Who is Barry?

Barry was the most famous homeless man in the whole city. He even had his own Facebook page, though it would be some miracle if Barry even knew what the Internet was. The kids liked to follow him as he ambled around town carrying nothing but a plastic bag and the beaten-up ukulele that he’d grown famous for playing. Nobody ever found out what it was that was in that plastic bag. There were rumours, of course: the deeds to some long-lost property, a rotting pile of fruit, stolen designer jeans, a dead cat, high-grade crack, a divorce certificate. But anyone that asked poor old Barry what was in his bag got a tirade of jumbled words thrown back at him and sometimes a vigorous handshake, but never what you might call an explanation.

The best Barry-sighting hotspots were some corner on North Bridge, outside a Starbucks on Queen Street and a lonesome bench on the outskirts of the Meadows. You could hear his pensive strumming as you strolled nearby, and then as you approached there was Barry himself, wearing the green parka, ripped denim flares and the Nike trainers that, as some have observed, smelled curiously of pondweed. Humbly occupying such spots, Barry would entertain the locals and reap rich rewards from eager tourists who chucked whole banknotes in his Burger King cup. You could hear him crooning ‘Wonderwall’ and the Stereophonics’ ‘Have a Nice Day’ over his out-of-time ukulele accompaniment. He played the same songs and if somebody gave him a request, he tended to repeatedly growl the name of the tune over a repeated strum of minor chords rather than actually try to play it.

To many, Barry was an ‘Edinburgh Legend’.  Many university students volunteered for the local soup kitchen specifically in the hope of getting an opportunity to bestow upon Barry a handful of biscuits in person. They wanted him to learn their names so they could tell all their friends that Barry knew them. School children would post sightings of him up on his Facebook page, noting that he was spotted near the Stockbridge market, buying a can or two from an offie or even trailing into the Jobcentre. Very rarely would any of them work up the courage to actually talk to Barry. They preferred to indulge in in-depth online discussions about the state of Barry’s hair, what was in his bag this week, what tunes he had been playing.

The sad thing was that it took a while for people to notice that Barry had disappeared. He was not part of their lives, really; he was just an element of the city’s mise en scene – the atmosphere that they took for granted. There were plenty of other buskers, beggars and street performers to take his place. But eventually, the comments started flooding in on Barry’s Facebook walls, as people began speculating about where he was and what had happened. Was he in jail? Reunited with his long-lost son? Applying for X Factor? The questions multiplied and the answers blurred into lost causes and imagined chances.

He even made the local news. The paper ran a half-page article on ‘Kids Praise Unsung Homeless Hero’, whereby school children from an assortment of inner-city schools garbled on about how much they loved Barry, as if he were nothing but a cartoon character who had finally won the rights to a Hollywood movie. Nobody made any real effort to find out what had happened to old Barry. Eventually, he dwindled out of the conversation as people began to get excited about the Fringe, and then Halloween and Christmas. Nobody on the Facebook page paid a single thought to how Barry was managing, out there in the streets during one of the coldest winters of the last decade. Eventually, people stopped posting on his wall and the Facebook page was taken down; not out of respect, but because it wasn’t getting enough daily hits.

A few years passed and the city remained as sparkling and alive as it always had. The kids grew older and forgot about him.

It was only when I was returning there the other week, visiting my Gran who lives in Brunsfield, that I saw the message scrawled on the wall: ‘Who is Barry?’. Something about that message really got to me; because you know what, nobody knows Barry, nobody knows him at all.

(Prompts: ‘who is barry’ graffiti, denim)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

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Love and Other Visions

Christmas time and the fair had come to George Square again. Alisha went with her friends and watched as they whizzed around on the waltzers and queued for the chairoplane.

“Why aren’t you joining in?” they asked her. She told them she was afraid of heights.

The colours and lights were giving her a headache. Nicki Minaj blasting on a sound system that was illegally concealed in a carousel. The smell of hot chips and donuts and the slobbery breath of too much drinking. Alisha was almost thirty; she was too old for this.

The more she stood staring, the more her head started pounding. A flush spread over her cheeks and the tingling stung the surface of her skin.

