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Read the fourth instalment of the Newcastle course blog here.
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Sadly, our number was depleted for the penultimate class this Tuesday. It made for a curious atmosphere. Contrasting with the electrical charge our eagerness and industry had produced on past nights, the air was stiller.
Maybe the greater physical space between us played its part. Like the space around a short story allowing readers freedom to interpret as they will, it left each of us at liberty to explore more fully our colleagues’ remarks and observations? We formed, I thought, a far more reflective scribble than usual.
Maybe too, the evening sunlight falling warmly through the window? It caught the dust motes drifting. For some not brief moment, I watched it trembling on the web a spider had set busily to spinning, and thought of my missed tea.
So, there in collective contemplation of the artifice short story we few sat, when, you’ll never guess, a ruddy great tree shot up out the middle of the table. You might imagine our surprise. I swallowed my pen lid. Even the spider lost its thread.
But, ‘Oh, this always happens,’ Avril reassured us, a tad wearily, I thought. She’d clearly seen it all before. ‘It’s the artifice, in action. Just take whatever it’s offering.’
For off a bough extending over each of us, it bore a gift. One of us it gave the most beautiful notebook (hemp paper, don’t you know. Tree-free), someone else a dictaphone. Someone, who shall remain nameless (wouldn’t want to draw too much attention to their good fortune, would we now), got an APPLE iMac 3.1GHz quad-core Intel i5 processor.
Me? I got a pen lid.
‘Oh, don’t read too much into it,’ Avril flapped a wrist in my general direction.
‘I thought that was the point.’ I couldn’t help but interpret. ‘It’s telling me to cap it. Put my pen away!’
Hmmm . . .
‘So what might be the purpose of intertwining these two seemingly incompatible elements of a story?’ Avril went on. ‘The prosaic, say, and the fantastic.’
Somebody, who shall remain nameless once more, suggested, ‘The fantastic element might stimulate some revelation about the other that we wouldn’t enjoy otherwise because too everyday to notice.’
‘Perfect,’ Avril approved from the branch onto which she’d climbed and now sat, feet swinging.
‘Didn’t I just say that?’ Apparently not. Or no one had heard. I said it again. ‘You mean, like the significance of giving someone a pen lid for a gift? Not even a pen.’
‘A brand new pen lid,’ some wit observed. I really couldn’t say who for the excess of foliage around the table. ‘Unchewed.’
‘It doesn’t even fit, look!’
Said that colleague I could name if inclined, ‘You see. It’s telling you, ‘Don’t stop, Clay. Keep writing.’’
I snapped, ‘I’d write a whole lot better onto a twenty-one-point-five-inch screen with Retina 4K display, eight gigabytes of memory onboard, thank you very much.’
‘Or we might think of it as a harmless bit of frivolity,’ Avril moved us on.
But leaves shivered. I swear I saw a little twig-man cock a snook. ‘Unchewed . . . Unchewed . . .’
Avril was very pleased that everybody present will be contributing to our anthology. I’d like to add that I hope all absent colleagues will, too. We have some volunteers to help compile, proofread and copy edit. Not me. Not bloody likely. I made that clear. Haven’t the tools for it.
‘Funny atmosphere tonight,’ I remarked on leaving.
Nobody actually disagreed.
I put it to the group, the scribble, ‘Anyone up for a bite to eat?’ Thought that up myself, I did, a scribble of writers. Can’t scribble on an iMac, can you.
Oh, except for that spider. Without my noticing, he had alighted from the tree onto my shoulder.
‘Hmmm.’ His wasn’t the company I had envisaged. ‘All right. What do you fancy?’
‘Well, I haven’t a lot of time,’ he said. ‘Something on the fly?’
Clayton Lister is a long-time lover of the short story. Most recently, his stories have appeared in Bare Fiction, Prole Magazine and the HISSAC Winners Anthology.