My apologies for the length of this. Strap yourselves in – but it’s Sunday afternoon (when I posted this it was anyway), so I hope that means you have some time to read it…(I have two short stories attached to this post, hence it looks so lengthy!)
I’ve been grappling as to whether enough time has elapsed to be able to share this or not. I really don’t want to jeopardise anything when it comes to my university studies, so I am being very mindful of what I share in relation to it. So, this is one aspect of doing creative writing that I am conscious of. The other is the catch 22 situation that is arising from me wanting to build upon my experience of the creative process by entering work into writing competitions but then conversely not being able to share anything that I am writing because most work that goes into competitions needs to be previously unpublished work – that also means never published on any social media sites or on blogs.
So, while I am writing things that I feel really good about and want to share, unless I have no intention of entering it into a short story or flash fiction comp, I can’t share it here!
What I can share with you now are my very first fictional creative writing efforts for my university degree. I won’t be talking about marks in relation to them – only to say I was happy with the mark that both of these pieces of writing scored – I’m hoping that keeps it vague enough?
I’m not wanting to share them in any kind of boastful way at all – I hope they’re good. They were wonderful things to produce. I enjoyed writing both of these pieces. The Gudmut required some research which I absolutely LOVED undertaking. I get a real buzz out of researching things.
I came into wanting to study my DipHE in English by working through the creative writing aspect of the course simply through wanting to improve the way I use writing as a tool of communication. I wanted to be able to express myself better, with better use of language and syntax. To feel like I am really understanding what I am doing with language and how best to use it. All of this was in relation to writing non-fiction and factual writing. I honestly didn’t think fictional writing was something that interested me or that I could or would be any good at – at all! This most recent module of study has really smashed down the wall of my ideas on that and has revealed to me how wrong my assumption was that “every story has been told” and “I have nothing new or different to add to the plethora of fictional writing that exists in the world”.
Not every story has been told. Although, yes, it is true that there are only seven basic plots in storytelling – like there are only 12 notes in music – the scope, shape and dynamics in which these things can be manipulated (in storytelling it can be through the three act story arc or the 12 act ‘heroic journey’ – whilst in music it’s in relation to chord arrangements, tempo, timbre, etc, etc) and drawn out can provide an endless array in which the same basic story can be told again and again in many, many varying ways. This has been the most valuable insight I’ve been exposed to during my uni studies so far. The realisation that, like with any other creative discipline in life – fictional writing, creative writing CAN be learned and developed. That one is simply not just “born with it”. One can have some element of a natural aptitude towards it, but with tenacity and focus it can be learned, honed, refined and perhaps even eventually mastered.
And holy fork I wish I had known this 30 years ago!!! I have to believe that at 52, it really isn’t too late and that, like with most other times in my life, I’m just “fashionably late” in arriving at the party. Lol.
I had convinced myself that you needed some kind of “gift”. That all inspiration and skill just … delivered itself to those gifted enough to channel it out of them. That is, of course, utter bloody hogwash! All it requires is drive, focus and tenacity.
During the pandemic, I lost my way in enjoying writing. I felt like I had too much to say and I was finding it easier to do vlogs. Sometimes I still desire putting things across in a vlog. I am feeling like that again at the moment but not in the way I was during the height of the pandemic. Then I just struggled to write. It was most likely down to the circumstance of the pandemic itself and the fact that I was very badly grieving the loss of my mum which I didn’t realise I was doing at the time. I accepted that I was probably going through a point of grief but at the point of it I felt like it was other things happening in my life that was causing this… “writer’s block”, if you will. The reality of it is, with the beauty of hindsight, I was grieving deeply for my mum. On top of that, I was perimenopausal. Not a great combo, it has to be said!
The past 18 months of being a university student have been incredible. I really have found a new lease of life with this and I am ssssoooo excited to continue my journey. I am really looking forward to the next phase, moving up a gear to Level 2 study and honing in on the creative writing side of my studies when the academic year recommences in October.
