Obscure Writing Prompt Responses

A year ago, near enough to the day, Belfast Writers’ Group started up again after too long apart. When we got the gang back together, one of the first things we did was work on a crazy series of prompts that, first time around, had me writing about a dead body in a chocolate scullery. Because we’re wildly obscure like that.

Purely by a coincident of timing, we tried the same writing exercise again last week. This time I was to write about rotting turnips in an interview room made of platinum. Below is the madness I came up with.

Being the most expensive palace in the world that no one’s ever heard of, Killasia had its own version of everything – its own swimming pool and helipad, naturally, but also it’s own prison system and jail.

The only thing it didn’t have, until now, was anyone actually trying to break in – it’s difficult to have people after your goods if they’re secret, after all.

Even so, it was fortuitous that the eventuality of a criminal had been thought of and prepared for, because when Mickey Keystone Lennon happened upon the place and decided to try his hand at breaking and entering, the guards had somewhere to put him.

His eyes were wide as he looked around the interview room with its shiny, cold-to-the-touch walls. He wasn’t entirely sure but, if pressed, he would guess they were made out of solid white gold or platinum.

There were no windows in the room – not even one of those fancy two-way walls of glass that allowed people to look in on interviews – just some air vents stopping the space from being completely closed in.

Even the door had a seal around it.

Mickey was too surprised by the placement of his predicament to be worried; at least, at first. After what felt like an age but was probably an hour or two, he began to sweat.

He’d expected to be released soon after his capture, as soon as they figured out he hadn’t got very far into his crime and hadn’t actually managed to nab anything. The place was so big, after all. A palace the size of a country must be subscribed to the Geneva Convention or UN human rights laws or something, right?

By hour four, he was no longer feeling so hopeful. Not only was he not offered a representative, still no one had actually come to question him. That was bad for two reasons: his increasingly urgent need for the toilet, and the turnips he’d hidden in his socks that had been in contact with the heat of his skin so long, the started to rot.

Mickey cursed his decision to raid his neighbour’s allotment, and his stupid urge to follow the hidden path he’d found under a trapdoor he’d found there. Just look where it had landed him – eternally tapped in a platinum-coated interview room with nothing to occupy him but rotten turnips.

Not exactly your usual Thursday.

Attention (Microfiction)

This is the final piece of writing I did during Bernie McGill’s fiction workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School. Short but, I hope, still able to strike a chord. Based off prompts given in the class.

She always said I was useless, though she never said it to me; never looked at me long enough to realize I was there, and could hear.

The worst decision I made was to make her aware of my presence.

I find myself now in the cupboard under the stairs, the door locked.

I am here because I couldn’t stand it anymore. I needed attention. I needed her to look at me.

In my pocket I am carrying the hair she pulled from my head when I spoke to her.

When people look at me, they see my bruises. They gasp and look away again. I hear them whispering.

The truth is, I think maybe I deserve to be here. I think I must be the worst kid in the world. Why else does my grandmother hate me?

My Problem (Microfiction)

Another short piece written during Bernie McGill’s fiction workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School, based off the prompt, “A time the teacher caught you doing something you should not have been doing.”

Talking was always my problem. Well, that and maybe not listening. I think that’s what they always used to say anyway. I was always being told off for something. If you ask me, my poor hearing was part of the problem. But, well, no one did ever ask me and apparently it was no excuse anyway.

Anyway, this one day, my ears were real fuzzy – like never before. The teacher was looking at me and I could see his mouth moving, but I thought to myself, surely he can’t be telling me off, I haven’t said a word!

Well, as it turned out, the homework that day was to work on an oral presentation and I’d forgotten. The one time I was actually supposed to say my piece, and I got in trouble for keeping quiet.

Bloody typical!

Babies and Broken Skies (Results from a Writing Prompt)

Today, I want to share another short piece I wrote during Bernie McGill’s writing workshops at the John Hewitt International Summer School. We were given a list of first lines from existing stories, without initially being told what those stories were, to see what ideas we could spark off them.

From the list, we were only supposed to pick a single line to start, but of course I broke the rules from the off and took two different lines and put them together.

