Tuesday, 31 May 2016

SHORT STORY ENTRY: The Irish Post New Writing Competition

Dear all,

There was a short story competition held by the Irish Post with a deadline of 3rd March. I think they have announced the winners now so I am free to post my entry. This particular competition had a maximum word count of 1000 and accepted stories with an Irish theme. Here is the link so you can see the winner and try yourself next year: The Irish Post New Writing Competition: http://writersweek.ie/competitions  The genesis of the story is based on a week holiday I had there once when I was sixteen or so. We were too young to drive and see the area and I think probably too young to care much for the cultural side as well so I’m afraid we spent the week getting trashed and having a jolly. It was a great week but I remember thinking it would be great to go back one day and see the place properly.

A Week in Cashel

“I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland,” dad says as he’s packing my bags. He’s whistling away as if it will be the adventure of a lifetime. Mum’s downstairs on the phone making sure all the arrangements are in place.
“I know,” I say - he’s told me several times already this week.
“Just make sure you keep warm and be nice to everyone,” he says, ignoring my tone of frustration. It’s not that I’m not excited but this is my first time away and I could do without him adding to my nerves.

We arrive in County Tipperary. It’s cold and I know now why my dad told me to keep warm. Fair enough. I’ll let you have that one. Our taxi is waiting and I feel superior and very adult when I see the driver is holding a sign: CLEARY to CASHEL. It’s a long drive to the house we’re staying at. That would be me, Paul and Rory. I’m to look out for The Rock.

“My dad is going to kill me,” I say to the lads. I’m standing outside the front door blowing mist from my mouth. Rory’s next to me, and Paul’s double-checking the doors and windows are locked up and the place is as we found it.
“Just make it up!” Rory says. It sounds the only plausible thing to do but doesn’t fill me with confidence.
“Do you know anything I can say?” I ask Paul as he makes it back to us. He folds his arms tightly over his chest; he’s cold and unwell… definitely the most severely hungover of all three of us.
“Nah, I haven’t been round here at all. Don’t have a clue mate,” he replies. He’s probably still a bit drunk so I can’t blame him. I’m feeling useless myself, “Just say it was closed.”
The cab arrives and we repeat our journey in reverse. This is only the second time we have been out of the grounds of the cottage in daylight the whole week, the first being when we arrived. It’s been one long party… inside. I try to take in the first field I see and memorise the hedges, fencing and skyline. It’s green, is all I can think. I’ll just say it all looked like that. How will he ever know? He told me he’s never been here. But I won’t take Paul’s advice and tell him the rock’s closed. That’s the worst excuse I’ve ever heard, how can a rock be closed? He must think I’m bloody stupid. I’ll tell dad that it was raining too much to go out. I’m coming back the first chance I get anyway.

Have a great week,

R.G Rankine

Saturday, 21 May 2016

SHORT STORY ENTRY: Write Invite, Saturday 14th May

Dear all, 

Here is my entry to last week's short story competition. I didn't make the shortlist but I'm quite happy with the work. I struggled with the three prompts and it took me a minute to pick as nothing immediate came to mind... I forced myself to choose 'The long black coat' as otherwise the thirty minutes would just disappear. Luckily, once picked, an idea came to mind which was to use that as the prompt of a memory, and as I started to write the story came to me, although, for what I think is the first time doing these competitions, as I neared the end a little extra idea popped into mind for the final sentence. I finished the story at least a minute early, which is unusual for me, and taking into account how long it took me to start I think I probably only wrote for 20 minutes. 

As a reminder, this is a weekly competition where the online entry opens at 5.30pm (Saturdays) and closes at 6pm giving you thirty minutes to think of, write, edit and submit a short story from one of three given word prompts. £4 to enter and £50 for first prize. Here's the link http://www.write-invite.com Why not give it a go? See you there.

