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Old 20th Dec 2008, 8:34   #1
fanshawe
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I wrote a story yesterday, with a bottle of wine in one hand and, well, nothing in the other, if the truth be told. It's for a creative writing group that I just joined. Have a read and see what you think. All feedback appreciated, whether positive or negative!

* * *


My uncle has a permanent blush that rises from deep below his shirt collar. He and I share a strange sense of shame undiminished by age or sexual experience, invulnerable to both reason and the slugs of water meant to temper the heat of deeply felt embarrassment. If he appears to be cool and composed, it means simply that this shame is now white hot: when the worst happens and actual humiliation calls, the relief of being found out cools his cheeks to a humming red. Note especially the vermillion tips of his protruding ears, the lobster glow of the back of his neck and the tumescent startle of his dampening eyes. Sometimes I wonder what misery was inflicted by which ancestor in the time of which fabulist, so as to merit this atavistic curse of self-confession.
My first memories of him were the Sunday visits. He still lived with my Grandfather. Later, my Grandfather died, and my uncle lived alone. While the old man was alive, he liked to come for dinner after Church on Sunday, after which he would sit down in front of the Grand Prix and doze in an enchanted half-sleep. My uncle was his driver, and sat Gollum-like in one of the corner chairs, silent, observing, cheeks simmering in the shadow. My Grandfather brought a Curly Wurly chocolate bar each for my brother and I every week. My uncle brought nothing; it went without saying that the patriarch was solely responsible for the gifts. The week after the funeral, he came alone, and has done ever since, although the frequency of his conversation is unchanged, and the Curly Wurlys are long forgotten. His Saturdays are still spent at an Irish ex-patriots club with an ever-dwindling group of his dead father’s surviving friends.


“I got a phonecall from your uncle this morning.” My mother puts on the same face she always wears when she tries to control her rising feeling of panic.
“Yeah?” I feel it too, this panic. I imagine if you lose a young child in a supermarket, you might feel the same way. We feel it for a 6ft 2inch 50 year-old man who has never moved house, smoked a cigarette, knowingly got drunk, had a girlfriend, stolen anything, sworn or been naked in the presence of another human being.
“He was really upset. When he woke up this morning, he found a (whispers) poo in his front hallway.” Poo is a word that does not belong in any conversation connected with my uncle, along with sex, fun and danger.
“What? Whose was it?”
“The Australians won’t admit it. He feels angry and betrayed. He was in tears.” Her eyes are filling up. She has successfully raised two boys through alcohol poisoning, thievery, school suspensions, drugs, anarchism and arrests, but the news that her brother is upset at the sight of a poo on his carpet throws her off balance.
“Do you think he did it himself?” I feel my own cheeks burning now, as if I have revealed myself to have an insider’s knowledge of misplaced defecation.
“I don’t know.”
One day previously we had gone en masse as a family to drink in a pub with three Australian family members who were in England on holiday. They were loud, racist and already drunk when we arrived. I left early with my brother, but it transpired that my uncle had stayed in the pub and drunk with them for a further nine hours. We, the people closest to him (without actually pretending to know anything about him – any question above the level of the weather, employment prospects, inescapably over-advertised mass culture [the only kind he is familiar with {for an introvert who lives alone, he is remarkably uncultured; he has no interest in literature, music or films outside those he happens across on TV or in the (free) newspapers he occasionally reads. Gigs attended: Boyzone and Shakira. Accompanied by: my parents, who, it can be construed, went out of sympathy. Notable cultural gifts given to me: on hearing that I was going to University to study literature, he brought me a pile of books he had bought for £1 from his local library’s closing sale; every book’s title was written in scarlet letters and featured ladies with exposed cleavage, though no nipples were visible. Number of times I have seen him moved by art: once. On one of the three occasions I’ve been in his house since his father died (in times of absolute family emergency, such as the time my mother went temporarily blind and my father was away on business), he played some records from his youth (Jackson 5, Aretha), sat against the wall with his elbows rested on his knees and wore a blissful smile on his face.}. His interests are actually a matter of chance rather than decision], or sport, raises the aforementioned blush that rages like God’s own wrath), had never previously seen him drink more than one glass of alcohol in the course of a whole day. Freed by the presence of intimate family strangers and his immediate family’s early desertion, he had, for the first time in his life, at the age of 50, thrown all caution to the wind and gone on an unrestrained, gloriously unexpected bender. Slumping easily back on the heavy oak benches of The Crown pub, his cheeks fired by a cocktail of lager and vodka for once rather than his inevitably public shame, head tilting at an almost rakish angle, he had drunk without caution and choked on his first cigarette like it was the first fresh air of spring, copied the swearing of the Australians like it was a mantra, dropped and smashed two pint glasses filled with beer, poured one half pint over his own head, fallen over on the way to the toilet, stood swaying in the men’s room, pissed with one hand braced against the wall and his head at a right angle to his chest, stared transfixedly at his own piss purling down the drain, laughed with delight at the sight of his own reflection in the mirror, and finally, but most brilliantly, stumbled up to a heavily made-up woman who smelt overpoweringly of cheap perfume, and asked her to have sex with him. Eventually the Australians took him home and slept on his sofa (I talk about them as one entity because I could not really distinguish between them – they all spoke with one voice and looked the same. Apparently, my mother just reminded me, one of them was a woman).
The next morning he woke up and on finding a poo in his hallway, called his sister to confess. Only he did not confess. The fact that he might have blacked out and shit on his own carpet was unthinkable, or a horror so grotesque that he was happy to bury his own denial deep in his resentment of the Australians who had led him to totally, unconditionally lose control for the first time in half a century. And that’s the real tragedy of the whole affair for me (not that he experienced drunken humiliation, but that it confirmed what I had never dared truly believe): that there were no secret mistresses, visits to prostitutes, drinking binges, as there were in the world that I invented for him; a glamorous world of vice and sin that he never shared with his family. That he is exactly what he seems. That he is a man so removed from his own desires that he could not name one for you if you asked him. That he has lived the whole of his adult life without making one significant decision. That the strange hats he often wears in outdoor situations are not a form of disguise. In short, that the blush won. And that I share that blush.
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Old 20th Dec 2008, 19:45   #2
Beth
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Default Re: Story

