Monday, 13 August 2012
Image from here
After I had written this story about a woman leaving home after a row with her husband, I decided to think about what her husband would be doing while she sat on a train to London and ended up with Kev's Story below. I find it useful to play with characters like this and it will help me to amend and rewrite The Rings and finely tune the character of Jackie and what the story is about.
Kev moved in to the mirror to get a better view of his nose. It was sore. Dried blood crusted around the edges of his left nostril and there was redness turning blue on the bridge. He opened the cabinet door. Inside was stacked with her body cream, potions and sprays.
He wondered why there had to be so much of this damn crap! It’s not as if she’s going to miraculously become 20 overnight and she looks fine as she is. They could hold a bloody car boot sale there was so much of it this shit that the kids bought her each birthday, Mother's Day and Christmas which she dutifully slapped on parts of her body both seen and unseen but mostly her face in a bid to iron out the wrinkles that had started to map deep lines on her brow and around her eyes and mouth.
His big hands thrust inside to grab a bag of cotton wool but the string at the top of the bag wrapped itself around the cabinet contents. They clattered out in a crash as he pulled the cotton wool out. Cream from a broken bottle crept across the tiled floor. He picked up tubes and jars and stuffed them back inside the cupboard, grabbed a fresh towel from the rail, and threw it over the greasy mess on the floor. He hadn’t been this angry with her since she washed his jeans with the lottery ticket in the pocket that time. He turned back to the sink, and dabbed at his nose with a damp piece of cotton wool and screwed his eyes tight, concentrating on making the intense soreness disappear. The pain reminded him of Jackie’s anger at finding that damn earring.
“I hate you,” she’d said as she threw clothes into a case.
“Ok, ok. Right. I’ll tell you,” He had to say something to stop her leaving. “I found it. I was going to leave it behind the bar. Honest!”
Jackie grabbed clothes from her wardrobe.
“I haven't done anything, you've got to believe me. This is daft.”
His constant denials just made her more angry. There was nothing more he could say so he threw a dart.
“OK. So could you blame me if I did? These days you're more frigid than an ice pole left in the freezer for a month.”
That’s when Jackie punched him. Just lunged at him with a clenched fist. It connected with his top lip. He felt the tooth cut into his gum. Then she came at him again. He pushed her back from him with one hand, and held her back with the other flat-palmed against her head. She swung her fists at the air between her arms and his body. He let go, she propelled forward and bounced off him, bumped his nose with the top of her head as he bent down to try and catch her. It hurt like hell.
He held his wrist to his nose and felt the rage rise as the blood trickled down.
“Well go then! Go on! Fuck you,” he’d said as he picked up scattered shoes and hurled them into Jackie’s case. It sat gaping open on the bed, clothes hanging over the sides. One shoe landed inside and the other hit the pillow.
Jackie pulled her grey shoulder length hair back into a furious knot. Her head must hurt. A lump had appeared but she showed no pain. She put the stray shoe in the case.
“Jackie. Look, I didn't mean it. Can't we just talk about this?”
He moved in at her back and tried to turn her to face him. He wanted to talk, it had all got so out of hand but she pushed him away.
“Get off me!” She turned back to the case. “The one thing we said Kev. The One Thing. We’d never, ever, go with anyone else - unconditional love and devotion - remember! No matter what else happened, whatever problems we had to face, we did it together; we’d always pull through … even after Liam…”
That was a bit below the belt. What the hell did Liam have to do with this?
Jackie’s voice wobbled into a squeak; she regrouped with a roar ; “And you just go off with some tart and for what, Kev? What? A one night shag? Is sex all that matters to you?”
He grabbed her arms, made her listen.
“Look I can't remember, all right. I was drunk. I've really got no idea how that earring ended up in my pocket. All I know is that I woke up with a banging head at Craig's place this morning and he drove me home. He had to stop on the way so I could puke.”
She turned to face him. The look on her face was somewhere between “I told you so” and “I'm never wrong.” Both usually preceded a lecture which came with contempt.
“Your phone rang me last night. Your mobile must have gone off in your pocket or something. I kept shouting helloo but there was no response and all I could hear was heavy breathing and the occasional female giggle in the background.”
“It must have been someone with Craig,” Kev protested.
She continued : “As you lay snoring like a pig this morning, I checked your pockets for your phone. I was going to recharge it if the battery had gone in case you hadn't switched it off. The last call was to our landline and it lasted 15 minutes before your credit ran out. I couldn't redial and make another call while it was connected. That's when I found the earring.”
She turned back to the bed and bent to fasten the suitcase. “And it's not just that. I'm not entirely stupid, you know. The late night “emergency” jobs that have suddenly come in these last few months. ”
“What are you on about?” Kev really didn't have a clue. “The very nature of “Emergency” means sudden. You should be pleased we've been busy. It pays the fucking mortgage.”
She turned full face towards him. Her dark eyes burned into him like flame throwers. “So what about the calls I've been getting. The “caller unknown” ones when the other end goes down as I pick up?”
Kev scratched his head. “Maybe it's one of those robotic promotion calls that try to sell you something like PPI claims and that.”
