Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting creative on a Tuesday night

I broke out of my much-loved routine last night, meaning that instead of going to running club I went to the opposite end of Richmond to the adult community college. Why? Because they're doing a series of two-hour taster courses allowing you to get a feel for some of their new and upcoming courses - luring you in, for want of a better term - and one of them, Creative Writing: Unlocking your Creativity, caught my eye. 

And it was free: BONUS.

So, dragging along both Willowc and Yazzle Dazzle (neither of whom had had the forethought to bring along anything to write on, I hasten to add, meaning I had to give them both sheets of paper from my notepad!) we hit the classroom, snagged some chairs (I snagged more than them because I outright stole Yazzle's preferred chair by stating "I'M SITTING HERE" then just sitting down while she stared blankly at me), and looked intelligent. We were ready to learn.

The class was actually very full, which was nice, especially for the teacher I expect, who was a rather lovely lady eager to help us unleash our creativity. Before beginning she wanted to get to know us all a little. She started with me.

"What's your name?" 

"Tim," I replied.

Then we just stared at each other for a while.

After a few seconds she asked "anything else?"

I smiled coyly and squinted Josh Hartnett-style back at her. "What do you want to know?" I let the question dangle in the air for a minute or so while the rest of the class laughed along with me and basked in my aura, before giving her a sensible bit of blurb about something something something, prose, something something something. She then proceeded to ask the rest of the class about them, none of which were as entertaining as me, although Willowc and Yazzle did do a bit of a comedy routine about the fact that we all used to work together which was nice and reminded me a bit of something out of The Muppet Show. A lot of people claimed that they thought they had "a book in them," which made me very tempted to say that they should probably go see their doctor to get it removed.

Anyway, I think we pretty quickly established ourselves as the cool kids that all the other freaks and geeks would idolise and imagine hanging out with during playtime breaktime the coffee break.

After that the teacher explained to us that she was going to hand out some activity sheets which contained a number of 'leaping-off' points that were designed to spur our imaginations into action, at which point we would spend the next 40 minutes or so writing a short piece of prose. Oh shit, I thought; it never actually occurred to me that we'd actually have to write something!

My first thought was to scramble through my bag and dig out a page or two of my book, but Willowc told me that would be cheating, and plus I'd be sitting around for the next 40 minutes or so with nothing to do. On the otherhand, if I had've done that, I would've been able to fit running club in as well, which I think you'll agree would've been a masterful feat of multitasking.

Anyway, the sheets were handed out, and suitably chastised I glanced down the lists in front of me looking for inspiration. Two leaping-off points immediately grabbed my attention: 

• Write your own obituary (set either now or in the future)
• A new ice age

My first thought was that I'd like to think I'll live a long, happy, and heroic life rather than drop dead tomorrow, so the first line of my obituary might read something like "he died as he lived…" or "killed in a tragic hover-car accident…" Sadly, Willowc misheard/misunderstood/generally ballsed-up my thinking here, and started laughing hysterically at the line "he lived as he died: in a hover-car…"

I decided instead to focus on the ice age one.

At about quarter past eight the teacher reassembled the group and said that she'd like some of us to read our pieces out to the class. For a little while we all did that thing where we looked down at the desk or fiddled with our hair, but eventually a few people started volunteering. After about three people had agreed, I poked Willowc and told her to do it. She tutted and raised her hand. Then some bloke did. By this time I was thinking that I'd really like to do it, but, ooo, I'll be all embarrassed and, ooo, I don't want people criticising me, and, ooo, I might cry. But then I realised that if I didn't do it I'd kick myself later and regret it for a long time. So I stuck my hand in the air and manfully said "yeah, go on then, I'll do it."

Like a dude.

