The Creative Process

“Every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist as a grown up”

Pablo Picasso

Painfully addictive and yet beautiful, the creative process is different for everybody.

As Picasso says, we are all artists. I know I was born to write but those who come to it late in life soon become drawn into its powerful ‘otherness’.

“The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art.” George Bernard Shaw

Writing adds a dimension to your life that you cannot always see until you do it. Brain to pen, thoughts in your hand, concepts on paper or screen and translated back to become real. It’s magic. Some people say it’s miraculous, that it is God at work, that writing or painting or creating is a spiritual experience.

A Big Responsibility

The thought is frightening. It’s frightening enough to make you stop short of ever making a start. But make a start you must, you know it. There will be no peace in your mind until you’ve attempted to express something, even if you don’t know what to say, or whether to write it, paint it, sing it or play it to an audience.

“How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” E.M. Forster

It doesn’t help to hear so-called experts talking highly of painters and writers and playwrights who’ve “got something to say” and you look at their masterpiece and wonder quite what. You see the artwork of great painters like Jackson Pollock or Piet Mondrian, installations by Tracy Emin or Damien Hirst – only to look upon them and say “What?”

Believe me – you’ve got things to say and by getting that pen moving you’ll start to find out what they are. You have to find your way of working, whether it’s with a pen, a typewriter, pencil, computer; the side of the phone book, the back of a shopping list, a pristine new notepad or a perfect white screen with a spell-check and thesaurus at the click of a mouse. It won’t be easy, but you can make it easier for yourself – if you’ll accept that pampering your creativity is a worthy cause.

Brought Home and Privately Yours

You can write in weird and wonderful ways, observe the world and quietly write what you see. It might be fictionalised reality, but seen from your standpoint, with your unique eye and in your own words, it will say something to your readers that’ll give them one more viewpoint from which to understand.

“I wish I were more at home with writing. I can go a year or two or three without picking up my pen and I’m perfectly content. The minute I have to write I become neurotic and grouchy and ill; I become like a little wet, drenched bird, and I put a blanket over my shoulders and I try to write and I hate myself and I hate what I’m writing.” said Edmund White, American novelist and author of the acclaimed A Boy’s Own Story (1982).

I was lucky enough to be brought up by an artist and learned to understand the necessity to accommodate the neurotic, grouchy and ill side of the temperament. The only time it would surface was when life and circumstances stood in the way of my parent’s Creative Process. Unfortunately for me and for the rest of the family, that was quite often.

Accommodate Your Destiny

You either grow up to do as your parents did, or you do the opposite. I hope I do the opposite – I recognise my need to create and try to engineer everything to ensure my Creative Process takes precedence. Lack of confidence and lack of being accepted by the art establishment curtailed my parent’s artistic focus.

“I don’t believe for a moment that creativity is a neurotic symptom. On the contrary, the neurotic who succeeds as an artist has had to overcome a tremendous handicap. He creates in spite of his neurosis, not because of it,” said Aldous Huxley.

This man may well be famous for his experiments with drugs but he created numerous stories, poems, novels, plays, travel works, historical studies and academic essays.

“I loathe writing,” says Muriel Gray. “It’s hard, hard work, like digging the roads… ” she says in her interview with David Mathew in The Third Alternative, no. 27.

You’ll probably know her as a TV and BBC Radio presenter but of writing she says, “There’s no comparison to broadcasting work which is basically money for old rope.” Writing is her passion and, it seems, her reason for living.

Pain is no barrier

“A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people,” said Thomas Mann.

James Baldwin said he does a lot of rewriting. “It’s very painful.”

All writers and artists talk of the pain but if you’re wise you’ll accept that it’s going to be painful. It has so often been compared to giving birth that it’s hardly worth mentioning – but when you’re pregnant, you know, it’s a hell of a relief to experience that pain; and look at the beautiful reward!

It isn’t funny to have to put up with any pain at all, and to have writers’ block when you know you want to do it; but there are so many jokes about it. This one sums it up for me:

1ST WRITER (at a cocktail party): I’m working on my new novel.

2ND WRITER: Neither am I.

Quoted from Private Eye in The Writer’s Chapbook, ed. George Plimpton.

Find a Way

How do you accommodate your need to create? How do you make it least painful? If it’s ideas or a starting point you need then go to the Triggers chapter, or Therapy, or find your voice in Write with Style, or even in the zany Experimental ideas.

Perhaps it’s the place and the company you keep that curtails your outflow? Teachers of old who stood behind you to pounce on your mistakes have a lot to answer for. But you’re free of that now and only have to be wary of imposing your own inhibitions.

  • J.K. Rowling sat in a café to write the Harry Potter books. Maybe it was to keep warm and topped up with coffee but your reason might be different: if it works for you, do it.

  • Brenda Crowe wrote ‘Play is a Feeling’ and ‘Living with a Toddler’ sitting up in bed: not because she was ill or working at night, but because it was the best way to keep her feet warm.

  • Julian Stockwin writes the Kydd series at his desk accompanied by an ancient piece of mariner’s rope, which wafts the subtle fragrance of the deep sea.

  • Jack Kerouac would kneel to pray before starting to write his novels (On the Road, 1957; The Subterraneans,1958 et al) and in essays he outlined a philosophy of writing that refused all revision and was akin to improvisational jazz.

  • The poet Philip Larkin would say he never went out, while Nadine Gordimer thinks writers should do plenty of ordinary things to keep in touch with life. She says, “The solitude of writing is also quite frightening. It’s quite close sometimes to madness, one just disappears for a day and loses touch.”

Love It or Hate It

“I love writing,” said P.G. Wodehouse. “I never feel comfortable unless I am either actually writing or have a story going. I could not stop writing.”

He was the author of the Jeeves Series and very successful in musical comedy, theatre, and Hollywood.

This quote is encouraging for me personally. At a recent workshop I found myself – in an automatic writing exercise – writing and then reading aloud: “I only feel well when I’m writing.” This produced gasps from a quarter of the other students. They were people who were still hoping to find out why or how writing can change their lives for the better.

Now before I make the mistake of offering the creative process as a religion, I think I will assume that my readers know they do want to write, but haven’t yet decided on their niche. We look at this with some general ideas in Genres.

Do Your Own Thing

There is nothing unusual in wanting to do your own thing.

Lawrence Durrell says this: “It doesn’t really matter whether you’re first rate, second rate, or third rate, but it’s of vital importance that the water finds its own level and that you do the very best you can with the powers that are given you.”

Lawrence Durrell was a poet, travel writer and prolific novelist; and not to be confused with his brother Gerald who wrote of animal life and owned a zoo at Jersey.

Reading the candid comments of other writers is an eminently useful way of endorsing your urge to write.

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.” Ernest Hemingway said.

He was one of the greatest short story writers of America and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. This is bestowed for ‘the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency’ and was awarded for The Old Man and the Sea, first published in 1952. “I learn as much from painters about how to write as from writers,” he said. Have a go with Creative Frolics and see if you can see what he means. I think I can: you’ll see I have a tendency to cross the paths of painters in some suggestions on the Experimental page.