Here are the lines I used:

From ‘The Pram’ by Roddy Doyle: “Alina loved the baby.”

From ‘A Priest in the Family’ by Colm Toibin: “She watched the sky darken, threatening rain.”

And here’s the resulting story:

Alina loved the baby. She watched the sky darken, threatening rain, trying to focus on it and not the churning inside her.

The mum had the baby out in his stroller, rolling it back and forth in front of Alina’s house as if she knew what torture it was to her and was inflicting it on purpose.

Didn’t she care that it was going to rain, and the baby would get wet and cold; or that she’d been trying – really trying – for more than a year and just couldn’t do it; couldn’t make her body work to the same result?

It was cruel. Alina decided that the mother was a right bitch and didn’t deserve to have a little one. She cast her eyes to the clouds again, squinting at them as temptation warred within her.

It was safe to focus on the cool of the day. It helped her balance out the heat of her blood, for a while, but at the end of it, the tempest still raged.

She couldn’t really do it, could she? Was it abduction if the child needed rescuing and was calling her? Wouldn’t that make it a mercy mission?

The wind picked up, rattling the window, and the mum looked to see where the noise came from. Alina ducked from her line of vision.

The mum took the baby inside as the storm began in earnest.

Dystopia in the Modern Day?

While at the John Hewitt International Summer School, I took a three-day workshop with Bernie McGill and, over the course of those three days with her, I completed a few different writing exercises. Below is what resulted from one of those. I was given a photo prompt and some starting words. I’m not sharing the photo for copyright reasons, but you should be able to gather from my description what it depicted.

I read the final piece at the JHISS Showcase at the end of the week and it got some really strong reactions. It was labelled dystopian and I suppose it is but I think, for some people, the word dystopia conjures up the idea that it’s set in some distant or alternative future where everything has fallen apart, but that’s not where my mind was when I wrote it. Maybe not here in the west but, as far as I understand it, the things I mention can and do happen here on earth, in this reality, in the modern day. In a lot of ways, I think that makes it more striking. But enough preamble, here is the piece. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

I can’t remember my name anymore and I don’t know where I am. I don’t know what age I am, or how old she is either, though she’s smaller than me. She can’t talk, but she clings to my side. We stay together on the streets and I keep her safe from the dogs and the bad men.

I wasn’t born on the streets, but in a house. It had one big room, and there were many of us. It was always warm, and there was always a fire.

It is still warm outside, the sun making the dust on the road rise up and burn in our throats. We cough and, despite the heat, cling harder to each other.

I like her close to me. I like to think of her as my sister, though I don’t know where she came from. She was never in the house with the rest of us.

I don’t like that I don’t know where they went –– all of my real brothers and sisters from the house. The night they were taken, everything was dark and loud. I ran and hid until the sun came up. Then I found her.

The last time I saw my mother, she was stooped over the fire, stoking it. She didn’t look up at me and I can’t remember her eyes, but I dream about them. The girl has nightmares, most nights, and I try and tell her about my dreams; about my mum’s eyes. She stills and listens to my voice until her breathing slows again.

I wonder if I’ll ever see my mother again, or if I’d recognise her. I wonder if she’d take my sister in, too, if she came for me.

I remember one day my brother found a dog and brought it home –– it wasn’t angry like the rest of them. My mother said we couldn’t keep it and my brother cried. She hit him for ‘acting out’, then told him to leave the dog and go fetch more sticks for the fire.

I watched her kill the dog and mix the meat in with the rice.

I have always wondered if my brother knew. He didn’t ask for the dog after the first time, when she hit him again, and he didn’t eat dinner that night.

I was angry with my mum for doing it, but when I look at my sister and hear her stomach growl, I wish we had a dog I could kill for her. The ones in the street now are too big, though. I worry they’ll get us first.

Helena Brockovich (Flash Fiction)

At Writers’ Group a while ago, we did an exercise that consisted of a series of prompts –

Characters: A Kitchen Maid and a Retired Judge
Traits: Corrupt, Congenial
Sense: Smell
Location: Dog Show
Object: Piece of Flint

Below is the piece of flash fiction I wrote. Credit goes to David for the title. The reference should become clear at the end, where I will give a bit of extra context.