Cremate the Memory

The dark red wooden wardrobe had stood at the back of dad's bedroom since before I was born. It had always been a threatening presence, whenever I had been summoned for chastisement it seemed to be alive, waiting for dad to lose his temper and throw me inside, the bulky uneven doors its lips ready to devour. It had a depth that seemed impossible, who would make such a cavern? Was it originally designed as a mausoleum? A bomb shelter? What need did dad have to purchase such a frightening beast? Perhaps it was an inheritance. One that has now passed down to me. Not that there is a room big enough in my flat for it. It's practically the size of an entire room itself. It still sucks all the light from the room, like it did in my childhood. That hasn't changed. And it wasn't a cry-baby nightmare come alive. I'm standing in front of it, and the red wood absorbs life as if it is punishing those who allowed it to be trapped in a domestic house like this when it was destined for stately manors of royal residencies. I never cared for it while dad was in his last years. His existence was downstairs and that's where I was happy to stay. Upstairs was my childhood and the past and the wardrobe could stay in that past without interference from me. Except now I have no choice. It cannot stay in the sold house and it cannot come with me no matter the wording of a will. So I step into my dad's bedroom, now a musty space with no purpose and no secrets. I open the wardrobe knowing my wife is busy in the other room, near enough to calm me but far enough so that she cannot see my shaking hands. The doors open and they swing like a bank safe, slow, solid, controlled. The air inside flows over me and smells like my father and what my childhood smelt like half a century ago, I expect the radio to be playing downstairs and my mother to shout up asking what I'm up to. I haven't looked inside this wardrobe since I was in my school cap with knobbly knees and a desire to explore, and violate my dad's trust. It is full. I don't need to pull open any drawers or search the rack of hangers to know a hundred memories are stored within. This will take time. This will hurt and there will be surprises and things I wish I didn't have to see. I feel like shouting at my dead dad, berating him for being senile and crippled and not looking after all this himself while he still could. My mother's things shouldn't be turning up after so many years. The stale air now smells of my mother too. I think this will need to be done another time and I move to close the doors. I take one last look inside as the light disappears and it turns into the depthless cave I remember and I see a button glint. I push the shirts and coats and waistcoats to one side, using all the strength I can manage with one arm and my other arm reaches out and I pull at a long black coat I can't believe still exists. I don't want to drag it out. I can't, not right now. But there it is. The coat I thought I had burned in a fire. The coat my father made me believe I had burned in a fire. The coat that had cost me the skin on the back of my hands. The coat that he had reminded me of that held so many memories for him and that I had destroyed. Well, there it is. Now I know why I was never allowed to look inside and take care of his stuff while we had the chance. I try to slam the doors shut as the make the final inches together but they are too heavy and stubborn to allow me that pleasure. I turn to leave but before I take one step I continue my turn and pirouette back around. I open the doors again and take out the long black coat with a fierce tug. There is a fire happening soon and its time to reunite the long black coat and my father. This time I'll know for sure I did it.

Have a great weekend,

R.G Rankine

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The KT Bush Band

Dear all,

I want to talk about a gig I went to a couple of weeks ago. I’m not really one for going to gigs anymore, unfortunately as I have got a little older I have also developed very minor versions of agoraphobia and enochlophobia. I have no valid reasons to explain why, I used to enjoy going to see live music and nothing has ever happened in my life by way of an incident that could offer a traumatic turning point but nevertheless I get a sense of discomfort and anxiety when in large groups. It’s controllable and manageable but in the main I avoid those situations. To make me look sillier I also developed a slight fear of heights and flying as I entered my 30s! Again, I used to love both and nothing happened, it’s just getting older and more easily scared I guess!

Pointless confessions aside… I am a fan of Kate Bush and listen to her music often, her first album The Kick Inside, is a big influence and motivational force on my life because I find it amazing that someone can be so absolutely true to herself and produce meaningful work that is outside of any contemporary pressures or fashions of the time (even if some work is inspired by them) and she makes her work undeniably and unmistakably her own. As well as the music itself, which is of course wonderful, on a personal note what has always fascinated me is how people from the same approximate area I come from succeed. I have wrote about this before so I won’t repeat it all here but to cover the main points, London is a big city that has a incredible history and it goes without saying there are more opportunities here than many other places in the world so in one sense you would think that if a person has talent, then if they are ever going to be discovered and have a successful career, being in London (or very close by) is a huge advantage, and I’m not going to argue against that, but there is a flip side to consider. It is also easy to get lost in the crowd (I’m not talking about my agoraphobia) and never break through because you are swallowed up in the enormous numbers of others trying to do the same thing. I’m not going to get into the modern era of Internet marketing, YouTube and global artistic collaboration via your bedroom, because I don’t know enough about it. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the, ‘it was tougher in my day’ argument. I’ll also avoid the, ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know,’ because famously she was able to get her demos in front of David Gilmour, which she talks about openly in early interviews as very lucky, but for me, I don’t always buy that. It is no doubt true in a lot of cases but I am more dubious about it being a rule. I have friends who are actors, artists and musicians and have studied and worked with established famous names and have many contacts and they will explain that having a network can help but it’s not a golden ticket. It may give you opportunities, chances that others don’t have, a foot in the door, etc, etc… but once you look beyond that, there is a very simple truth: you cannot fake talent! No matter how good you are, and on top of that how well you can bluff your way in front of people, sooner or later, if you don’t have the talent you will get found out (that is not to say that people who do not make it, do not have talent, of course they do, but there are only so many chances to be taken and there are a million reasons why for some people it just never works out). And the thing with people like that, who may be fantastic but don’t have the equivalent ‘lucky’ moment that they can point to as their ‘big break’, etc. though they the could be the hardest of workers and the most determined of dreamers, you don’t hear their stories. We don’t know how many dozens, hundreds or thousands of other demos people somehow managed to get in front of David Gilmour, or in terms of actors and artist as I mentioned above, how many interviews, auditions, meetings, script readings, portfolio viewings, etc. people have worked hard, or professionally blagged, to get… because when getting in front of the right people they didn’t have that ‘something’ that made them stand out at that particular moment in time when it was needed (or that person wasn’t in the right frame of mind to accept what they may have accepted on another day, again, there’s a million reasons). There is just such fierce and never diminishing competition.