Finding your niche, your style, your way of working, can only be done through time and experience. Writing a diary and writing vignettes gives you a body of work that will be an endless supply of material to adapt or rewrite – along with many embellishments and an ever-strong urge to extend your vocabulary.

What of the Process, once Established?

I regard myself as an organic writer. I encourage my students to write organically – as if the first sentence is a stem, and from that will grow roots and shoots, flowers and seeds. It is sure to grow if you plant it as words on paper or screen.

I write stories and plays (including tv scripts and screenplays), and the odd poem, in between the mainstay of creative non-fiction, which you’re reading now. All can be written in an organic way.

For the record: what are my writing habits? I write words and half-sentences in notebooks, between doing other things; I start early, in solitude at the computer or just at a table. I break to make myself tea (eight cups a day). I do housework and cooking between paragraphs, and scribble beginnings, usually, in bed in the dark.

I think the creative process is all about making connections, and building upon them. (See Visualise for more on this.) There’s the ‘What If – ?’ game; but by building simple tentative connections into something bigger, there’s a worthy point to be made. I rely on dreams and on the half-sleep images that dwell in my head. They conveniently solve problems for me. Yesterday I was wondering how to explain my difficulties with defining Visualisation for this text. Overnight I dreamt about the picture that I tried to paint, long ago, called Rhapsody in Black. Today I’ve used it to illustrate the problem: my memory, my connection, was already there and I had to find the right place to use it.

Try any and all ways, methods, outlets and keep at it. Experimental; Vignettes; Genres. The creative process that suits you will make itself known and you’ll come to respect it. This way, your writing will command respect as well.

Hemlock by Joyce Doré

Hemlock book coverJoyce Doré is a very special person. She once gave me a kiss as I left her home after a meeting – a kiss that stays in my memory even now! (I can be an old softie).

There’s a magical quality about her that has me transfixed. Her story about the life of Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni is different from that found in novels and learned accounts. They are all wrong.

Joyce was there. I believe her version.

Braiswick publishers


APE moneyIt occurred to me that I’ve been publishing books for 25 years so perhaps it was time to record some of that work. It’s always been fun, rarely have I considered the financial possibilities, so they have never arisen. The poor tax-man has never made anything out of me, and the whole exercise has drained most of my cash.


Emotions are here to give words to the wordless. Playwrights, novelists, poets and songwriters put ideas and emotions into words where others cannot, or will not, say it. There’s a song ‘Everybody Hurts‘ that touches all who hear it – a wailing solo voice that makes you think ‘yes, it’s true. Everybody does hurt, sometimes’. Hitting on a truth in art is what matters.

Second only to music, emotions are our common denominator. Across the world we writers can empathise with the way other people feel, regardless of language and culture.

We learn emotions, far more easily than we learn plain facts. Emotions rub off on us from things we experience. Some are good – like love and faith; others are protective, like fear and disbelief; and still more are destructive, like hate and ennui.

Harness your emotions and share them with the reader
The heartfelt pleas from jolted lovers, the anxious cries of deserted mothers, the lonely hearts of posted soldiers. The guilt-ridden angst of a palsied child’s mother, the poverty stricken waif who knows of no future, the helpless family of adults with an ageing father. We need to understand, get messages understood, put emotions into writing because the written word gives power.

Personal experience is incredibly valuable to the writer. When you’ve written about an emotional encounter that shook you through and through, there’ll be a bond of truth that you’ll recognise; and you’ll strive to capture it in everything you write.

If you can handle such strong emotions in writing, then fiction writing will come easily to you. And it will hit the reader where it matters.

Strong messages

Think about the feelings listed here. How can you show them without using the actual word? If the reader has to work it out, the stronger will be your message. This is your therapy, but it’s put to good use. Take temporary ownership of any words below, stir them with empathy, add some complications like unfinished business or a rekindled grudge. Explore through fiction and make the world a better place.


How do you show any of these emotions? Here is fiction for stimulation:-

Final Demand

I got blisters on my palms last time I went to see him. Well, it was me own fault really, I wanted to show off me new bike. Try it out, give it mileage.

I hadn’t even meant to visit him but I was on my way up the slow old hill away from home, grinding my knee joints and jerking my head now and then with the effort, and I thought, once I get to the top I can go anywhere I please. And it pleased me to see him.

It pleased me to gush across the countryside, hedgerows pregnant with blossom buds, fresh new blades cleansing the stale flattened hay cushions of last year. Pillows, you could call the verges. Pillows tucked up against bramble-bordered duvets. Each field is an eiderdown of lumpy brown soil, soft enough to dive onto but scratchy enough to graze my temperamental skin.

Phew! It was hard work up that hill, and I felt hot inside big gloves but didn’t think I’d get blisters. Had a look when I stopped at the village. I mean, you get blisters with new shoes, not a new bike.

Beside the gentle purr of my easy gears, the gravel popped and I scoured the road surface under the tyres. I swear I could hear my knees creak too. A pheasant shot out from a ditch as I passed, and its flight path christened the hedgerow with fear.

I stopped at the disused post office, to look at the postcards in the window. Sam hadn’t retrieved his ad. Why had I bothered helping him to write it!

No newcomers were taking over yet. Blue oranges lay beside shrivelled apples, a few months’ worth of free papers carpeted the doormat and I could just see an envelope addressed to him. Yes! Him!

That’s what made me do it. I had an excuse to go and visit. See him. A kind of back-handed jibe. “It’s no-one or me if you don’t even pick up your mail.”

I could tell him there was a letter ‘care of’ the village post office, and if he knocked up the person next door, they might be able to help. It looked personal: didn’t look like a bill. “You can’t be a hermit for ever.

Aren’t you curious?”

He answered the door. My legs felt like jelly. Oh no, not nerves – well I tell myself – it was from cycling for so long. I couldn’t feel the blisters then, only sore. Hot and shaky, I was, from the effort.

He treated me like a princess, but without genuflecting. He didn’t kiss my hand, didn’t touch my arm, and didn’t demonstrate our long strong bond in any way. He stood back, inviting me in, sort-of polite, careless, wordless. He’s growing away, unlearning to love me, strangely distant: cancelling my vibes.

Before the bike ride out to see him I’d been pruning the roses. Last year’s black spot was still evident on the few leaves. One or two petals were brown and shrivelled but most were quite gone, blown away. A single bud had failed to open and was still in one piece, the petals fused and brown.

I thought about us, then.

I cut the roses hard. I snipped the cuttings into finger-length twigs and put them in a paper sack. It waits in the shed, for burning in a fire.

My fingers were still sore from the thorns as I cycled up the hill, pleased as punch with my new transport.

Now I can go see Sam any time I want, if only he wanted.

My ultimatum had no real punch, I wonder why I bothered. He won’t even open a letter from someone else. He pretends he wants no-one.

I have to let sleeping dogs lie. A new bike, a new future. Wider horizons. Maybe the finger-pricks camouflaged the gradual chafing from my handlebar grips.

I didn’t tell him, it would have stirred up old sores.

© Bernie Ross 2001

Strong Emotions

Do you understand how it feels to be adopted?