My apologies for the long blurb. In the future I hope to share some more of my creative writing with you. For now, and without any further ado, may I present to you my first two “professional” pieces of fictional prose writing.
The first was submitted without a title (yes, that’s how green I was at submitting pieces of fictional prose writing!) but if I was to give it a title now? I think I would call it (because I love alliterative things)…
P.S. Getting it to render the titles in headers and italics was a mare. Can’t work out how to centre align the titles, either, let alone the text within the stories that needed to be centred as well, so I hope they read okay and all of it makes sense.
Vinnie races out the front door and runs to press the down button for the lift. Jeanie is anxious of his enthusiasm but is thankful for it none the less. Where did the time go? Five years has passed by in no time at all! Before she knows it, he’ll be starting his first job, she tells herself.
She locks the front door of the flat just as the lift pings and the doors open. Vinnie jumps over the threshold of the lift as if he’s jumping over the world’s widest and muddiest puddle. Jeanie fumbles at placing the keys in the inside pocket of her handbag. She makes it into the lift just as the doors begin to slide shut. As the lift descends, Vinnie runs circles around her. Averting her eyes from Vinnie, she stares blankly ahead in an effort to ward off the rising nausea.
Nine floors down and ‘ping,’ the doors slide open. Waiting at the lift doors is Vinnie’s best friend Mark and his mother Sally.
“Mornin.’ How’ya feelin’?” Jeanie asks Sally.
“Alright. A little nervous for Mark. Excited for him too. How are you?”
“Okay, I think. Nervous too, more for me than Vinnie. He cannae wait to start school and I am thinking, ‘What am I gonna do without ma wee boy?’ Sad, in’t it?”
“Naw! I get it. Especially ‘cause he’s your only one. I’d be the same if Mark was my only boy,” Sally rubs Jeanie’s arm.
“Do you want to go and get a coffee somewhere after this?”
“Aye. That’d be great.”
It feels surprisingly warm, which seems odd to say in August, but not when you’re in Glasgow! The pleasant weather only helps to fuel the enthusiasm the boys have for getting to school. It’s only a short walk from the block of flats to the school gates. They cross the park from the flats and reach the road where the school is located. Kids and their mums are converging along the pathways of the park, all heading to the school. Exuding a mix of emotions and corresponding facial expressions. Some, a mix of enthusiastic child and furrow-browed mother. Occasionally the reverse. A number of them both appear happy. These are usually the mothers with more than one child accompanying them. They are the happiest mums. Then there are the sad pairs, with both mother and child looking as if they are about to be parted forever. As if they have been told it will not only be their first day apart but their final day together.
Jeanie, Sally, and the boys arrive at the school gates. A school administrator is standing by the gates with a clipboard in her hands, marking off each new arrival.
“Good morning. Are you excited for your first day?” she asks Vinnie.
“Yes! I am!”
“That’s great. And the name?” shifting her eyes to Jeanie.
“Devlin. Vincent. Vinnie Devlin.”
The administrator places a line across a point on the page.
“Okay. Vinnie, you’re in classroom K3, which is over on the left side of the main block. Head through the main entrance doors and you’ll see the directions for the corridor when you get there. Enjoy your first day, Vinnie.”
Too embarrassed now to reply with words, Vinnie flashes back a bashful but broad grin.
They wait for Mark and Sally by the main entrance. “So, which class is Mark in?”
“Do you think it’s better or worse that they won’t be in the same class?”
“Cannae tell. I guess they can’t distract each other, and they’ll get to play at break times.”
“What time is it now?” Sally checks her watch.
“Eight fifty-five. How long do you think we’ll be? Twenty minutes? Meet you back here at, say, nine-twenty?”
“Okay. See you later, Mark. And be good!” Jeanie says with a wry smile, pointing a playful finger at him.
“That’s you telt!” says Sally, stifling a laugh.