The first reader was… well, if I said Willowc wrote on her piece of paper 'I think I might die,' I reckon you'd get an idea what his piece was like. When he finished and we all woke up the teacher made a few comments, then asked if anyone else wanted to add anything. There were a few hesitant comments like "I liked that bit…" and "that sounded nice…" at first, but then the floodgates opened and all of a sudden it seemed like everyone was ripping him to shit and back. 

We soon moved onto reader number two, who had written a conversation piece between two old ladies which was very well received, and reminded me of Beryl Cook paintings, which I thought was good because she'd made me imagine her characters without really thinking about it. This was followed by Willowc's nonsense, which went down very well and got some good laughs, and which she's posted in its entirety here, then some bloke who'd written something about trees.

Now, Tree-man's piece was very highly acclaimed by the group, but to be honest I wasn't really paying much attention to it because I was quite literally shatting my Big-Bang pants at the prospect of reading my piece aloud. Anyway, it came to my turn, so I took a deep breath, looked at the page in my newly-emaciated writing pad, and began trying to make sense of my handwriting.

After the first two sentences the teacher leaned in close to me and told me to slow down a bit. Evidently I was reading too quickly. I think this was a result of having watched too many episodes of Gilmore Girls in a short period of time. Anyway, I started the next sentence imagining that I was on the bridge of the Enterprise during that bit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture when they get caught in the wormhole and time slows down.

To be honest, the reading could've gone a bit better, but I'm putting that down to the fact that I was actually trying to make sense of what I'd written due to my writing being all messy and smudged (I'm a filthy lefty), and several additional lines being added in the margin. When all's said and done, though, I was proud of my work, proud of the fact that I'd had the balls to read it to a bunch of strangers, and proud of the fact that they genuinely seemed to like it. Oh, except for one odd bloke behind me who complained about my grammer in one instance (and who liked to think he was the best writer among us, as shown by the utter contempt he displayed when his own work was critiqued), but I don't care about his opinion. Someone even went so far as to call it 'topical'!

That being the case, I thought you might like to read my hastily-written, post-apocalyptic story of Earth under a new ice age. Unfortunately for fans of The Day After Tomorrow there's no sign of Jake Gyllenhaal (or Jake Jiggly-balls as a certain unnamed friend of mine calls him), nor does it have an actual title. For the time being, I like to refer to it simply as Untitled Apocalyptic Piece Number 1.

OK - so this is copied out exactly as I wrote it last night. There's actually quite a lot I was tempted to change or rewrite while I transcribed it, but that kind of defeats the spontaneity of it all, eh? So here it is, warts 'n all: Untitled Apocalyptic Piece Number 1. Enjoy…


Shafts of sunlight tore through the grey clouds, revealing for an instant the grim skyline of a world long-dead. I raised one gloved hand to my eyes, marveling in that moment at the city revealed before me, imagining it as it once was, before the clouds rolled in and once more shut off the light. As darkness descended around me again I felt the cold return, and turned back to the task at hand.

It had been almost 20 years since the new ice age had hit with force, and many more before that since we'd first felt the effects of its impending arrival. We had all dismissed it at first, of course; nothing could rock civilization to its knees, could it? No, we were too strong, too advanced for that. We were, unfortunately, too proud.

The first signs had been the unusually harsh winters, followed by the cold, hard frosts long after winter should have given way to spring. Snow flurries in May; unusual, yes, but nothing to be worried about, we were assured. But year after year things just kept getting worse. We'd hear stories on the news about towns and cities in Northern Russia being abandoned, their populations leaving en masse for warmer climes; snow falling in Africa. But we paid little attention because that was over there, not here. We only noticed when things started effecting our own lives. Transport links breaking down due to extreme cold; lack of food and fuel; hospitals beginning to see cases of frostbite.

The government didn't act, at least at first, dismissing it once more as anomalous – an "unusually harsh" season that would eventually pass. But it only got worse. Pipes froze solid. Lakes and rivers began to freeze over. The largest refugee crisis in history began as humanity surged towards the Equator. Civilization as we knew it began to grind to a halt. And we finally excepted that the human race was facing an unprecedented disaster on a global scale.