Different fictions ‘work’ for different people but I never really thought about an adopted child needing to find its natural mother until I watched Secrets and Lies, the film written and directed by Mike Leigh.

What is it like to lose a baby in cot death?

What are the dangers of malpractice in a factory near you?

Birth, marriage, death, divorce, imprisonment, injury, etc.. The major stress points of life are the obvious emotions worth exploring, but nothing is simple. Don’t ignore the emotions that are trapped in your characters’ blind spots (see Get a Life!) because your writing deserves to make the most of the opportunity – to touch your readers with real and believable truths.

It takes someone to write about an issue in a heartfelt way before it’s taken seriously or a campaign is launched to make a change. Without writers who can articulate the strong feelings, the rest of us simply don’t know.

Freedom Through Writing

When you’ve written about a deeply affecting experience of your own, it frees you to move on and away from it. You’ll know how to capture the essence of truth in some other emotional issues because you’ll know ‘that special feeling’ when you get there.

In Ellie’s story ‘Terminated‘, she deals with angst, anger, fear, sadness, frustration, acceptance, regret and more. Ellie is a forty-something novice writer, who lives in the Midlands with her partner and 2 daughters. Having recently trained as a counsellor, she decided not to pursue this avenue, although she is still fascinated by people and their relationships. She has handled these emotions so well, yet it is literary fiction. It hits on truth that women (and perhaps men) everywhere, will recognise.

I’ve never killed a man in real life but I’ve written about it convincingly; and a whole lot of other emotional incidents too. And I plan to explore plenty more, and put them into words, to help others understand. If people can read something that makes them feel that they’ve ‘been there’ then maybe they will avoid the emotional pitfalls it revealed.

One Person, Only One

Within every enormous disaster there are individuals each with their own deep emotion. It is occasionally these personal accounts that bring home to us just how terrible a situation has been.

Without personal stories we might just as well have been watching cartoons. True, touching, personal stories we understand – and are all the more determined not to allow such atrocities to be worth instigating. It is difficult to relate to the victims of disasters or acts of terror when the individual stories cannot be told.

Handle emotions in writing; get to grips with the argument for or against, and – like some of the greats mentioned in Literary Clout – you’ll be in a position to help change the world.

Terminated – by Ellie McLoughlin

5.50am. The luminescent figures of the alarm clock pierced the darkness. By this time tomorrow it will be over. An unreal, dreamlike quality pervaded her consciousness. She turned her head slowly, ensuring she barely moved the bedclothes. Deborah didn’t want to wake him yet. She needed this final half hour to herself, alone with her thoughts. Once she got up, she’d be drawn into the process of getting ready.

The quiet stillness embraced her, calming her chattering mind. Gingerly moving her hands beneath the duvet, she rested them on her abdomen. She caressed her soft flesh, trying to detect some sign of movement, although she knew it was too soon. She turned her head to look at her sleeping husband. She’d thought she knew him so well, but was no longer sure. In the half-light his face looked serene and peaceful, as if his dreams were sweet and his conscience clear.

How could he sleep at such a time, she wondered with a mixture of amazement and disgust.

As if he sensed someone watching him, Jonathan opened his eyes and looked at her. “What time is it?” he asked, stifling a yawn.

“Ten past six” she replied. “S’pose I might as well get up and get ready. I don’t want to be late. You stay in bed a bit longer, if you like.”

He positioned his hands behind his head and closed his eyes again. She noticed his beard was turning grey at the sides and slight pouches were developing beneath his eyes. An unexpected feeling of tenderness for him swept through her.

They hadn’t talked about anything, other than domestic trivia, since making their decision. Now a tension hung between them, palpable and heavy, the air thick with feelings neither of them dared to voice.

As if by unspoken agreement, they’d ceased physical contact. Sighing, Deborah got out of bed and donned her peach housecoat and slippers. The new lilac satin dressing gown was packed ready in her overnight bag.

In the kitchen, Deborah felt the radiator. Still cold. She advanced the timer and the central heating clunked reluctantly into action. She poured herself a glass of water and placed it deliberately on the worktop. This was to be her sole sustenance for the immediate future. Her stomach growled, sounding like water regurgitating in a plughole.

Of course, she was hungry for two now.

Out of habit, she filled the kettle and switched it on, making a mental note to descale it next week. No doubt, Jonathan would languish in bed, expecting her to take him a cup of tea. Usually she would do his bidding rather than risk the withering look of disapproval on his face.
She picked up her water and shuffled into the lounge. There, she set the glass on the coffee table and flopped onto the settee. She grabbed a purple cushion, wrapped her arms around it and buried her face in it. It was rough against her cheek and smelled faintly of fabric conditioner.

She’d never liked the week between Christmas and New Year. It was neither one thing nor the other, a kind of holiday limbo. The paper-chains hung tired and limp. Even the artificial Christmas tree appeared to be wilting. But it was too early to take them down. They had to keep up the façade, stop people becoming suspicious. What if someone visited unexpectedly? It would seem out of character if all their Christmas decorations had disappeared before New Year.

Deborah had gone through the ritual of family festivities in a daze, unable to absorb what was to happen. The world mocked her with its sudden abundance of pregnant women and babies. In the paper, on the television, in shops: she couldn’t escape the cruel reminders of the joy she should be experiencing. She daren’t let herself contemplate the possibilities or what ifs. In the queue in Tesco, two young women behind her had been discussing their morning sickness. She wanted to join in their conversation with her own experience, wanted to be a member of this nameless club that united countless women.

Jonathan was up. She could hear him moving about in the bathroom. That creaking floorboard gave him away. She sipped her water slowly, savouring its sharp coolness in her mouth. She looked at the clock, then at the photo next to it, on the mantelpiece. It showed Jonathan and his children. James and Anthony, the eight-year old twins, stood on each side of him grinning, and little Lucy, the apple of his eye, stood in front, with her father’s hands resting on her shoulders. She remembered the day it was taken. She had been in bed with ‘flu and Jonathan had taken the children to a safari park for the day. She flung the cushion down. “No point in putting off the inevitable” she mused aloud and went to get washed and dressed.

They arrived at the hospital at half past seven exactly. A young nurse, fresh-faced and oozing energy, showed them into a small white room off a long straight corridor of identical doors. She told Deborah to get undressed and put on the white gown on the end of the bed.

The room looked cold and austere and was sparsely furnished. A heavy iron bed stood against one wall. The mattress was very high. Deborah had to stand on a small step to climb onto it. To one side of the bed were an armchair and a locker, to the other, an oxygen canister and several pieces of medical equipment laid out on a shiny steel trolley. She took off the clothes she’d only put on half an hour previously and pulled on the white regulation hospital gown. The fabric was cool and slightly stiff. She felt absurd, her small frame enveloped in so much billowing material, complete with full length split up the back. Jonathan said nothing except “I’ll put your clothes in your overnight bag under the bed.”

“Sure you want to go through with this?” Dr Forsythe asked as she ripped the sterile wrapper off the plastic tubing on the trolley beside her.