The boys wave each other goodbye and part at the entrance hall. Jeanie leads Vinnie down the left-hand corridor and stops as they get to the door marked K3. Standing in the corridor, Jeanie bends down in front of Vinnie to be at eye level with him. She softly brushes back the sandy-coloured hair from his face, adjusts and straightens his pale-yellow school shirt, tidies up the tuck in his shorts, inches up his socks and tightens his laces. She then places her hands lightly on his shoulders, looking into his wide-open ocean blue eyes.
“Now, you do everything your teacher tells you to, okay? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be polite. Remember to say please and thank you. And don’t forget, Mammy loves you! Okay, are you ready?”
“Come on then. Let’s go in.”
Jeanie waits for Sally back at the main entrance. A few seconds later she appears from the opposite corridor.
“How did it go?”
“Okay. Vinnie’s teacher seems really nice, and he already seems to like her so that’s a good start. How did Mark get on?”
“Great, aye. I’ve got a good feeling from his teacher. Ready for that coffee?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
Right now, Jeanie was unsure how she would keep a coffee down. She was hopeful that by the time they arrived at the cafe her stomach will have settled. The only thing Jeanie was sure of was that the day was going to be a long one.
The morning air is cool and light and the rocks leading down to the riverbank are slippery with dew. Down by the water’s edge, away from the more jagged rocks, three tribeswomen wade into the water. Led by the one called Merindah, the women check the traps early each morning. It’s the height of the yabby season – Murrai’yunggori. The flying foxes are returning to the coast from their inland winter camps. The summer camps of fruit bats swell in numbers and the waratahs begin to bud. At this time of year, the yabby traps are full to overflowing. The tribe refer to it as ‘badoburra’ – a flood or deluge. This morning the yabbies are ‘badoburra’o’ (flooding) in abundance.
Richard Morgan has split from his companion officer, Tom Wilkins, and is surveying a section of the Shoalhaven River alone. Both he and Wilkins, along with other officers dispersed elsewhere, have been sent from the settlement at Botany Bay in search of Peter Burgess. Pickpocket Pete. He was sentenced to five years hard labour and transported to New South Wales for offences his nickname implies. Burgess fled the settlement and is believed to have headed south. He escaped three weeks ago.
From a surreptitious vantage point upon a promontory and obscured from view by dense scrub, Morgan observes the women wading around the river’s edge. He’s never eaten a yabby. He has heard that the locals eat them often during the breeding season. Does this suggest they taste good? The notion sets him salivating. He wouldn’t think they’d be eating things that weren’t tasty, but they eat those big caterpillars, so perhaps it’s a case of needs must.
Morgan fixes his gaze upon Merindah. There is something about her he finds intriguing. A certain expression etched on her face. A squinch that looks as if she’s trying to catch a thought, or perhaps it is just the glare of the sun upon the water’s surface? They’ve been lucky today. There must be at least forty yabbies in those traps. They certainly eat better than we do, he muses. How long have these people survived like this? He’s only been here three months and is already tired of the meagre pickings. As a member of the New South Wales Corps, he knows he’s lucky. The convicts are starving. The crops keep failing. He can’t blame them for wanting to escape the settlement.
He continues watching the women as they weave their way from the riverbank. Are they heading back to camp, he ponders? He decides to make his way down from the promontory to intercept them. When reaching them, he uses a few local words he has learnt.
“Wedaeo. Wurar. Gubba. Wiribanga. Wugarndi. Nandiri?” Hello. Sorry, apologies. White man. Lawbreaker. Runaway. See?
He places a hand on his forehead, shielding his eyes and mimes looking around. He then looks back at the women for recognition that his words have been understood.
Merindah looks around to her companions, Keira and Lilardia. They look back at her bemused. She looks back to Morgan, staring at him with a squinting-eye scrutiny.
“Illa. Bunamara’wa’mi. Dyirrun’wa’mi. Gudmut. Yaluwaninmin!” No. You offend me. I mistrust you. Red bull ant. Get away!
The women brush their way past him and head onwards to the camp. He can only make out the words ‘illa’ – no, and ‘gudmut’ – a word they use for the officers. What else she said to him is unknown. By her expression and tone of voice, he assumes her words were dismissive.