Helena was a kitchen maid for a big house on the other side of town. Usually a congenial soul, on this day she had to drag out her inner badass and go to war.

As she said goodbye to her sickly kids, hoping their condition wouldn’t deteriorate while she was gone, she mentally prepared herself for the confrontation, using the sight of them sat there, listless and suffering as motivation for her task.

Crossing over to the rich side of town, she passed her employers house and kept walking until she reached the dog track. There was a ‘Best of Breed’ show on for all the pedigree pooches of the neighbourhood, and she’d been told the judge would be there.

Sure enough, she found him in the front row, mercifully unattended.

Helena approached and he smiled at her, so she gave him the speech – a four-minute pre-prepared rant, that didn’t stop for pauses or interruptions, about the state of living conditions on the poorer side of town.

When Helena was done, she handed the judge a lunch box, which he opened and then immediately closed again, throwing it away as he swore at her.

Although he’d managed to throw the box quite a distance, they could both still smell the item strongly. All pleasantries had gone from the judge’s demeanour as he demanded an explanation.

Helena said it was a sample of her front yard, which had become flooded and, subsequently, contaminated with the local water. Which just proved her point: the water in the poor side of Flint, Michigan, was undrinkable. Unfit for the ground, and most certainly toxic to people.

The judge frowned before hesitantly agreeing to look into the matter, hinting that things would be sped along if Helena made a donation to his office.

It took her a month of working extra shifts, but she made the money and sent it off to the address he had written out for her.

It was only after that she found out that the judge was retired and had no influence in local matters anymore at all.

Not the happiest story in the world but, sadder still, it is based on a real-life situation. If you haven’t heard about the Flint water crises, you can (and should) read about it here. Education is power, after all.

If you would like to hear me read more flash fiction in person and you live in Belfast, you’re in luck, because I’m going to be reading at a Women Aloud NI event on Tuesday as part of the CS Lewis festival.

Failing that, you can subscribe to my Patreon here for as little as $1 per month, for which you will get regular access to exclusive poetry and fiction by myself. #SupportIndependentAuthors #SpreadTheWord

The Chocolate Scullery (Flash Fiction)

During the September meeting for Belfast Writers’ Group (which has finally got back together after its long hiatus!), we did a writing exercise in which we wrote something based on three prompts: the name a room, a luxurious material, and something that rots. Pictured above are the options I was handed, and below is what I made of them. Heads up, it’s about to get weird.

Dark chocolate wasn’t the material you often found rooms made out of, but this room – a scullery on the side of a cliff – was no ordinary room. It had three walls, half a roof, and only one other room attached to it: a kitchen.

Inside the scullery was a large dining table, also made out of dark chocolate. On it were three matching candlesticks made out of white chocolate, and a centrepiece of lard.

Having only three walls, there was no need for any windows, but it had six anyway. It was soon discovered after the room was built that if you didn’t keep air flowing inside, it would melt. Enclosure didn’t help with the dead body smell, either.

The source of the dead body smell was, as can be expected, a body. That was dead. It belonged to the owner of the adjoining rooms, a man in his fifteen-hundreds who didn’t like you to point out the smell or oddities of his dwelling, thank you very much.

All in all, it wasn’t the weirdest thing about him.

Some people (for, yes, there were frequent visitors) thought the fact that he was lactose intolerant was the weirdest thing but, nope, they were wrong too.

One day – a very hot day, in which half of the kitchen (which was made out of Philadelphia cream cheese) – fell into the sea and the dead body (let’s call him Jim) decided he’d had enough, and melted the chocolate scullery to the ground/rock face.

It got stuck, which made Jim even angrier, and the skulls didn’t like it much either.

Desire (for National Flash Fiction Day)

It’s National Flash Fiction Day here, in the UK.

To celebrate the occasion, I present to you a super short story of mine, entitled Desire.