Deborah wavered. She studied Jonathan, sitting in dispassionate silence at the side of the bed. Whatever reassurance or reaction she had hoped for was not forthcoming. Jonathan fumbled in his pocket, withdrew a tissue and blew his nose. She’d turned the whole thing over repeatedly in her mind, since her pregnancy had been confirmed, before Christmas. Initially, Jonathan accused her of being devious, unable to believe that she hadn’t realised sooner. Her periods had always been erratic.

Jonathan, who as he put it, knew her better than she knew herself, had eloquently and convincingly given her a list of reasons why this baby was out of the question. When they got married, he reminded her, it was with the understanding that there would be no children. He already had three, from his previous relationship and he did not want to be a father again. Jonathan’s next point was that they couldn’t afford a baby given their current financial position. OK, so, they weren’t well off, but neither were thousands of other couples who had children. They managed. Finally, he’d said, Deborah was in no fit state to look after a baby, what with her panic attacks. As usual, she couldn’t fault his logic. She knew it made sense, but had hoped he might soften once he knew she was carrying their child.

Trapped, she had to choose between her husband and her baby. She wanted both. Losing her husband – the mere thought filled her with blind panic. And the thought of a baby, small, helpless and dependent on her… He was right; she would never cope. The underlying message, unspoken but insidiously implied, was that if she ignored his wishes and went ahead with the pregnancy, he didn’t intend sticking around. Ultimately, she knew her loyalty had to be to her husband.

Without him, nothing else mattered. And they had agreed to no children when they got married, so of course, she couldn’t let him down now.

Deborah, apparently, was already about twelve weeks pregnant. Dr Forsythe had talked to them about a termination and what it entailed at this later stage. A detailed description of what she would have to go through did nothing to lessen Jonathan’s resolve. Ending the pregnancy was the only solution, he claimed, and Deborah like a good, compliant wife, agreed.

Dr Forsythe inserted the small tube between her thighs and into her cervix, explaining the procedure.

“This liquid prostaglandin will cause your cervix to dilate and eventually you’ll go into a sort of mini labour. It will be painful and protracted, but I’ve prescribed morphine for you for the pain. If you need a nurse, just press this buzzer.” She placed a small plastic unit, with a rubber button on it, in Deborah’s hand.

“I have to go now. Good luck,” she said, patting her hand before leaving the room.

Terror seized Deborah and held on tight. She wasn’t so sure about this now that she no longer had a choice. Inside she was crying, “no, no!” She wanted to tell someone she’d changed her mind, that she wanted her baby. But it was too late. Nothing could change the chain of events that she’d put into motion. They were hurtling towards an inevitable end like a runaway train. She was on a collision course of no return. Whatever happened, she would never hold this baby in her arms. The realisation was excruciating; she couldn’t bear to think about it. With great willpower, she harnessed her mind to concentrate on her surroundings. The room looked unfriendly and clinical. The walls were painted pale green and the floor was covered with a green patterned lino. Easier to wipe the blood from, she thought. She looked at Jonathan, hoping for some distraction, if not comfort. He was leafing through the newspaper and chomping on a Mars bar.

“There should be a crossword in here somewhere,” he said. “Fancy doing it with me?”

“Not at the moment”. She couldn’t comprehend how he could sit there eating chocolate as if he was at the cinema, while she was about to slowly and intentionally get rid of their baby. Her resentment stuck in her throat like dry toast that won’t come up, but you can’t swallow either. She’d always been unyielding in her belief that abortion was unacceptable under any circumstance. Until now, that is… Since discovering she was pregnant, she’d been unable to utter the word, “abortion” preferring “termination,” which sounded less violent and destructive.

She awoke an hour later to a growing pain in her abdomen. It grew and grew in intensity, levelled out to a plateau and then slowly subsided. She bit her lip and clenched her fists tightly. Jonathan was now holding a book, but looking at her.

“How do you feel, Debs?” he asked.

“Rough. I’m getting bad pain now too. Has anyone been in while I was asleep?”

“No. Why don’t you ask the nurse for an injection? The doctor said she’d prescribed morphine for the pain.”

Deborah hesitated, “I’ll probably be OK for a little while yet.”

As the pain increased in intensity and frequency, she realised she couldn’t tolerate it. It took her breath away. It tore through her abdomen like no pain she’d ever experienced. In desperation, she pressed the little button in the palm of her hand. After several minutes, a fair-haired nurse wearing wire-rimmed glasses, poked her head around the door.

“Yes?” she said.

“Please… I’m in a lot of pain and Dr Forsythe said I could have an injection when it got too bad.”

“Right,” responded the nurse. “I’ll be with you when I can, but we’re very busy. Lots of babies deciding to be born today, it would seem.” As she closed the door, Deborah could hear a baby’s plaintive cries seeping in from somewhere along the corridor.

She couldn’t believe the brutality and insensitivity of putting her on the labour ward. Was it a punishment, she wondered, or a lesson designed to stop you repeating the situation? She had felt the nurse’s frostiness in her pointed remark.

Ten minutes later, another nurse, older but no friendlier, came in bearing a kidney dish containing a hypodermic needle. She didn’t smile or look Deborah in the eye, but told her to turn on her side and yanked her gown open at the split. Wordlessly, she stuck the needle into Deborah’s buttock and the clear fluid coursed into her veins. She left the room as swiftly and quietly as she had entered. Deborah looked at Jonathan, tears welling up in her eyes. “It’s not my imagination, is it? They’re so cold towards me. It’s because of the termination, isn’t it?”

“No, no,” he hesitated. “They’re probably just very busy,” he added, averting his gaze.

Within minutes, as the powerful drug began to surge through her body, Deborah felt light-headed and nauseous. The pain, while not having subsided, was now competing with these for her attention. She lay flat in an attempt to stop the bed swaying. Coloured spots and lights flashed before her eyes, but the pain was receding amid the firework display in her head.

The next time she looked at her watch, it was after two. She’d lost several hours to drugged sleep. When she rang the bell to ask for more morphine, she had to wait twenty minutes before anyone responded. She imagined they despised her and saw her as the lowest of the low. She envisaged them maligning her in their office over coffee. She could even sympathise with them. She wanted to tell them that she was anti-abortion herself. Yet, still she ached for someone to reach out, to hold her hand or stroke her hair.

The hours staggered by in a haze of pain and drug-induced stupefaction. Deborah tried to focus on her breathing, anything to divert her attention from the incessant, screaming pain tearing at her abdomen like a demonic beast. Throughout, she was aware of Jonathan’s constant but silent vigil at her bedside.

Intermittently, she heard the wails of a newborn baby thrust unsuspecting, into the harsh light of reality. She wondered if she would ever be in that position herself. It was a privilege to bear a child and now that she had abused that honour, she felt that God would punish her accordingly. She was swamped by physical and emotional agony. She wished her life could end too. Glancing at her husband, she saw that he was once more engrossed in a book; oblivious to her torment. She turned to face the blank wall.

“You bastard” she thought. “Can I ever forgive you for making me choose? Why couldn’t I have both? You and my baby. Most women do. Surely that’s not being greedy.”

Her outrage was overtaken by a new wave of pain that crashed over her unexpectedly, taking her breath from her and carrying her on its crest. She winced and grabbed the metal post at the head of the bed, holding it till the pain subsided.