Morgan waits a moment, then turns to appear as if he’s heading off in the opposite direction and darts behind some shrubbery nearby. Once at a safer distance he begins following the women. As they approach the camping ground, he takes refuge behind the trunk of a tall blue gum. He knows of cases where other escaped convicts have been aided by local tribes. Could Burgess be hiding here amongst this clan? The chances are slim, but worth investigating.
At the campsite, Keira and Lilardia have prepared the yabbies. Four huts surround a clearing at the centre of the camp with a firepit. To the side of the main firepit is a smaller coal fire. Two men stoke the fires, shuffling tempered pieces of coal between them. Once satisfied with the fires they retreat to their huts, reappearing shortly after with an array of weapons.
Merindah enters one of the huts. Her husband Jemmy and Burgess are inside. She addresses Burgess.
“Gudmut. Nandiri’o’mi.” Red bull ant is looking for you.
“You said what? Minyin?” He knows that the word minyin means ‘answer me’ or ‘why’, depending on its tone.
“Tamuna’dya birad’o dali’nga.” Did not speak to him. She speaks to him in pidgin. “No talk to him. Said go away.”
“Allawah naway. Ngalawa dudba’dya.” Stay here now. Remain sheltered. She translates her words. “Stay in hut. Hide.”
From his spot behind the blue gum, Morgan observes the workings of the camp. Apprehensive to approach until he spots Merindah. He cannot see where she is right now. Perhaps in one of the huts? As he ponders her whereabouts, she exits a hut along with Jemmy. Continuing his observations, his mind wanders. Mystically, this place is a haven to them. Look how they flourish. They never appear in need of anything. They eat well. They may look scrubby, but they’re well fed. They never seem sad, and he’s never seen them argue or act violent towards one another. They make music and dance. The other officers think they’re barbarians. He doesn’t see it. He thinks they are as civilised as the settlers.
Suddenly he feels hindered by his military jacket. This red mark of the gudmut. This weighty attire is far too impractical for the weather conditions here. It may have been cool when he arrived but now the days are already sweltering, and it’s only spring. He is tempted to remove his jacket but resists doing so.
He waits until the tribesmen leave the camp to go hunting then starts to approach. The women are working around the centre clearing, tidying away the remains of the morning feast of yabbies. As Morgan approaches, the women stop what they are doing. He addresses Merindah.
“Illa. Nandiri. Gubba. Wugarndi. Naway?” No. See. Whiteman. Runaway. Now?
“Illa. Walanga’dya’nya’mi. Minyin?” No. You followed us. Why?
Sensing he struggles to understand her words, she speaks to him in pidgin. “Chased us. Why?”
“Nandiri. Dudba. Wugarndi.” See. Hide. Runaway.
“Wurar wunan. Illa gubba galumban’nula worriwarra. Tamuna’o’mi.” Sorry silly man. No white man in the camp just now. Excluding you.
From behind him, Burgess emerges from the hut. Creeping slowly towards Morgan, he carefully loosens the strap of the musket on the officer’s shoulder by gently nudging the musket’s butt end. As the strap falls, Burgess grabs a firm hold of the musket. Alerted to the movement from a change in Merindah’s facial expression, Morgan swings round to find Burgess standing in front of him, the protruding bayonet pointed at his chest.
“I heard you were looking for me. Well, here I am. Now what?”
“How did you manage it?” replies Morgan, unflinching.
“Being here with them. How did you get them to trust you?”
“Easy. I’m not a gudmut. They could see that. They wanted to help me, look after me and feed me. But now the question is – what are you going to do? Well, I guess the question is more … How fast can you run? You see the thing is, I don’t really want to kill you. I don’t want to be pointing this weapon at you, but can I trust you enough to let you go? This place is a hellhole without living the way these natives do. I mean, just look at that garb you’re wearing. It’s not even fit for this place. It marks you out. Do you know why they call you a gudmut? You run around with no direction like a little red bull ant. A tiny, weeny insect with a tiny bite that doesn’t hurt anyone. Just an inconvenience. A pest. No one’s scared.
