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About a year ago I heard about The A3 Review, a monthly contest where writers and illustrators are encouraged to submit work on a particular theme. This can be prose, poetry, graphics, photography, painting – as long as it fits the theme, can fit on an A6 panel and is limited to 150 words. The chosen pieces are then displayed in a neat, folded sheet of A3 that can be opened out. I’ve entered a couple times over the last year (haven’t been successful yet!) without ever actually checking out the Writing Maps, the central focus of the site. 

writingmaps

Creator Shaun Levin is a writer himself and has taught workshops and classes on creative writing for over 20 years, and his writing maps aim to combat writer’s block. Within each folded map are several ideas for prompts, with hints and guidance on how to expand your writing.

Not only do the maps give informative tips, exercises and examples on several aspects of writing (for example, the map I bought focuses on tone of voice and point of view), it can provide a source of inspiration, a prompt for ideas upon which you can put any new learnings into action. If you’re looking for some extra help and inspiration that comes in a slightly different form – fun and visual and easy to digest – then take a look at the multitude of different maps available on the site.

Visit www.writingmaps.com for more details.

where your words mean nothing

Photograph taken by Michael Marsh, a stunning image taken on a beach in Whitstable, Kent. See more of Michael’s work on his Flickr photostream.

The world is crowded and I despair the noise of modern life. Too often inner thoughts are lost; drowned in the superfluous swells of people, traffic and advertising. With these eras of anxiety and neuroses and the burdens of responsibility there is not enough time spent on the self. The inner mind, solitary and unique. So rare it is now that those who do indulge in the self are dismissed as dreamers, romantics, hopeless fantasists. Clinging onto unrealistic desires. Floating through life with naive optimism. Clairvoyant wanderers, twilight visionaries. I just want space.

These surroundings desolate and at times unforgiving. With its emptiness however is a landscape perfect for self reflection. Spiritual reckoning. I walk out for miles to reach the very point where the sea merges with the sky, a transfusion of brine and cirrus clouds, a totality reached between water and air and no way of separating the two. Horizon consumed by a blue surface reflecting the brilliant white light of the sun. Towering wind turbines stand defiant with mechanical motion and the incessant whir across the waters. Hear them roar. The faintest ebb and flow from the slight winds rolling off the ocean out there. Time may be paused or passing at a slower rate.

Standing on a street of shingle surrounded by the calm waters and I acknowledge the obscene vastness of the sky above. Tranquility found, peace at last. But for how long. Hold it close because when it’s gone, it’s gone. Why don’t I do this more often? I should call my mother. Get in contact with my friends across the sea. Stop drinking so much. Become comfortable in my own skin.

My phone rings. Irritable as if vibrating from under the skin. I am torn and withdrawn from the sanctuary of my mind. Helpless as one by one the turbines slow then groan, rust and die. Sheets of worn and weathered metal stripped by the wind and carried away. The propellers fall into the sea causing spray to erupt into the air, and while a majestic sight it is also sad. Not long after follow the towers, emasculated and inert, crumbling away. With nothing on the horizon to stabilize me I look down at my feet but they are submerged and the growing waves lap over them. I have lost the coast.

Eventually I leave the beach. It is dark. My feet are wet and I see lamps swing on some distant pier. The wind turbines continue to hum across the water into the night. I reach my car. A parking ticket tucked under the windscreen wiper. 

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

 

chichen itza

A photo I took on a visit to the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Mexico, earlier this year.

Distant drums shake the ancient earth and a faint chorus of chanting grows stronger in the heat.  A pained father in a stained fabric loincloth watches on, his arms arranged in prayer to some deity in honour of which the ballgame below is being played. Several young men with plaited hair or shaved heads and decorative paint on their dark skins run on the dirt below, sweating bodies glistening. At this distance and under the haze of the midday sun they take on the forms of upright ocelots, chasing the sphere from one end of the court to the other. All the while they yell and screech, to themselves, to one another, to what lies above, but their shouts are swallowed by the noise of a thousand spectators who watch on with fevered intensity. Clapping and shouting and hooting their lips moist with spittle, the crowd like myxomatosed hares. Without any perceptible change in the atmosphere the game is over. Ceremonies start and finish. Sand and soil is stained with blood and down white limestone steps streams of sacrificed crimson escapes to become one with the soil. To feed the worms, the underworld below appeased. The sky is red and shadows grow stronger, emancipated from the trees and temples. The crowd disperses into the evening, drained from the passions of the day. The endless cycles of victories and defeats. Civilisations built and broken and rebuilt and reborn.