After her next morphine injection, she drifted in and out of sleep between waves of agonising contractions. Her dreams were fragmented and surreal, merging aspects of real life with the bizarre.

When she awoke, Jonathan was standing at her bedside whispering her name.

“Debs, I’m going to go home for a bit and get some sleep. I’ll be back later. You’ll be okay?”

She couldn’t tell if she was still dreaming, this was actually happening or she was hallucinating. She looked past him to the empty chair. He was going home, to bed, to sleep… while she was here going through her own private hell. It was true all right. He kissed her forehead and left the room. She felt desolate and childlike. She glanced back at the empty chair several times as if to reassure herself that she was alone.

When she woke again, an unfamiliar nurse was standing at her bedside, looking at her. The shifts must have changed while she was asleep.

“Are you all right?” asked the nurse. Her voice was soft and kind.

“Yes,” Deborah replied, “but I think I need the loo.”

“Hang on. I’ll get you a bedpan. Oh, by the way, I’m Janice, your night nurse.”

The nurse returned with a shiny steel bedpan and helped Deborah hoist herself up into a sitting position astride the bedpan. As she had been forbidden to drink all day, save an occasional sip of water, she was surprised at the urgency of her need to urinate. But she was beyond caring. She lolled back against the bed’s metal headrest and relaxed her muscles, allowing the warm liquid to escape from between her legs.

Through the haze of morphine and exhaustion, she heard rather than felt, a dull plop in the pan. She struggled for consciousness like a drowning woman fighting to get her head above water. What had happened? Had she inadvertently opened her bowels? Before she could guide her thoughts through the sludge of her mind, the nurse reappeared and gently pulled the bedpan from under her. When she saw the contents of the bowl, her face darkened and she hurried out of the room without a word.

Janice returned moments later and standing at the side of Deborah’s bed, she picked up her hand and gently squeezed it.

“That’s it,” she said. “It’s all over.”

It took several minutes before the meaning of Janice’s words sunk in.

Deborah placed her hands on her abdomen and looked up at the ceiling. She swallowed the lump in her throat, which threatened to choke her. She’d chosen Jonathan, but now when she needed him most, he wasn’t here. She’d given up a child for him and yet where was he in her hour of need. “Has my husband phoned?” she asked, mentally willing Janice to say what she wanted to hear.

“No love, he hasn’t. But I’m sure he’ll be back soon. The doctor will be here shortly to check you over.”

“Can I go home then?” asked Deborah. “I want to go home. I want to go home tonight.”

“No dear, they’ll keep you in overnight just to make sure everything’s all right and then you can go home in the morning. It’s nearly eleven o’clock, you know.”

The doctor was young, good-looking and looked as if he’d had too little sleep. He checked her thoroughly internally and asked how she felt. She couldn’t answer that question, as she honestly had no idea. Her feelings, like her husband, seemed to have abandoned her.

Jonathan hadn’t returned and she imagined him at home, tucked up in bed, sleeping soundly.

When the doctor had given her the once over, Janice returned with a bowl of warm, soapy water and a yellow flannel and towel. “Come on, love,” she said, helping her sit up. “Let’s freshen you up a bit, eh? Then someone will wheel you over to the ward, you can get some sleep and go home tomorrow.”

Janice washed Deborah’s face and hands with exaggerated gentleness. She was touched by her tenderness, which was in such contrast to her previous treatment that day. She still yearned for someone to hold her, stroke her hair and tell her that everything would be fine.

Later, a porter wheeled her bed across the tarmac of the car park and in through the swing doors of the main hospital building. The sky was dark but clear.

“Blimey. There’s a bit of a nip in the air tonight,” he said. “Reckon we’re in for a right old frost.”

Deborah mumbled her agreement, preferring not to engage in conversation with this man she didn’t know. She wondered if he knew that she’d had an abortion.

She felt self-conscious, as if everyone knew, as if she had a discerning mark that told people what she’d done. Realising that she didn’t want to make small talk, the porter whistled instead. She recognised the tune, but couldn’t put a name to it. It was one of those irritating commercial pop songs. The kind they played repetitively on certain radio stations. If someone told you the title and asked you to hum it, you’d never remember it. But if you heard it play in the morning, it would stick in your head for the rest of the day, no matter how hard you tried to get rid of it.

In the lift, she closed her eyes and concentrated on trying to remember the name of the song as the porter continued to whistle. He wheeled her down a darkened corridor and into a small dimly lit room, which contained three empty beds. He parked her bed in the space where a fourth had previously stood.

“There we go,” he said.

“Thanks,” Deborah muttered grudgingly.

“I’ll tell Sister you’re here.”

Deborah turned on her side and drew her legs up to her chest. She wrapped her arms tightly around her knees and lay in the dark, her eyes wide open, watching and listening.

She wondered whether Jonathan was on his way back yet and if he was, whether he’d be able to find her. She wanted to warn someone that he might be looking for her, but she wasn’t sure she could stand up yet, let alone walk. Suddenly aware of a whispered rustling from the sheets, she realised she was rocking herself, slowly, almost imperceptibly. It was a habit from childhood, used to soothe herself when she’d been sent to her room for some misdemeanour or other.

A cry startled her. Even to her inexperienced ear, she recognised a new-born baby. She turned onto her other side facing the doorway, which gave a clear view of the corridor. A woman scuffed past, a small bundle in her arms. She appeared mesmerised by whatever she was holding. Another howl pierced the quiet. Deborah understood now. She was on the maternity ward, with women who had recently given birth.

As she listened to another cry emanating from along the corridor, she could no longer hold back. Hot tears coursed down her cheeks, stinging the skin in their pathway. As she gave in, deep sobs convulsed her body. She cried for her baby, lost forever to this world, but most of all she cried for herself, trapped and alone amongst women who had their babies in cots beside them. Was her baby a girl or a boy, she wanted to know? What had the nurse done with it after she’d left the room? Was it recognisable? These questions and more flooded her mind, but there was nobody there to answer them.

She must get some sleep. Jonathan would be there to collect her the next morning and she didn’t want him to see her with red, swollen eyes. She wriggled down in the bed and pulled the covers over her head. It was over now and time to put it behind her. There was no reason to mention the events of today ever again. They could pick up where they’d left off and pretend it had never happened. Slipping into sleep, she wondered if they could do something special for New Year…

Terminated © Ellie McLoughlin 2001

Photos are from

Literary Clout

philosophyWriters and Philosophy

Writers can use words that others want or need to say, but who can’t or won’t. Our greatest writers have been philosophers (or thinkers) too; though few are recognised as such. What are writers if they don’t put their words together to make us think? Writers are observers, they stand apart, take an overview, and can show us all what we are doing whether it’s good, bad, ugly, or stupid.

Philosophy is the study of fundamental questions regarding reality, language, the mind, identity, logic, perception, freedom, space, time, and morality. All these can be examined within fictional frameworks, making them more accessible than the academic studies of recognised philosophers. If you can illustrate breathtakingly truthful things in a way that encompasses a strong logical viewpoint within a wide overview, then your writing will have literary clout.