“Oh fuck,” she whispered. It was returning. The screams shrilled louder, merging into white lines of terror in the air. They fired light into her eyes that burned and burned, and she could not stop shaking with the sensation that her brain was swelling, swelling, her skull tightening and the throbbing not stopping. She tried to close her eyes but then the visions came to her: she saw the amoeba dance with all the shimmer shapes coming off of it in trails of hail, needles stuck through bullet holes tattooed along a body…her boyfriend’s body. The boy she had not seen in years…and his mouth was a jagged hole punched in glass; she reached for his cheek but her fingers went through it, felt the silvery liquid pixelate against her skin. People flying through the sky, screaming, falling – the chaos of things colliding. A metallic taste on her tongue and she felt herself falling backwards, her body involuntarily shuddering, slipping down, down to that gaping space below her – a chasm of fiery stars, insects dripping horrid oil  and the putrid smell of cordite that she could not place – not quite – she looked at her arms, trying to find something solid, but they opened up to her – she saw the red flesh of muscle as in a medical textbook, veins oozing and wriggling with the heads of snakes. The ache, the ache, the ache.

“No!” she cried out, but no-one was listening…

Children’s laughter, echoing out, morphing into banshee shrieks. The veins criss-crossed to form a colossal knot that pulsed and juddered like a human heart. She wanted to touch it, to untangle it, but the black slime stuck to her fingers like molasses and now there were shadows coming towards her and her tongue was – she could not feel her tongue! – she felt the clammy swallow of absence in her throat and sank back against the railings. A luminous sun was upon her, bright rays raging over her face. Love, love, love it sang. Love, love – then there was distortion, radio-crackle and harshness…she thought how all she wanted to do was fall back into that starry space…that blackness…

Something strong hauled her up and she felt the world reassemble again. Patches of reality: a pram, a carousel, a string of Christmas lights blinking in her vision. Some terrible pain lurched in her chest and still she could not speak. She waited and waited, struggling to breathe.

“Alisha, what’s wrong?” She recognised, finally, the face of her friend Sarah standing with a security guard in a high-vis jacket. Alisha could not help it; she turned round and vomited over the railings. She felt the disapproving stare of mothers; she was too old for this to be happening.

“Was it the donuts?” Sarah asked, looking concerned. The security guard disappeared to deal with a bunch of teenagers drunkenly trying to kick in the ice sculptures. The sound of glass shattering burst in Alisha’s head.

“N-no,” she stuttered, “it’s just…I…something bad happened here once.” She stared down at the smooth surface of her wrists and felt a swell of relief; the sight of solidity, of her own milky skin – even the gurning of her jaw and gums – that was real, that was love.

(Prompts: fairground photo, accident, flashback)

by Maria Rose Sledmere

He Sees Them Now

People say you will see hearses all over the place after you had a death in your family or among your friends.
In his life, it has not only been the hearses. When he trained to drive a car, he spotted the big red L on every second car and when he and his wife tried to have a child, the whole town seemed to be flooded by pregnant women and parents with prams. Now he sees drunken persons everywhere. It is weird to see how what seems to be a natural law also applies in this context.

Admitting that he has a problem has been a big step for him. Over all these years he hasn’t allowed himself that his newly found friend might not be a friend at all. The alcohol helped him to forget the hearse he kept seeing even years after Susan’s and Patrick’s fatal car crash. It also helped him to cope with the loss of his job (which he only lost because of his drinking). It made him feel numb, shutting out all those unpleasant emotions and thoughts that would have troubled his sober mind. Of course, he was not emotion-free but his latent aggression did not bother him at all just as he did not care for his shivering hands and absent-mindedness.

Until last Christmas. He was at his sister’s house, one of the few persons who still bore spending time with him. His sister and her husband had to leave the house for less than half an hour to give their parents a lift home. Only a short period of time but long enough for his niece to fell off the stairs and on her head. He could not make the emergency call. His fingers trembled and could not push the buttons of the phone. In the end, he made his eight-year-old nephew call the ambulance. When his sister came back, she found him sitting in an armchair shivering and sobbing worse than usual. He whispered: “I think I have a problem!”

Three months have passed since then. Once a week he attends the self-help group meetings. It is far from easy. Sometimes he catches himself buying a bottle of whisky but most of the time he manages to bring it back before he opens it.

On his way to the group he passes a bus stop and a park. At least one man or woman smelling of alcohol lingers there every day. He used to protest against the stereotype of the Glaswegians as perpetual drinkers, he felt insulted when his brother-in-law or a colleague made a comment on that and assured them that this might have been a problem of the past but not anymore and that modern Glasgow was so much more then drunken people. He is still convinced that Glasgow does not have more or less alcoholics than any other big city but he sees them now.

(Prompts: Stereotype map – Glasgow)

by Rut Neuschäfer

Merry Christmas

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Dear lovely creative writers,

Just wanted to say thank you so much for a great semester and to have a cheery holiday full of lights and sugar and glitter. Love, goodwill and all that jazz. Special thanks to all those who came last week for the final session in spite of looming exams and deadlines (mince pies and bingo is great for taking your mind off things, right?).