There were no television fund-raisers to help us, no spectacular rock concerts to bring awareness to our plight. We were dying and there was nothing we could do to prevent it.

Eighteen long years since the human race officially surrendered to nature, only small pockets of us remain in existence. Here in London there's about 200 of us. Maybe less. Africa is the most densely populated continent now, with approximately 15,000 people living there. Well, you could hardly call it living, could you? We survive as best we can in an environment that does its utmost to defeat us every single day. And unfortunately for us, for the human race, everything we've lived, dreamed, and accomplished, it's winning.


CyberPete said...

Like that bloke said. Topical! I like it.

I remember in school we had to evaluate each others projects in class. Once in English our group took it a bit too far with these guys who'd done a project on Adidas.

They hadn't even used spell check and their footnotes were bad.

The teacher agreed with us but the rest of the class hated us after that.

Thankfully we were evaluated before that.

Inexplicable DeVice said...

How grim. And brilliant! I was sucked in almost immediately.
I know it's good, because, even though you'd mentioned lovely Jakey previously, I completely forgot he even existed while I was reading your 'Untitled Apocalyptic Piece Number 1'.

Was the teacher an ice-hearted robot?
I ask because she appeared to continue functioning even after your Josh Hartnett-style squint, which, I'm sure, if unleashed upon a normal mortal, would have them collapsing into an excitable, gibbering heap.

Tim said...

Cyberpete - Anyone who doesn't use speil-chuck needs a slap. I hope you dispensed one.

Inexplicable Device - I don't think she was a robot… you'd have to ask Willowc and Yazzle what sort of effect I had because I'm immune to my own charms and their ramifications.

WillowC said...

IDV - sorry, can't answer, I was far too charmed to notice.

I said it before and I shall say it again (for the third time, actually, because I'm spontaneous and full of original thought), your story reminds me of Arthur C Clarke, written with a moving lack of emotion, the bare facts speaking for themselves. Stiff upper lip, innit.

And I stand by my amusement at the hovercraft, too. Comedy genius, that was.

Tim said...


WillowC said...

Couldn't have been, there's no such thing.

Tim said...


Tara said...

(long comment alert!)

Wow, you did that within 40 minutes? That's awesome! Well done, it almost gave me chills reading about the warning signs we ignored (and we probably would in reality, I think), including the part about the hard frosts when we should be expecting Spring.

"There were no television fund-raisers to help us".. That reminded me of the problem you just had with RSPCA. They wouldn't have helped during that ice age either. And yet the partially bald but recovering kitty walks up to the character in your story and brushes against his leg...

missy&chrissy. said...

write more, write more!

also, 'jake jiggly balls' is my new favorite celebrity nickname. hilarious!

Dinah said...

I was laughing about you living and dying in a's comedy gold!

CyberPete said...

you are right. We were pretty brutal with them but then it's hard when you are the best group and have a certain standard of your own and spent weeks fine tuning it only to see other people not bothering with the basics.

Tim said...

Tara - The bald but surviving kitty would definitely bring a bit of light relief to humanity's plight!

Missy&Chrissy - I'm tempted to… maybe I'll expand it into a short story?

Dinah - It does make me sound a bit trampy, though, doesn't it? I lived in my car?!

Cyberpete - I agree. I hope you jabbed them with freshly-sharpened pencils.

CyberPete said...

You know, I would have. The others in my group weren't as supportive of that idea though.

Such party poopers.

missy&chrissy. said...

it's definitely short story material. and then you can go back to that class on another tuesday and show that teacher that your creativity can't be limited by just a 40-minute writing session!

Tim said...

Cyberpete - You should've jabbed everyone else too!

Missy&Chrissy - Yeah, I'm thinking about whipping it into shape a bit more, but definitely keeping it short … mainly because I have something else I want to write that I'm eager to make a start on!