Credit: The KT Bush Band https://www.facebook.com/ktbushband 

So moving on (I know I’m waffle)... There are lots of people who come from south east London or neighbouring towns in Kent that are huge inspirations to me because it is great to see people from places I know that have produced such great work. I won’t say ‘became famous’ because that is certainly not what I am interested in, but I mean really made their mark in a true artistic sense. Kate Bush is right up there because everything about the way in which she progressed in her career stems from a self imposed sense of hard work and artistic ambition. She was original and did things her way (not to mention the times she was doing this in for a woman was ground breaking, you only have to see some of the cringe worthy interviews of the 70s/80s when people were asking her about her hair, etc. rather than the music and it’s very sad that we still see that today where the focus in the media is still so much on appearance) and that is why her music means so much to me.

So moving on (I promise this time)… The Kick Inside was released in 1978 and I was born in 1979, which obviously means I never got to see Kate Bush at the time. Anyone who loves music of another time; jazz of the 20s, the pop explosion of the 60s, or indeed even recent times knows the feeling of never being able to see the groups they love live (you are all wondering if Oasis will reform, aren’t you?) and in terms of people like Kate Bush, who even though still make music and release studio albums, don’t tour, it’s just one of those things. That is why with any number of bands or artists there are tribute acts, who themselves have huge followings, some globally in demand and play all year round as full time careers. I think they are great and I’ve seen a few in my time. Indeed after boring you with a thousand words I’m finally getting to the point of this blog… it was while following a tribute act (or homage-to act if you prefer) on Facebook, ‘Cloudbusting’…


… I saw them post the news that the original members of Kate Bush’s very first band were getting together again after 39 years!

I knew immediately I would see them live if they did anything and within a few weeks of being on their mailing list a message came through announcing their reunion gig was to be held at The Half Moon pub in Putney. This was where they had last played all those years ago and Kate even mentions it in an early interview (which, as with everything, you can find on YouTube) as it was a rather raucous affair. I find it hard to explain the reasons I felt compelled to go because it seems so obvious at first, to see the people who were originally playing that music that lead on to such great things. But it was more than that, it was to see people from the same places I knew, where I grew up, where I live, where my friends and family live; to see them doing it, possibly more so than the music even. It was the actual act of live performance I was interested in. I wasn’t fussed about their set list (it does help liking everything I suppose) or who would be there and what it would look like, it was simply being a part of something that I feel so associated with because of their impact on my life. So, I made my way over to Putney (it was a really beautiful day so I took the riverboat along the Thames from Greenwich) knowing it would be a two nightbus journey back (horrific) but that it would be well worth it. I went on my own, because in all honestly, getting any friends to go to a mid week event these days is hard enough, but to Putney and to a gig they don’t have an interest in like I do, just not worth the effort even asking. I got there very early and was looking forward to relaxing over a few beers and reading my Kindle (I was starting The Rainbow by D.H Lawrence as it was on my list to read after completing Sons & Lovers ages ago, but a million books got in the way, as is always the case) but perhaps I got there a little too early, and perhaps I had a few too many beers (partly due to the nerves too, I had no idea what to expect in terms of crowds or the size of the venue itself, it was my first time there) as I was certainly tipsy by the time the doors opened for the gig. I wasn’t exactly an isolated case, everyone as certainly in a lively mood and even by the end of the night I was far from the most drunk.