She shot him a look of disgust. “You've been behaving like an arse lately too. Something's changed. I can feel it.”
Kev looked puzzled : “Not from me it hasn't. Are you going through the menopause or something?”
Jackie curled her lip and flared her nostrils like there was a bad smell in the room. “Bastard.” She eased the suitcase from the bed.
“I’ve never been with anyone else. Ever. And believe me, it’s not as if I haven’t had the opportunity. Maybe I should have taken it. I wish now that I had!” She sniffed the air, pulled up the handle of the suitcase and wheeled it to the door.
Kev hung on her last words.
“Opportunity? Who? When?” He followed her downstairs, grabbed her arm to stop her leaving and she shrugged it off.
“Just fuck off, Kev. ”
“Jackie, please. You've got this all wrong. We need to talk about this.”
The door slammed and she was gone.
Kev looked at the mess made by the spilled face cream on the bathroom floor, swiped the towel through it, lifted it up in a scrunch and binned it. His head throbbed even more than it did when he collapsed on his bed that morning before Jackie woke him up demanding to know what he'd done last night. There had to be more to her leaving than just a bloody earring he couldn't account for. Maybe he had been out with the lads a bit too often lately as business had picked up, but the stuff about the calls and the change in their relationship seemed to be more of an excuse. He hadn't noticed anything different.
He wanted to go back to bed, to sleep, but too many thoughts circled like hawks. Whatever he had done last night he was sure he hadn't been with anyone else but this, whatever “this” is, was about more than Jackie's fear that he's having an affair. Blaming him for what she's doing would make it easier to leave. What did she mean by “opportunity?” Did she have someone else? Is that it? Is that the real reason she's left? But why did she mention Liam? He knew she blamed him for it but they hadn't talked about him in years. The wound had healed but left a scab and neither wanted to pick at it for fear of creating a festering sore.
He took a cold flannel and moved to the bedroom. It was a mess. The wardrobe doors on her side were still open. Unwanted clothes and shoes were scattered about the room. Her wedding dress was still in there and the black dress she'd worn at Liam's funeral which she hadn't worn since but kept as some form of grim reminder of her grief. If only she'd recognised his loss too. Liam wasn't just her baby. He thought she'd leave then. She only married him because of Liam but she stayed after they lost him and they had three more babies, all mums themselves now. Maybe even Liam would be a dad by now if he'd lived. Kev didn't want to think about that or what he would tell the kids about where Jackie was if they called. She'd probably call them herself to get her side in first.
He lay on the bed and put the flannel across his nose. The more he thought about it the more silly this seemed and the less it seemed to be about whatever he had done last night. What had he done last night? He closed his eyes and began to drift back to the bar.
“Still got it!” he’d said as he downed a whiskey and then followed it immediately by guzzling a beer down his throat in gulps. Deep voices chanted “down, down, down!” in a crowd as he competed with his work mates to get through the line of waiting pints. Beer drenched out of the sides of his mouth and soaked his shirt. He struggled to keep up with the game he used to play so well in his younger days when he went out every night while Jackie stayed home with the girls.
“What’s up old man? Can’t you hack it!” Craig lifted his pint and poured it with ease down his throat. He belched and reached for the next.
“You wait until you get married, mate. It takes it out of you.”
“What! Can't you get it up no more either, then?”
Kev spluttered and almost choked as Craig and his mates laughed. Bill, the other plumber who worked in Kev's small firm, cut through the teasing. “He's got a point, Kev. You're that mardy lately.”
“Don't you worry about me, pal. I've got no worries in that department and neither has my Jackie.”
Kev forced a smile. Maybe she just didn’t fancy him anymore. He hardly dare touch her these days. Always bloody tired! Another pint sank down the hatch. Bill went to get another round and Craig went outside to have a cigarette. Then those two girls walked in. He remembered that. The tall gorgeous looking one with big tits and her sumo-wrestler shaped mate. Then the room began to spin.
Wednesday, 8 August 2012
Shorthand skills are essential for a journalist but in the world of business the speed writing craft appears to be on its way out.
I use Tee Line and my speed is at least 100 wpm, although I could be faster after 20 years of using it since I qualified. It's useful in everything I do, from taking and transcribing notes verbatim from several hearings and meetings, to jotting down ideas that tumble rapidly out of my head. These are the bones of any journalism or fiction story I write or idea I chase.
A discreet notepad on your lap rather than a voice recorder on the table between you when doing interviews is less intimidating to the person you're talking to. Shorthand notes are indiscernible to a layman so they don't worry about what you're writing down.
I used a recorder once in a face to face interview but it's presence closed up my subject who was guarded about every comment she made. I went a second time with a notebook and pen instead and she really opened up to me about she felt about the man who had killed her daughter.
Using a recording machine in court is illegal. I once kept one running in my pocket during a council meeting but the sound was too muffled to be of use when played back. A good recording of an interview or meeting can lead to wasted hours of rewinding to find the bit I want rather than a quick flick back to relevant pages with highlighted quotes I know I'll want to pick out.
That's why I prefer shorthand but I guess in today's modern technological world of instant communication, speed writing as an essential form of record taking is a dying craft.