Janet licked her lips. Her eyes glazed over as she looked through the window at her soulmate. She’d been sure it was meant to be from the moment she saw the advert online.

Taking a quick moment to preen at her reflection, she stepped into the café, ready to meet her destiny. Bravely, she approached the counter, practically salivating at the shop girl before her. Everything Janet wanted was within reach.

Until, suddenly, someone jumped the queue and took the last doughnut out from right under her nose.

Shadows (Flash Fiction)

An ultra-short piece of FlashFic, or Halloween:

Billy asked his father, on one occasion, if the house opposite theirs was haunted. He never saw anyone go in or out. Only saw lights go on and off, at various times, during the day and night. And shadows – there were always shadows in the windows.

“Yes,” his father had answered him, “But not by ghosts.”

Upon pushing him to elaborate, he explained that the house belonged to an old eccentric who was very much alive, “In the technical sense.”

“You see, boy,” he said. “You don’t have to be dead to haunt a place.”

Rap and Run (Flash Fiction)

A piece of flashfic I’ve just written.
Inspired by and dedicated to the kids in my street.

Jacob made his way down the street, knocking each door in turn, running away before the owner answered, and then coming back when they’d gone away again so he could move on to the next one.

Sure, it was kinda lame, and not how he was used to spending his last days of freedom before school started up again, but there was a lot of things that weren’t as they used to be.

Two weeks ago, his mom had moved back to this place where she’d grown up. She called it her hometown, but Jacob was not so charitable. Town? It was barely a village. And it was in the middle of nowhere! Ugh, it was so unfair!

Having left all his friends behind in the city, there weren’t many options for socialization left. So, even though he was a lot older than the other boys – practically a teenager, for god’s sake! – he went along with their stupid ideas of fun.

That’s how he got into playing rap and run.

Of course, the little kids with their short attention spans had gotten bored pretty quickly and gone off to have dinner or whatever, but Jacob wasn’t due in until dark and had no better ideas for how to spend the time. Might as well finish the row, he thought, kicking a rock along the dirt road behind a different row of houses that constituted his hiding place from the targeted ones. There were only two left, anyway.

No one answered at the penultimate house, and it seemed pretty empty, so Jacob moved on to the last without trying it again.

Outside the end house, he had an odd feeling come over him. Almost like he was being watched. He supposed he was more exposed, being at the end of the street beside the fields rather than in the middle of it, surrounded by other buildings.

As he raised his fist to knock, an even stranger feeling welled up in him. The door sounded especially hollow, and the house seemed empty, same as the last. That resonated with him in a way he didn’t expect.

His loneliness and desperation rising to the surface, he had to fight back tears as he continued to knock and knock, knowing no one was going to answer him.

Standing all by himself as the wind picked up and the sun disappeared behind a cloud, Jacob poured all of his pent up emotion into the door, his knocking growing more and more frantic until he was pounding it with both hands, making his fists hurt.

Just as suddenly as he’d lost control of himself, the door gave way and opened onto a dark hallway, making Jacob fall forward onto his knees on the mat.

He took a shuddering breath, trying to calm himself and figure out what to do next.

The house wasn’t quite as empty as he first expected. It didn’t look like there was anyone living there anymore, or anything, but whoever had once owned it left some of their things behind on the way out.

Unable to stop himself, Jacob walked the rest of the way down the hall until he was facing a table in front of a door, thick with dust and covered in chips and scrapes. On it was a photograph, which he picked up and inspected.

Jacob’s eyes widened as he recognized the girl in the picture as his mom. She looked about his age in it, though he could tell it was her without a doubt. She was standing beside an old man and another boy who looked maybe a year or two older.

Turning the photo over, Jacob found an inscription reading, Last photo taken before the disappearance, and below that was the stamp of a police department and a crime number written in pencil.

“I always knew she’d come back,” came a voice from behind Jacob, making him whirl around.

There, standing beside the door with its broken lock, was a man.

Taking a glance back down at the photograph in his hand and then up at the man’s face again, Jacob identified him as the boy in the photograph.

He had not aged well.

“Hello, son,” he said, reaching out his hand.