Writing exercise: a sense of place

It’s early and the crowds haven’t arrived yet: all he can hear is the sound of the espresso machine. The scent, the rich, inviting smell of coffee is already all around him. He wraps his cold hands around the cup, stroking the click, glassy surface fondly. He takes a sip, enjoying the  way the milk wraps the coffee in a gentle blanket, waking up his taste buds slowly. The pattern on top of the foam distorts after his sip, the change in tension makes bubbles burst, like dreams touching reality.

The above is not a great piece of writing. It is what I wrote, in five minutes, when set a writing exercise to work on “sense of place”. The task was to think about a place and write a sentence for each of the senses inspired by that place. I thought of Brew Lab, the café in South College Street, because I like the look of their exposed, somewhat grungy walls.

So where are the walls?

Hansel and Gretel creative writing competition

Happy new year! Mine got off to a great start when Bryan Christie called me from the National Library of Scotland to tell me that I won the Hansel and Gretel creative writing competition they ran with the Scottish Ballet. I’m pleased as Punch.

The brief was to come up with a story of no more than 2,000 words that ends when the children go in to the forest. What happens next – the gingerbread house, the witch and the oven – we know only too well. But the bit before is more of a mystery. The brief moved the woodcutter’s house out of the forest and in to a village where children had been disappearing. There are now only two left and they’re not safe because there’s something evil out there. What is it and what’s happening?

Re-thinking a text that you know well is difficult but also great fun. My first stumbling block was the village – what village? What other children? Suddenly, the story grew an entire community that hadn’t existed before. I tried to think of scenes that would work in a ballet, scenes that are expressive and have emotional resonance, and weave them into the plot. 2,000 words doesn’t stretch to both detailed description and plot so there’s only one crowd scene, I tried to use mood and sketches to fill in the rest. I don’t know if the judges saw what I intended them to see but the story clearly worked.

The 12 of us who were on the short-list have been invited to a writing masterclass with Louise Welsh, who was one of the judges, and I believe we’ll get to see behind the scenes of the ballet too. According to the brief “some of the ideas explored will be used to develop the ballet production“. Some of my ideas, or moods, might inspire Christopher Hampson, the choreographer. The thought that I’m part of a greater creative process is really exciting.

As an extra bonus, my story – In Woodsmore Village – will be published in Scotsman Magazine. The planned date is Saturday, January 26, but that could change. I’ll keep you posted.

How many copies will I buy? Oh, quite a few.