Accessible Writing

Sometimes the most effective philosophic revelations are made through comedy, parody, or symbolism. A writer can find the words to describe examples of behaviour that show the issue for what it is, and gets us all thinking in agreement. Laughter itself is an acknowledgement.

The famous philosophers in the past became so well-known because they wrote down their thoughts and presented them to the world. Many writers are philosophers without really knowing it. They think about words even when they’re not writing, so it comes more easily to them to present a sound argument in words on a page.

If all that sounds a bit out of your league, read on, because by the end of this piece I hope you’ll see that you can make good use of your ability with words, even without international acclaim. You, too, can contribute to philosophy.

Be a Grand Inquisitor

The fascinating thing about philosophy is that every subject normally placed under its umbrella tends not to have an answer!

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Who is God?
  • What is art?
  • Is there life after death?
  • How did the world begin?

You will have your personal answers to these, and as a writer you’ll undoubtedly be able to produce statements answering these questions and many more. This is fine – for you. Writing is a tool of thought and it’s great for sorting out your own stance on a subject. (See Writing for Therapy.) Yet there is more to it than that.
You can use your gift with words to persuade the population and the powers-that-be to follow an idea that might improve life for many people. You can have clout. We all can. There’s synergy in finding common cause, and that energy can, of itself, engineer change.

Look at Achievements in the Past

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, was written in 1939, when World War II was only beginning. It was a powerful study of the Californian labouring class, and it had a huge effect on the way society thought about slavery.

Within a year he was looking at ways to write effective propaganda. The result, The Moon is Down, was banned by the Nazis but it so captured the national mood in Norway and other occupied countries, that it sold in tens of thousands. It was made into a play for Broadway and Steinbeck himself, by now also a filmmaker wrote the screenplay.

When asked how he knew so well what the resistance in Norway was doing he said, “I put myself in your place and thought what I would do.” Steinbeck was renowned for his sure sense of audience and his empathy with the oppressed.

Simply Empathising

These are skills you can learn. There are some suggestions to play with in the Style chapter as well as in Experimental. Observe, consider, experiment. You, too, can learn to empathise with predicaments (Plots) and pinpoint the sentiments that readers look for in believable fiction.

Bertrand Russell said:
“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind,” in Autobiography.

Bertrand Russell and Canon John Collins were instrumental in the launch of CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) in 1958.

Though a mathematician, Russell was a life long pacifist and spent six months in prison for an article he published objecting to the First World War.

Question: What binds each of the following?

  • Victor Hugo – French novelist
  • Henry George – author of Progress and Poverty
  • H.G. Wells – author of The Time Machine, 1895
  • Gore Vidal
  • William F. Buckley
  • Norman Mailer
  • Jeffrey Archer

Answer: They have all stood for public office, with varying degrees of success. The list of writers who have dabbled in politics is endless. Unfortunately not as many as lawyers.

Children are free to write and publish what they think because they won’t be taken seriously. If they express something that’s uncomfortable for those in power then it’s generally regarded that “they’ll grow out of it”. They are easily dismissed. As an adult and experienced writer you can make sure you’re not ignored!
We are all free (or like to think we are) to write and publish what we want to say, but there is usually too much at stake for us to take a shocking risk. To lose material wealth or even our lives may be worth it, but on second thoughts, the potential suffering of our loved ones is not.

Your Voice among Thousands

In any week we can be shocked and dismayed by the inhumanity reported by the media. There’s an immediate subject for discussion: what is news? How can our education and societal structures influence our world? This in a week when it is reported that some Year Eleven children are incapable of forming a sentence. That requires some discussion, doesn’t it?

The shock and knowledge of ‘the news’ is often too much for most us to comprehend, and only time can help us. Writers will be the first to get a distance on events and the way the world changes.

Bill Thompson writes in the regular Dispatched Arts Newsletter:

“In the months and years to come it will be through our art that we begin to understand what this all means. As the political and – no doubt – military consequences work themselves out and boundaries are redrawn, battles fought and barriers erected between the west and Islam fundamentalists, the way we think and feel about these changes will be shaped by the responses of our writers and playwrights and painters and sculptors and filmmakers. It will not only come in high-action movies about hijacks and US military might (although we can expect a new Rambo-like figure to emerge in the multiplexes by year’s end) but in the way that new paintings quote the tangled metal of the south tower, in the way that New York is written in next year’s novels.”

That statement was written well over a decade ago. What’s changed?

Quality of Child Mind

The innocence of childhood is an example to us all, and it’s something we could all aspire to. (Go to Liberation and Creative Frolics for a breath of fresh air.) Could you write a novel making the following children’s ideals come to life?
In one of Richard & Helen Exley’s compilations of children’s thoughts, Dear World…

An Indian child says, “It should be a compulsory task to produce food. Every man must care for plants.”
“Anyone who goes on strike should be replaced by someone on the dole,” says a boy in the UK.
“Respect women – they are the builders of society,” says a boy in Trinidad.
“If everybody appreciated great people’s ideas the world would be better,” says Didem Uzumcu, a 15 year old in Turkey.
“My first rule would be that all sweet firms should be closed down to save money on dental surgery,” says an 11 year old in the UK.

The simplicity of a child’s thoughts is enviable, and as writers we strive to recapture it. We have the advantage (or disadvantage) of wider vision, however. Children’s comments reflect their parents’ attitudes, or whatever the latest project at school has been covering. This doesn’t make their opinion any less valid, but in the balance of things, priority has to go elsewhere. So the sweet companies go on digging gold out of the mouths of babes.

Say What you Think

As a writer, will you change the world through a simple definition or letter? It is hard to say what kind of knock-on effect your words might produce, but fear of the unknown shouldn’t stop you writing them.

In 1961 Belle Tutaev wrote to the (then) Manchester Guardian suggesting that mothers get together to form small nursery groups: to enhance the children’s learning, and to improve the lives of lonely parents. Thus was born the Pre-school Playgroups Association, now known as the PLA (sounds like ‘play’) – Pre-school Learning Alliance Fifty years on it is an extremely large charity, having shaped many people’s lives; now with a powerful influence on Government decisions regarding education and children’s welfare, and has a multi-million pound turnover.

Was Belle Tutaev a writer? No, she was a mum, with an urgent need to give mental stimulation to her child and herself.

Be What you Are

What comes first, the study of philosophy or becoming a writer? It is another question without an answer. Does it matter? If you’re serious about writing you won’t be wasting your time on addressing unanswerable questions in academic articles. At least, you won’t be spending time on trying to get them into print any more than renowned philosophers would bother with story writing competitions. Say what you want to say, and say it now!

The big Questions of Life can be answered differently for every person, real or fictional. The ideal way for writers to address difficult or sensitive subjects is through fiction. Here you are free to ask the question you want to ask, and can explore all the possible answers before finding the one that’s right for you, or for your character, by the end.

Philosophy is thought to be a hard subject because it’s full of jargon and is peppered with Latin words. Many eminent philosophers weren’t very good writers because they couldn’t put their ideas across to ordinary people – their academia got in their way.

Write Well

If fiction writing isn’t your thing, you can still make good use of your gift with words, to make a real impact on the world.

