The Mighty Pen

 This is a short story that I wrote a couple of years ago for a creative writing course.  At the end there’s a plea for help… 

The Mighty Pen 

The printed sheet of A4 paper held disdainfully between his thumb and forefinger, Sebastian tossed it dismissively across the seminar room.  It competed briefly with the dust motes dancing in the late evening sunshine before falling gracefully to the floor, where it offered itself up to the class: the physical evidence of my literary failings.

“Writing is hard, Rosanna.  A real writer reaches deep into his soul, drags his demons out, screaming and kicking, before stabbing them through the heart to the page.  Every word is agonizing.  Every sentence drips with the blood of torment and pain.”

The other students were motionless, hypnotised by Sebastian’s words.

“Puns? Jokes?” He spat out the words with disgust, as if he couldn’t bear the taste of them in his mouth for a moment longer than necessary.  “A year into your degree and this is still your idea of writing?  A ridiculous story of a kitten who gets trapped in a photocopier?”

My voice was quiet and I couldn’t stop it trembling as I attempted to defend myself against Sebastian’s vicious tirade, “I worked really hard on it. You said we could write in any genre about what we wanted.”

The last few words disappeared in a high-pitched squeak as my courage drained away.

Sebastian narrowed his eyes and looked down his long, thin nose at me.  “This is a programme for serious writers and it’s better to tell you now before you waste any more of your time – or mine.  You have no real talent or depth in you.  I’d like you to leave my class.”

My cheeks burnt and the tears that filled my eyes threatened to reveal the extent of my humiliation. I didn’t trust my voice not to betray me so I gathered my notes in silence and left the room, my head bowed and my incriminating tears hidden behind large, tortoiseshell sunglasses.

What right did Sebastian have to criticise me like that? So my stories weren’t as emotional as Matthew’s pieces about the Jewish refugees or Emma’s account of her painful divorce.  But I’d liked my Copy Cat tale and a few students had laughed in the right places.  They’d stopped smiling once Sebastian had launched into his diatribe against me, not wanting to be seen to have a different opinion. They were just as bad as Sebastian, sucking up to him so he’d give them good grades for their mediocre degree at their mediocre university.   Well, sod the lot of them.

***

Sebastian poured another cup of coffee and broke off a piece of croissant. He popped it in his mouth and savoured the buttery taste as he sank back into the silk cushions of his armchair, his feet raised to the warmth of the log fire. Relaxed weekend mornings were a welcome respite from the constant student interruptions that plagued his working week.  He picked up the Sunday supplement and idly flicked through the pages.

An involuntary jerk sent his coffee cup and saucer crashing to the floor.   The magazine ripped as he clutched it towards a sudden stabbing pain in his chest.  The offending article, lying face-up on the luxurious Oriental rug, was the last thing Sebastian saw as his vision faded away, the words mocking him:

Number one on the Sunday Times Best Sellers list: Punning for Gold by Rosanna Bennett.

Martin Amis reviews the debut novel from this talented young author: “Bennett shows real depth and emotion in this incredibly well written journey through a beautifully constructed linguistical playground. In fact, Punning for Gold is just like anti-gravity – impossible to put down.”

Writing is easy

If you liked this, I’m looking for beta readers (yes, I hate that expression but it seems to be what they’re called!) for my children’s novel.   I’ve finally finished the first draft and really need a couple of avid readers (or writers) to look over it. It’s aimed at 8-10 year olds, is roughly 40,000 words and could be summed up as ‘Five go Time-Travelling’.  I’m not looking for a detailed grammar/punctuation/typos edit, but more what works/what doesn’t work/plot holes/continuity issues critique.  I hope the request isn’t too cheeky but every writing website I’ve seen says that beta readers (ugh) are vital – then doesn’t tell you how to find them!  I’m more than happy to do the same if others are also looking for readers.

Let’s Do The Time Warp Again…

confused time travel chicken‘What do we want?

‘Time Travel!’

‘When do we want it?’

‘It’s irrelevant…’

Time travel.  It’s a tricky one to get your head around.  In fact, every time I think about the mechanics, ethics and illogicalities of it, I get a migraine and have to lie down with a nice cup of tea and a chocolate digestive…although I was sorely tempted by an opened bottle of white wine when I opened the fridge for the milk this morning (obviously, I was getting the milk out; I wasn’t opening the fridge for the milk).  That can’t be a good sign.

So why in the name of Gallifray, have I chosen time travel as the basis for my children’s book?  Science was not my specialized subject at school.  My talents lay in eating Monster Munch behind the lift-up lid of my desk, back chatting teachers and trying to copy Chemistry homework off the class brainbox.  My highest school-leaving qualifications were in Ceramics (yes, this was a genuine O level) and English Language.  My biggest success in Physics was convincing the teacher that my friend’s name was Lesley (it wasn’t) and laughing at her having to answer to that for the next two years.