You've got a good vignette here, Fanshawe. I'd whip it around and very painstakingly describe the main character's night out, beginning with his blush, everything about him that leads up to the big event, without saying so implicitly. In other words, you could show him with many words and reveal him slowly to your reader. I like your descriptive phrases. You can build, build, build upon that to craft something with thousands of words that will draw the reader in and not give him/her too much right off the bat. Thanks for this, wish I were as brave.
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Old 5th Jan 2009, 15:37   #3
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Thanks very much for the input Beth. I agree that I'm telling too much rather than showing it, probably because I rushed the thing in two hours. The first paragraph seems dreadfully over-elaborate on re-reading.

I'm going to rework it this spring when I have more time.
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 9:43   #4
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Default Re: Story

I hope you don’t mind, fanshawe, that your story has suddenly awaken an analyst in me.

I think I’ve noticed some inconsistencies.

Quote:
My uncle has a permanent blush that rises from deep below his shirt collar. He and I share a strange sense of shame undiminished by age or sexual experience,


This suggests that both the narrator and his uncle have had in fact some sort of sex life. (At least this is my reading of this fragment - but I suppose someone shoud back up my impression). This fragment also implies that the narrator and the uncle are quite close. Otherwise, where does the equation permament blush = permament sense of shame come from? Dilated capillaries is just an unpleasant skin condition, how the narrator does get to know that in the case of his uncle it’s something more than that? The further text says explicitly that the relationship between them is rather superficial (We, the people closest to him (without actually pretending to know anything about him (...)).

Naturally, you might create an unreliable narrator who uses his uncle (whom he doesn’t know well in fact) to talk about himself. But he’s not consistent in his talking. Look:
1. The narrator talks about his uncle as suffering from the permament sense of shame. The narrator is alike in this respect.
2. In the narrator’s eyes the uncle is pathetic, shallow, passive. He’s being spoken of with derision and mockery. (BTW I think you put too much in parentheses, brackets etc. – I know you’ve done it for the comic effect, but it doesn’t work well, IMHO).
3. The narrator sees the tragedy in that his uncle is exactly what he seems to be. Only now the reader gets to know that the narrator has invented a glamorous world of vice and sin that he never shared with his family for his uncle. However, it is not reflected anywhere in the text. If the narrator truly hoped that the uncle led the double life, he would use a different tone in the earlier part of the text. For example, he would see irony or quirky sense of humour in the uncle’s silly present.
4. In short, that the blush won. And that I share that blush. Does it mean that the narrator’s life resembles his uncle’s? But then, what about this passage:
Quote:
She [the narrator’s mother] has successfully raised two boys through alcohol poisoning, thievery, school suspensions, drugs, anarchism and arrests,

I take it one of the two boys is the narrator...

Some other things.
-
Quote:
My first memories of him were the Sunday visits. He still lived with my Grandfather. Later, my Grandfather died, and my uncle lived alone.While the old man was alive, he liked to come for dinner after Church on Sunday, after which he would sit down in front of the Grand Prix and doze in an enchanted half-sleep. My uncle was his driver, and sat Gollum-like in one of the corner chairs, silent, observing, cheeks simmering in the shadow. My Grandfather brought a Curly Wurly chocolate bar each for my brother and I every week. My uncle brought nothing; it went without saying that the patriarch was solely responsible for the gifts. The week after the funeral, he came alone, and has done ever since

Maybe it would be better to put the underlined sentence after the description of the Sunday visits - you would avoid jumping about with the chronology.