1,450 years pass and still the sun burns hot and people gather in the ball court. Less bloodshed, on these soils at least, but admiration and passion from travellers across the continent and beyond the seas. A culture lost but not forgotten. The architecture is outstanding and the acoustics are incredible. A handclap propels itself off the weathered surfaces. Noise refracting through these spaces as it always has done but unable to replicate past events. The visceral history and a wholeness that can only be imagined. Still images preserved on electronic devices, to be shared. Locals of mayan descent sell their goods; carved trinkets and wooden ornaments that imitate the catcalls of jaguars which scare the tourists.  

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

CNV00075

I took this using a disposable last summer at a folk festival in Sark, Channel Islands.

From the dirt track past fields of livestock they came in droves, wearing denim shorts and vintage shirts and straw hats. Some wearing less. Sore heads and bloodshot eyes in abundance, they shuffled their feet like condemned around a prison yard, but morale remained high on the approach. Over the hedgerows the white canvas tent tops stood tall. Weakened sunlight forced through cirrus clouds almost cosmic in their distance and it would be warm but for a gentle ocean breeze that brought the scent of brine and the calls of seagulls.

Across the fields the enchanting sounds of revelry and laughter. Jangling stringed instruments came muffled from within tents. Bunting and face painted children. Stalls with decorative shells and sheepswool jumpers and local jams and chutneys. Smoke from the hot plates of food vendors offering fresh fish and lobster, burgers and fries. Scents that stimulated goodwill. Mere distractions. Within a large tent the crowd sought an elongated bar staffed by thin black figures. Still pressed ciders and warm ales fizzed continuous from well worn brass pumps, the source of a benign frenzy whereby punters battled for the attention of the bar staff for a drink. Two or three, to lift spirits. Vitality restored, and stepping away from the bar revealed the view of a hundred heads, nodding in approval of the folk music for which they all were here and which after several days all sounded the same. A merged soundscape of local groups and acts from the mainland and beyond took to the stage with determined enthusiasm. Faces strained but smiling. 

The afternoon sped by, in and out of a tent now rife with the sweet smell of perspiration. The crowd smoking cigarettes and splashing beer from plastic cups onto the once green soil. Rhythmic dancing inconsistent with everything. Applause and whistles. Screams and shouts. Broken vocals fragmented down a microphone. The evening brought a blood red sunset and later a light but continuous rain that drove the saints away.

Joyous confusion when another band took to the stage after the last scheduled performance, but concerns were voiced when these latecomers were themselves usurped at an even later hour by another band looking tired and drunk. Now past midnight and still the crowd swelled, not yet ready to concede the evening over, not while music remained to carry them into the morning hours. The bar staff however were unwilling to carry on their shifts, nor the security staff, and rightly so, for this had not been agreed in their contracts and they were tired. And so from within the crowd bottles of foul smelling spirits began to appear and smokers crept in from the night into the warmth of the crowd with their lit cigarettes like amber warning lights in thick fog. Some climbed over the unattended bar to serve others and themselves. The temptation of dancing on the stage, with another apparition of a band taking over almost seamlessly from the last, proved too much to resist and they joined now, barely visible up on stage in the dim lamplight except when a stray strobe caught the face of a drunken reveller, fevered with eyes closed as if experiencing celestial interference from above. Old men partially concealed by smoke, swaying and leering like wraiths. The muddy path to the portacabin toilets was shameful, with lights, swarmed by insects, illuminating the vague and inebriated forms of the damned.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016