.´
Her new stories will be heard whispering in the trees of the rivet banks of the UK and rippling in the waters of its canals. Sidetracks & Detours wishes her well as she creates new dramas to slightly disturb the peace of the English countryside.
I have facilitated writing groups both here and in the UK and i would like to think that I, too have an ability enthuse others. I can write about music and lyrics until the goats come home, but though I love a good story, I do have some problems writing fiction. In fact I tried to start writing a mystery, only this morning.
I knew who had done it, of course. Oh yes, I knew who had committed the crime.
I have pages of notes that I could hand over to the police. He was a Russian, well, eastern-bloc anyway, called Ididen Donuffink and its well-known that he’s involved in drug dealing, human traffic movement and all sorts of sex trade deviances.
He’s killed before. It was I who revealed the story of the poisoned food, at the posh restaurant a few months since, that saw off a young MP and his wife who were urging Parliament to give the police and our secret services enough authority to clamp down on these ‘imported crimes.’
I even knew what had happened in this particular case that took place only two days ago. The woman had been trying to escape from a seedy, (although the media would define it as ‘high end’), night club where she was being forced to meet the demands of men, and women too, who had enough money, however illegally or illegitimately earned, to pay for any perverted sexual services they could think of.
On Friday night of last week, say reliable witnesses, the victim sneaked out of the club via a rear exit and made a run for it across the heath land.
Apparently the club’s thugs spotted her and were seen chasing her out into the darkness of night. Shots were heard, but silhouetted in the shadows, the three men could be seen in pursuit. Two of them seemed to be losing ground on her, but one, a tall, wide man built like an international rugby player, was actual catching her up. Screams, awful and piercing, could be heard through the night as he was seen diving after her to grab her round the waist, fell her to the ground and roll her over on to her back. What happened next is all in my notes, but sufficient to say she suffered a fate worse than death until death brought its merciful end by a knife that could be seen flashing in the moon light as it sliced through the London night air.
So, I knew who had done it, Ididen Donuffink, and I knew what had happened,….. murder most foul.
I knew when it happened. It was two twenty a.m, and I keep saying it happened on Friday, but by then of course, it was Saturday morning. The date was November 7th, and it was a frosty, freezing cold night and the ground was already hard and crisp by that time. I know all this because I was on duty, deep undercover in my role with the Drug Enforcement Agency.
My name? I can’t tell you that, yet, because I haven’t decided. Anyway, as I was saying, I was actually there when everything happened.
And I knew, of course, precisely where it happened. Although, even though the police arrived only fifteen minutes after my call from my cell phone, the body had already been stuffed into the boot of a car and driven away. Paraffin had been used to burn traces off the ground on which WPC Knight was murdered.
No witnesses had come forward, and I, of course can’t tell the police who the victim was or else I would blow my cover and endanger the life of other colleagues.
If I knew why it happened I‘d have all the answers. If I knew why the woman I knew as a young woman police constable from a case a couple of years ago was doing quite blatantly working as a prostitute in a club like that, and more importantly why she, suddenly it seemed, tried to make a run for it, then I suppose I’d know why they killed her.
Who, what, when, where, why have been whispered of by some writers to be ´the five bums at the bar.´ The trouble is that, as an author, or a detective or whatever you want to call people like me who write so as to barely make a living, we are supposed to know the who, what, when, where, why of everything (unless I prefer to be a cheat and become an unreliable narrator or unless you, dear reader, enjoy being lied to). And I so nearly had it all for this story, I knew the who, what, when and where,
I just didn’t know why. And now, after making all my notes trying to work it all out I’m left with a whole new set of who, what, when and wheres. I need to know who were the two men with Ididen Donuffink? What had brought WPC ‘Cuffs’ Knight to the Laid Back Club (and how did she get that nickname)? Why had her fiancé not reported her missing since she had left home three weeks earlier and why had her division not queried her absence. Where are her parents, whom we have been trying to contact ever since her death occurred?
If I had the answers I’d be ninety nine percent of the way to a great novel. And if I could tell you why it all happened you would probably be satisfied by your read.
´Words from a writer, with Rachel Abbot´, posted here on 13th June 2020 proved that that she can do it.
Why then oh why can´t I?