- Is the description of the uncle’s night out based solely on the uncle’s confession to his sister? If so, wouldn’t it be more interesting to read it told in his own words? And note, we are four times removed from the actual action: the thing happened; the uncle relates it to his sister; the sister relates it to her son; her son, the narrator, relates it to the reader. Does the uncle really told his sister how he stared transfixedly at his own piss purling down the drain? If the description of the night out isn’t based solely on that confession, what are the narrator’s other sources? He and his brother left early.

- I’ve got problems understanding why the narrator and his brother went to the pub with the uncle and the Australians. Everything in the story suggests that such an outing is something out of ordinary, so it should be given the background and not be mentioned so casually. And why do you need the narrator to go with the uncle at all, if he left early, saw nothing?

Of course I can’t be sure, fanshawe, that my remarks make sense, it’s just something for your consideration.
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Last edited by m.; 9th Jan 2009 at 9:55.
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 14:31   #5
fanshawe
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m., thank you for the analysis!
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Originally Posted by m. View Post
This suggests that both the narrator and his uncle have had in fact some sort of sex life. (At least this is my reading of this fragment - but I suppose someone shoud back up my impression).

The sexual experience line was meant to apply to only one of the characters. The shame of the other arises from other things. This is confusing and needs changing, I agree.
Quote:
This fragment also implies that the narrator and the uncle are quite close. Otherwise, where does the equation permament blush = permament sense of shame come from?
I didn't think they had to be close to recognise each other's shared personality traits. The uncle is silent and unknowable, and his 'shame' is an interpretation of his personality by one who shares the same genes and facial hue, in the light of his own character.
Quote:
Naturally, you might create an unreliable narrator who uses his uncle (whom he doesn’t know well in fact) to talk about himself.
The intention of the story wasn't for the narrator to talk about himself using the uncle as a conduit; rather it was an attempt to explore one aspect of heredity through two related characters.
Quote:
2. In the narrator’s eyes the uncle is pathetic, shallow, passive. He’s being spoken of with derision and mockery.

I didn't intend for the narrator's view of the uncle to be this negative, so that's a definite failure.
Quote:
(BTW I think you put too much in parentheses, brackets etc. – I know you’ve done it for the comic effect, but it doesn’t work well, IMHO).
It wasn't for comic effect - I just had to finish the story in 40 minutes at that point (before leaving the house to read it to a group of people), and it was a practical, if clumsy, way to get a lot of information into a short space. I also wanted to see how people view the use of parentheses - bad style, failed comedy, permissible, lazy?
Quote:
3. The narrator sees the tragedy in that his uncle is exactly what he seems to be. Only now the reader gets to know that the narrator has invented a glamorous world of vice and sin that he never shared with his family for his uncle. However, it is not reflected anywhere in the text. If the narrator truly hoped that the uncle led the double life, he would use a different tone in the earlier part of the text. For example, he would see irony or quirky sense of humour in the uncle’s silly present.
The first part of the text is meant to be written from the perspective of the narrator after the poo event has dispelled his fantasy, but I can see how that might be unclear.
Quote:
4. In short, that the blush won. And that I share that blush. Does it mean that the narrator’s life resembles his uncle’s?
This wasn't meant to imply that the narrator and the uncle have similar lives, but that they have the same physical response to certain situations. The last two sentences were trying to express the narrators fear that as he aged he would be governed by the same paralysis that has governed the life of his relative.
Quote:
- Is the description of the uncle’s night out based solely on the uncle’s confession to his sister? If so, wouldn’t it be more interesting to read it told in his own words? And note, we are four times removed from the actual action: the thing happened; the uncle relates it to his sister; the sister relates it to her son; her son, the narrator, relates it to the reader. Does the uncle really told his sister how he stared transfixedly at his own piss purling down the drain? If the description of the night out isn’t based solely on that confession, what are the narrator’s other sources? He and his brother left early.
This is definitely problematic! Because the story is told from the narrators point of view, it cannot be told in the uncle's own words. The distance between the uncle and narrator is emphasised by the stages of removal. The version of events told in the story must be subject to the same process of fantastical exaggeration as the imagined double life the narrator earlier attributed to his uncle, but I can understand if this is unsatisfactory.
Quote:
- I’ve got problems understanding why the narrator and his brother went to the pub with the uncle and the Australians.
Again, probably laziness, but I didn't think the trip needed justification. A drink with visiting family members - an unwanted duty drink, hence the narrator leaving early.

Thanks a lot for taking the time out to read the story and to post such detailed comments.I'm genuinely humbled. If I do any more writing in future, I see I'll have to think about planning in much greater depth. If I rework this story I'll definitely use your comments as my guide!
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