The gig itself was fantastic. I am selfishly writing about this due to the nature of how it helped me, how I got something from it. But in terms of the performance it was incredible. The skill of the band was masterful and the individual talent of Brian Bath on guitar, Vic King on drums, Robert Gerrard on keyboard and Steve Bevan on bass was really something to see. They were incredibly professional, smiling the whole way through (with the odd closed-eyes moments where you could tell they were thinking back to the past) with outstanding musicianship and an obvious sense of enjoyment and fun. Then there was the singer Jodie May Seymour who had the exceptionally difficult job of ‘being’ Kate Bush. Now of course no one was expecting her to ‘be’ Kate and I’m sure no one wanted her to, this wasn’t a tribute act, this wasn’t a tribute gig, in that same sense. This was a performance of their music but it is impossible to avoid the fact that Kate Bush’s singing voice and style is so unique and iconoclastic that in order to play these songs you need someone who can cope with the range required, and they certainly found the perfect person. Jodie May Seymour performed magically and nailed every song in both her singing voice and in conveying meaning, which is so important. There are a few videos on YouTube but filmed from mobile phones so the sound isn’t great but you can get an idea of the band. It’s unfair to mention one person as standing out as they all did such an amazing job, but as someone who is self taught (and outstandingly atrocious) on guitar, watching Brian Bath was a total joy, his skill was beyond anything I expected. They played a huge set list! They smashed through number after number and although I didn’t count, in both the first and second act (interval for more beer) they didn’t pause and it was remarkable the number of songs, including the classics of course, they got through. In fact, I am extremely grateful for their professionalism because the experience was made so much richer by hearing lesser commonly played songs, as well as songs written by Brian and others that they used to cover at the time. Every single one was brilliant and played with real passion and love (there were a couple of nervy moments but that was to be expected and the sense of it being a privilege to see their first gig was bound to include some minor hiccups and when I say that, I am talking so minor they were hardly noticeable and I feel bad even mentioning it, but then again I don’t want to sound a total ar*e kisser).

Also, I am no music critic. This is purely a personal reflection on an experience so I don’t have the right vocabulary to explain how well they played and how rich it sounded. But I loved every moment of it and it was significant to hear and feel how powerful these songs sounded in real life. That was what the whole night was about, feeling these songs, played by people who had such important feelings about them. This was their life, their history and I was sharing in it. It felt a real honour, actually. In between songs here and there, Brian or Vic, would say a few words concerning a particular memory from back in the 70s and working with Kate, or on her family and brothers, or how they all met and how they all progressed in their own way once Kate Bush was signed and embarking on her remarkable career. This was why I was there. Because their shared history had worked towards, contributed to, Kate Bush being who she is and that is enough to make anyone proud. Especially for me, because they were from the same part of town I am from and so although I wasn’t around at the time, what they were doing was still an association I could use to draw energy and motivation from when undertaking my own work, and wanting to make my own mark on the world. We build on what other people have done before us and can use their example to inspire us, especially at low times when you feel like giving up or that you are drifting. Whether the sadness of this year with the passing of so many inspiring artists has got you down or not, if like me, you can associate with their work (I was fascinated to read an article in the paper after David Bowie had died about how he had performed a gig when he was 15 or so at a venue I walk past weekly, no longer there unfortunately, but I know where it would have been) it means a lot and can help. It’s all about the way you got there for me, to see how normal everyday people battle through whatever personal issues they have (and don’t you just get to hear those issues in their later work!) and create, that’s what’s inspiring. And more than that, isn’t it fantastic that at any time in life you can still get up there and do it. These guys were as fit and explosive and dynamic as I could ever hope to be and when they were on stage it wasn’t about examining them in terms of their age, it was about experiencing with them the things that had been such a big part of their lives. So that was a great lesson. I want to be able to do what I love all my life and seeing the KT Bush Band play shows you how you can.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a few drinks and although that helped me unshackle from the nerves and dance and sing away with the band and the crowd, it did mean I turned into a bit of a slushy fanboy (I’m normally the quiet one at the back) that had no inhibitions about asking for their signatures and gushing about how great they were and how it meant so much to me (I think I said I come from Eltham a million and one times – for  your reference Kate Bush lived in Eltham for a while and I walk past her old house often (it’s very nice) – and how their work meant such a lot to a local south east urchin like myself (oh dear, oh dear, oh dear), but that aside I managed to not embarrass myself too much and didn’t overstay my place in the queue (there was still two minutes left of serving time so I didn’t want to miss out on last orders… ) at least I hope I didn’t. I had a smile on my face a mile wide as the night was all I hoped for and more and as I left the pub I really felt as if it had helped me, as much as being a lovely night out.

I ended up avoiding the night bus adventure. Luckily, I found myself on the last train from Charing Cross after sprinting up Embankment from getting off the District Line on the underground. I knew I was going to be in for a hell of a hangover (which I was) but I was so pleased I had seen them and it made me feel so positive about continuing to do what I want to do with my life that a day in hangover hell wasn’t a big deal. I will definitely be seeing them again should they be doing any more London gigs and I encourage you to visit their website, learn more about them and add yourself to the mailing list. Not for the reasons I have talked about of course, that all probably means nothing to you! But in terms of seeing a first class band with a first class singer playing some first class songs, you won’t see anything better.

Have a great week,

R.G Rankine