“I get so frustrated with people who can sit opposite me and tell me how painful their life is; and yet when I ask them to write it all down and they haven’t a clue what to put,” says someone who runs a self-help clinic.

Writers can do it and might consider helping others do it, because they can express the emotions that others can’t define. On the Emotions page you might find the words or examples you need for enriching the characters’ lives in your fiction. Also try Get a Life! where we examine possible ways of better understanding human nature. If you cannot move millions through your writing, it is just as valuable to help even one person through the quagmire of their misery.

I strongly believe in making a piece of writing accessible to all. If you don’t understand something whilst reading it carefully then dump it, because life is too short. Try again when you’re a bit older, or even tell the author that their work is unintelligible (politely).

I realise I’m putting my head on the block here but whatever you write make sure the words are short, clear, accurate, and hang together in as accessible way as possible; or you’ll be dumped too.

And perhaps never revisited.

Use Your Creative Energy

The urge to write raises itself especially over local and political issues. Short of sending out family newsletters to broadcast your opinions, writing to the local or national paper is an available and worthy outlet. These publications readily ask for your contributions so why not get your name known to the general public?

Budding councillors and politicians seem to learn their trade in the local press. Budding writers can get themselves known that way, and get the buzz of publication: it’s all part of the learning equation. If not in print most newspapers now have a Comments page on their web sites.

However, stop and think a moment. What chances might you be compromising by putting your thoughts into everyone’s homes? Will it meet with approval from all directions if you openly express an opinion? What if it opposes that of your employers? Regardless of content, will future employers be keen to take on someone who speaks their mind loud enough for the dignitaries to hear? It could be an advantage – or the opposite.

It’s very easy to gain a reputation, and that may be unwarranted. For me the answer is to keep going. By properly expressing your opinions even opponents can be mollified.

You will be surprised at the fear that prevails in society. Writing is powerful and if you write very easily there may be some unexpected barriers standing in the way of what you want to do.

Is it right to clone human beings?
Should animals be killed for their fur?
Should Britain accommodate all asylum seekers?
Is it right to lower the age of consent for homosexuals?
What makes a terrorist?

We have some arguments to share and you may care to oppose them, or you might try using your writing as a tool of thought in exploring what you think on these subjects and others:

Psychotherapy is a Rip-Off
Publication is Unimportant
Artists Should Receive a Government Retainer
Stop all this Grown-up Parenting
Writing Horror Stories is Good for You

You don’t have to know the history of philosophy to be able to ask ‘unanswerable’ questions and explore the answers in your own way.

Fictional characters can become your servants: give them firm character traits and let them do the talking, (Talk & Tell), the acting and the thinking. They’ll give you an answer; they’ll create a philosophy that’s relevant to themselves.

You can hone your arguing skills in challenging the politics of the day, and you can easily wade in with your opinions, sending letters to the press, if you feel that way inclined. Involving yourself in politics will surely be a useful outlet for your writing. But I suggest you only do it if you think you can orchestrate and handle some immediate, if transient, fame or infamy.

My web site at has become an editorial allowing me to express my outrage or to comment upon the issues of the day. I no longer have to kick the dog. It gives me freedom, and I now realise that I don’t have to kow-tow to the demands of others.

If privacy, imagination, deep and personal emotions are your motivation then novel writing (when it’s published, and that includes self-published) must be the most effective way to influence society.

In between the politicians and the best sellers there’s an army of people like you and me who write well. We are the ones who can help fill the void, give words to the wordless (emotions), power to the inarticulate and provocation where argument needs fuel.

Find Your Rostrum – Genres

It would be pointless and superficial to try to define every literary genre, not least when ‘Literary’ is regarded as a genre in its own right.

My philosophy is to write what ever you want to write and then decide – or let others decide – what genre (if any) might best describe it. Changing hats and becoming an editor I know that poses a dilemma, but authors are always a dilemma, and we get used to you all.

Creative writing comes in many guises. Formula writing is creative but if you write to a formula it’s really up to you to study its rules, conventions and boundaries. If you enjoy the discipline, and many do, then you are welcome.

What a writer needs to do is find the platform that’s frequented by the audience who will most appreciate the work. As for me, I move around: the versatility of my writing demands a different rostrum each time. I’m happy with that.

If you, too, are the kind of writer who writes like giving birth and then looks down to see whether it’s a boy, a girl, or a monster – well, perhaps the following definitions will help you decide where you’re at.

If you feel like a change, perhaps you’ll be inspired to write for a new market. Whatever you choose, aiming for a specific genre requires knowledge of its particular conventions. You must study the works you would like to have written yourself.

Here are some brief and personal interpretations, pointing to the idiosyncrasies that seem to stand out:

Creative Non-Fiction

Is what’s offered to you on these pages. It acknowledges the use of emphasis on a particular attitude, and there are three elements that define the category:

  • It is truthful
  • It is created with artistic vigour
  • It comes from the writer’s heart.

One could say it’s emotionally cathartic but I wouldn’t want any writer to feel tarred with such a brush. Creative non-fiction takes many forms, from the How To… article, to the spoof documentary, or the magazine feature that shows you the place and the people along with what was done, said and heard.

I began writing by producing operating and maintenance manuals for engineers. A challenging task when I knew nothing about the subject. Surprisingly that was my major attribute because I had to describe everything clearly so I could understand what it was, and that helped many of my readers who were equally baffled, but didn’t like to admit that they were.


Can be ridiculous or deadly serious with a truth more poignant than any sad tale. The trick is in violating the audience’s expectations. I’ve never told a successful joke in my life. Hold on, perhaps that’s because I am the joke!


Where the main strength and attraction is suspense; and we often have most empathy with the criminal. Good characterisation and emotional pull are what give it strength. Need to talk more about empathy. Unless your reader can understand and relate to your characters you will never sell many books.


Where the question is Whodunnit? And our empathy lies with the detective whose problem is to solve it. Readers are looking for clues – who will get it first? There is a complicated story, dripping with clues, some of which link to the person responsible. It reveals all at the end of the book.


Concise and to the point, using the fewest and best words in the best order. Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, and there are numerous definitions to match the ‘rules’ that some poetry adheres to: sonnets; rhyming couplets; the villanelle; blank verse; free verse; haiku; cinquain; tanka – to name only a few.

Stage Plays

The stories focus on relationships that have a history and could happen anywhere, so that dialogue and action are specifically the writer’s task. The director can choose to use minimal sets without losing the strength of the play. Don’t forget you can also use writing as a performance. Public speaking may become an essential attribute for the successful author.

Television plays – series & sitcoms

Are where faces matter. Physical expressions can be shown in detail, as can locations and specific details. Must be fast and engrossing or the audience will be lost to another channel.


Similar to TV but the audience is relatively committed so the writer is allowed longer to develop audience empathy with the characters and situations. Also, as with TV and graphic novels, there’s potential for epic scenery and special visual and audio effects.

Comics – graphic novels

Written rather like films and TV with action, dialogue, and visual shots given separately. Every story must have a moral or a message, and be conducive to visual imagery for the artist.