So, run, gudmut. You’ve seen nothing here. Go back to Botany Bay. You never saw me. If you run and come back with more men, it’ll end badly. Mark my words. It’s really very simple. Go now, keep your mouth shut and live. Come back to arrest me and die. Your choice.”
Walking through the scrub, Wilkins heads towards the campsite. He pauses as he spots the clearing in front of him. Taking up a spot behind the same blue gum that kept Morgan out of sight, he observes the camp. First, he spies Morgan. He then sees the three native women standing behind him. His eyes darting quickly to the left, he spots Burgess with the musket pointed at Morgan. He tries to map his way there, quickly configuring a route into the camp and ensuring he approaches Burgess from behind.
Moving forward from the safe coverage of the blue gum, he creeps closer to the camp in short stops, using as much dense scrub as possible to remain hidden from view. The huts are just a few yards in front of him. He needs to tread very lightly from this point. If those native women see or hear him coming, he’ll be toast.
As he inches closer to the camp clearing, he edges along the side of one of the huts seeking to remain hidden from view. He carries his musket ready to fire. When he reaches the front of the hut, Merindah sees him. Burgess gleans a change in her facial expression as she calls out ‘GUDMUT’! He swings round and before Wilkins has time to fire his musket, Burgess fires at him. The impact forces Wilkins to squeeze his trigger. Morgan falls to the ground, shot in the abdomen. Wilkins bleeds copiously. A wound to the chest. The bullet lodged in his heart. Death is imminent.
Merindah is transfixed looking at the rivulets of blood mingling with the dry earth of the camp clearing. A colony of red bull ants are drawn from their nest to inspect the sweet trails of liquid. Gudmuts feeding on a gudmut. Conscious of his shallow breathing, she waits for Wilkins to intake another breath. He doesn’t.
Immobilised by the scene in front of him, Burgess is drawn out of his frozen state by Morgan’s painful cries. He cannot let Morgan live now. They can’t look after him! He looks to Merindah. She’s fixed upon Morgan, concern furrowing her brow. She wants to help him and alleviate his pain. She looks to Burgess.
“Banyadjaminga’ba’wa’nga.” I will help him. “Me help him!”
“Illa! Bugra.” No! Kill. “I kill him. Stay back.”
“Illagara’wa’mi. Murin’wa. Banyadjaminga’ba’wa’nga. Buyi’o’nga.” I refuse to obey you. I will not listen. I will help him. He is dying. “No! Me help him!”
“Then what? Minyin. You free him? Minyin!”
“Nay. Midiwinyi’ba’nya. Karbo madingara’nya’nga. Namuru’ba’mi’nya. Yanma’ba’nya moon wawu. Wingara’dya’mi mandingara’ba’nga.” Yes. We will abscond. After we free him. You will accompany us. We can go anywhere. You considered releasing him.
Her emotions fuel her long reply in her native tongue. She speaks in pidgin. “Yes. Let him go. We run by river. Leave huts.”
Merindah points to Wilkins.
“Gudmut yinya gugun.” Red bull ant there dead.
She looks back at Morgan.
“Illa narang naway. Buyi’o’nga. Manwari’o’wa’nga.” No different now. He is dying. I am saving him.
Merindah moves towards Morgan, but Burgess steps in front of her. Holding the musket downwards, he stands over Morgan and thrusts the bayonet into him several times until his wailing ceases.
Burgess looks at Merindah’s pained face.
“I’m sorry. I had to. We need to leave.”
When the tribesmen return from the hunt, they see the blood on the ground. Where is the body? Burgess, Merindah, Keira and Lilardia had carried the bodies into one of the huts.
Daybreak. As Merindah awakens she tastes the metallic bitterness of the blood heated by the morning sun. Soon everyone is out of their huts and ready to leave. Men, women and children of the tribe. Also, the gubba (white man). They head to the river, further away from where the bodies had been disposed. They’ll walk a long way before they feel safe enough to settle anew. The river is long. There is no talking, just walking.