But time travel provides so many opportunities for great adventure and conflict, so that’s what I went for.  The story is based around a school for trainee time agents with all the ensuing fun of bizarre lessons, mean teachers and historic escapades.  And, no, it’s nothing like Harry Potter…

There are many (so, so many) theories, concepts and philosophies put forward about time travel.  Is there a single, fixed history that is self-consistent and unchangeable?  Or is history flexible and subject to change?  Maybe there are alternate timelines, so that if a traveller goes back in the past, they create a new timeline but the original timeline doesn’t cease to exist?  Or perhaps a parallel universe opens up each time a past event is changed??  I’ve also got problems such as avoiding glitches caused by the agents bouncing around history, blending the various plot lines together and making the storyline consistent from past to present to future.  Not to mention adding tension, mystery and urgency to the story.

For example, in Chapter 11, the young heroes have just heard that Dad is going to be sacrificed by the Pharaoh at the Opening Ceremony of the Great Pyramid.  Obviously they need to get to Ancient Egypt immediately to save Dad.

‘But why do they need to hurry?’ asked HWW.

‘Because Dad’s about to be killed,’ I replied.  Like, duh.

‘Surely, they could wait another year, another ten years even, and still go back in time to just before Dad is sacrificed and save him?’

‘Yes, but, but…that wouldn’t be very exciting, would it?’

‘And why don’t they go back in time to before Dad went on his time trip to Ancient Egypt and just tell him not to go?’

‘Oh, shut up.’

Honestly, do the writers of Doctor Who have all these difficulties?

timey wimey stuffI’m trying to come up with some rules that the characters in my book are bound by, to help the story make sense and overcome some of the major incongruities – y’know, the Grandfather Paradox or triggering too many parallel universes.   Even if my characters don’t always uphold these rules or attempt to break them, I’d still like them to be written down in a Time Travel Rule Book – or a Timey Wimey Rule Book as the 11th Doctor (who breaks all the rules willy-nilly) might say.

THE BARBEDWORDS RULEBOOK FOR TIME AGENTS:

Be prepared: ANYTHING could happen.  Seriously, always wear a clean pair of knickers and keep a bag of nuts in your bag – it could be a long time till lunch.

Always find an empty space for transporting through time.  You don’t want to materialize during a WI meeting; being pelted with jars of loganberry jam really hurts.

Don’t try to rewrite history.  History can be changed but we don’t know what the impacts would be on our universe so we want to keep things on as even a keel as possible.  For example, if you were to warn the Captain of the Titanic about the iceberg, it could cause catastrophic changes to every iota of history since then, open up parallel universes or possibly cause cracks in time and space.  Things may be bad now, but who knows how dreadful things could be if we make major changes to our collective past?  Plus it would be really hard for me to decide how history was going to go in this new timeline and I don’t think I can be bothered to rewrite history at the same time as attempting to write a children’s adventure book.

NB I’m pretty certain that your 21st Birthday Party doesn’t technically count as ‘shared history’ so if you’d like to go back and change past events so that you didn’t drink too much snakebite, snog Billy Matthews on the kitchen table and then throw up in your mother’s bread maker, this should be ok.

Only a select few can know about Time Travel.   There are baddies out there who want to change history for their own evil purposes – TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD, MWAHAHAHA and for all we know, they’ve already changed certain events in history but we just don’t remember it.  Also, we don’t want Liam Gallagher heading back to the 1960s, trying to get into the Beatles or get off with Brigitte Bardot.

People and objects can’t be brought back from the past/future to the present.  No stocking up on vases from the Ming Dynasty.

You can only do a limited number of trips a month because each trip has a negative impact on the body.   This stops those who’d like to live in Ancient Rome and commute to work at the BBC every day.

Totally gratuitous picture of David Tennant...
Totally gratuitous picture of David Tennant…

You mustn’t kill anyone.  Or do something that would result in someone’s death.  Conversely, you can’t prevent someone from dying who was supposed to die so I’m afraid that goldfish you got from the fair in 1985 will not be given another chance to live longer than three days.

Try to blend in to your chosen era.  We don’t want you moping about in Medieval England, moaning about the stench, looking for a flushing loo and suggesting the peasants try a splash of Old Spice.

All time travel trips are to be authorized and you must return to the location where you began your trip.  No heading off to 1980, stocking up on Apple shares then disappearing into the roaring ’20s to live it up with the Great Gatsby, thanks very much.

Obviously, these rules are for Time Agents only.  The Time Warriors (the baddies) are crazed outlaws, who blast through time and space doing what they blimin’ well please.  And it’s the Time Agents’ job to stop them.   But only after 200 pages of electrifying, nail-biting adventures, of course.

If you could time travel, what would be your first destination?  What would you do (after finding out next week’s winning lottery numbers and buying the winning ticket naturally)?   I’ve already put my name down to go back in time to nab David Tennant before he gets married, so you’ll have to come up with your own ideas.