And because I’m so keen, another reminder about the short story anthology being proposed for Christmas. There is NO WORD COUNT so feel free to go crazy. You can write about anything, as long as there is some link to (your interpretation of) Christmas. Email entries to gucreativewritingsociety@gmail.com with a title and your full name. If we get enough submissions, we will put together an ebook which will be free to download from the blog.

Otherwise, look forward to seeing y’all next semester, and feel free to email suggestions for next year about the things you would like to cover. Also, Hayley has kindly volunteered to work on the next group novel page over the holidays, so look forward to reading!

Best wishes,

Maria

x

Week 11 – Christmas & Literary Bingo

Howdy all,

So we are reaching the final days of the first semester. It’s been a good one and I’ve really enjoyed meeting our new members and creating ideas in some of the workshops. Everyone’s been imaginative and there have been some great contributions to the group novel too (look forward to hearing Robin’s this week). To finish us off before the holidays, then, I thought we could have a fun workshop which might give us some inspiration for our own writing.

Literary bingo is something we tried before a couple of years ago and it was fun, giving us a grid of ideas and prompts to think about in the future (Nina’s, for example, spawned a novel). I won’t explain the rules now but it’s very simple and gets you thinking about literary forms, tropes and genres.

Also, we can have a chat if time allows about what we are thinking of writing for our Christmas stories.

Fiiiinally, feel free to bring mince pies or anything festive. And we might go to the pub afterwards.

See you soon,

Maria

x

Christmas Short Story Anthology

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Christmas Anthology 2014

So I know it’s difficult to accept that Christmas is now less than two months away. I love Christmas but right now it seems like a distant mirage, what with 3 uni projects to complete before then and countless shifts at work serving big staff nights out and all the cracker-clearing and Prosecco-pouring that entails. Anyway, it’s good to be prepared so I thought I’d post this message early. This year we’d like to put together a short story collection with the theme of Christmas. Interpret that as you like: a gothic horror telling of Evil Santa, a family drama, a fantasy tale of Christmas in an alternate world. It’s up to you. The only limit is the word-count (2000 words). Send all entries to gucreativewritingsociety@gmail.com and the deadline is the 13th December. All entries will be put into a little ebook that can be downloaded from the blog (so try and proofread them!).

Enjoy!

Call for Christmas Stories

Yes, I know it’s early, but the shops have started sparkling with Christmas decorations, and so should your imagination! Well, anyway, it’s a thought for productive procrastination. We will be having a Christmas-themed session near the end of term, and hope that people can bring in some heart-warming festive tales to share (and we can pretend that the fireplace in the Drawing Room is really lit). So please have a go at writing something Christmassy! – whether a fairytale, poem or a simple flash fiction, it would be lovely to have something to share with everyone. 

I’m going to try my best to finish something! :) 

(And to all you brave souls attempting to do NaNoWriMo this month, feel free to bring tales of your struggle to the meeting tomorrow!) 

Hope you’re having a nice week, 

Maria

Christmas Trees

A line of us, proud, tall as trees
we stand, while they arrive
and make their rounds
with prying, critical, discerning eyes
they test the softness of our hides,
caress our spikes, assess our size.

Our necks stretch up,
up to the stars, we garner
looks and spread our charms,
and in these moments
the glory is ours.

We are a beauty pageant;
a band of nature’s stolen children,
pretty little victims, slaves
to consumerist desires. There is a man
that sells us, gestures with his hands,
gets them to touch us,
and we are violated
as they pull and poke our every branch.

One of us will be chosen,
netted-up, chucked,
into a car so frozen,
driven home in rattling suffocation

To a life of gradual death, destruction:
with twelve days of Christmas
breathing toxins down our necks,
while they weigh us down, heavy
with dripping decorations and
a snow-fairy, on our heads,
to top off the humiliation.

But humans, they have
No sympathy for the aged;
Like spirits of winter we do decay;
From starved skin our needles eventually shed
upon carpets where our veins
have bled and bled. And humans
they give us
no medicine. New Year,
New Life, they all have said.

Unceremoniously
we are stripped of our ornamentation
and once again, dragged out
from what has become our home;
as January’s victims
we are left out in the cold, lonely
as misshaped snowflakes
in the soulless snow.

No longer are we loveliness,
because a Christmas Tree
is doomed to abandonment –
use us and we are left.

So in your wintery hearts
spare some soul, spare some thought
for the spirits that are dead.

by Maria Sledmere