Visually gruesome or psychologically disturbing, the climax of the story isn’t likely to be for the faint-hearted. It may surprise you to know that sex, blood and cruelty are not compulsory in this genre.

Short Stories

The description covers a multitude of fictions, but all are (or should be) self-contained, strong on structure and character, and encapsulate a novel’s worth of message within the exposition of a single incident.

Women’s magazine fiction

An art form in itself where emotional matters are illustrated in simple day-to-day events, with an ending that’s satisfying and usually uplifting. Tears of joy at the end are preferable to unseemly problems left to linger in the reader’s mind.


Are described on the Vignettes page where you’ll also find some examples. They can live in your head and on paper for years before finding their place in a full work of fiction. By this, their very nature, they are well worth writing and keeping.

Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is the term used for short stories that have a twist or shock at the end – a surprises ‘in a flash’. The stories are usually well under 1000 words, perhaps because net-surfers are inclined to move on quickly. The genre is enjoying a rediscovery on the Net. Power is a story that could come into this genre. Reading from a screen is rather like listening to a radio play: it is different from reading a book, as you tend not to look back. As with a radio play you carry on, hoping to make sense of it, compelled to find out where the story is going. The flash ending ensures you’re not disappointed.

Independent Press

A genre in the sense that it is often eclectic and esoteric. Sometimes I think the various small press magazines are the most literary of all media. They are many and varied in subject matter, and equally so regarding the quality. Study those that appeal to you, offer your work for little or no payment, and keep trying.

The beauty of the novel

Is that it offers space for thorough examination of psychological matters. It has “the capacity to go into other minds,” says Ian McEwan.

The novel can – if worked carefully – provide enlightenment on a subject from more than one character’s viewpoint. A good novel or piece of fiction can change your life.

Other Genres

With apologies to aficionados as many of these have a large following;

  • Science Fiction
  • Fantasy & Magic Realism
  • Historical – romance – war – social
  • Romance
  • Thrillers – spy – adventure
  • Ghost Stories
  • Mystery – whodunnit – psychological trickery
  • And more. I’m just publishing an It-Narrative novel where the main character is a greyhound dog who is a noted painter and sculptor. Everything is possible.

Then we get to the borderline novels, where one genre doesn’t quite describe the content.

Among these I’d include Revenge Tragedy, Black Magic, Urban Gothic… Erotica

I didn’t wish to omit Erotica from the list as it would then be conspicuous for its absence. Nor did I intend to be denied the opportunity to define the emphasis that once prevailed:- erotica is of the mind, whilst pornography is visual. Alas, now I cannot give these definitions as the boundaries are so blurred.

Romantic Erotica

Women’s romantic erotica found particular popularity in the early 1990s. It was a branch of liberation, for women, that was more acceptable to them than the image of the bra-burning feminists of the 70s and 80s.

There was one problem with erotica that brought about its downfall: it cancelled itself out. From the classy, respectable, subtly camouflaged exposition of the passions of love, writers of erotica – and presumably their readers – became impatient and bored. The problem is that sex, in itself, is boring.

Erotica should be sensuous, not sexual; but all good prose is sensual. Most sophisticated novels include sex scenes of some sort in any case, so erotica is a redundant category, certainly for the writer seeking serious literary input and outlets. All good poetry and prose is explicit where the detail, pacing and visual images are vital to the overall effect, so explicit sex comes under the same umbrella.

Here’s an example of a short erotic story.

Can you feel…?

Your eyes are staring into the fumes of surgical spirit and high hopes. Your breath is shallow and immobile, and the whiteness of your flesh is the white of woolpack clouds that is no white at all. You have the serene look of death at your side but won’t allow it to roll over and engulf you in its sanctuary. I watch your lips move like the wing of a stunned sparrow, twitching in the wind, fooling an observer. Now I see the bird moving, now I don’t and did I ever? Speak to me, speak!

The crisp, starched linen on the high bed puts shame to my sloppy clothes. Your night-dress is in my hand. Soft cotton and perfumed, with dainty embroidered feathers. I would slide it onto you in place of the harsh, yellowed utility gown, if only I could dare to disturb the sterile arrangement which is the nurses’ lot. I want you dressed in clothes which spell – and smell of – you. I study your skin, paler and more pure than I ever had pleasure to caress. Soft with white down, so cool and calm. But why won’t you look? Why won’t you see?

The machinery is humming as if it keeps your heart throbbing. No kidding. Black cables, silver boxes with grey knobs, and tiny red lights which indicate your life. The medics have no real control. They are deluding themselves with their gadgets. You will die when you want to die, I know, and not before. Nor will I let them make you live after.

I hold your hand and scrutinise the creases that tell of your nature. Your ideas. Your garden. Your way of cutting bread. Your supple joints which mix the plaster of Paris again and again or scoop a handful of sculpture and place it at an angle just so. And your fingers still have an outline of white powder round the nail-moons, and your fingernails are jagged and unkempt with repeated turning of clay, chemicals, wire, pliers and wood. Your hands were never akin to the freshness of your complexion or to the buoyancy of every new idea inside your head.

The pain was a concrete barrier – a ball and chain anchoring your zany hopes to the reality of life’s mundane spheres. The Ball of Pain was subject to suggestion too:

“This person can cure me!” you said.

So excited

to try the magic.

Spiritual healer. Ethereal assuager.

With letters after her name.

A big house. Big gardens.

Good note paper. Love birds

in a cage by the front door.

Still here beside you I move your hand, cringing as I find the back of mine touching the mountain of bedclothes which is your wound. At least they knew what they were doing.

I stop breathing to to think

of the journey to that ‘healer’.

Two pretty girls

(I am pretty, I am,

you told me I am.)

We hitch-hiked

two maniac males

in a car made of scrap.

You were doubled-up in pain,

but you pretended it was laughter:

and the walking made you sick.

And the jolting made you stifle a cry.

It was a stolen car,

and your swollen tongue,

was alarming to me

and to anyone who could see.

The giggles turned to tears as reality pulled our senses to a frigid halt. The speed. The stifling petrol from the jalopy, driven beyond its wildest limits. How we ever got out alive I may always regret. That togetherness was all. And still is.

* *

I watched the shamanist woman undress you. Promising a cure. She told you to relax, close your eyes, think of colourful birds in the wild – free and singing in the trees. Across your tummy went her hands, gently at first, stroking and pushing, pummelling the flesh like bread dough. I watched, brimming with hope. And her ecstasy was bewildering, as faster she worked on you, delving into flesh that I’d – never known was there.

Folds of it she found. Folds of your body. You cried out and she hushed you with spiritual psalms and a closing of her heavy black eyelids. The gold crucifix on her neck had a spike at the end. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the house. There were toads in every corner: china ones, leather ones. Dried ones. Green ones, brown ones and black.

There was a smell of blood as she operated on you. She called it surgery but there was no opiate even in her voice. Painless now, perhaps numb? The pummelling and delving went on and on, dark blood flowing in rivers around your white stomach, until at last she pulled free – a lump. “The culprit!” she declared. The root of all your pain. The poison growth which made you wince in agony, and here, she announced, was the cause. Removed by the powers of possession through her hands. Anaesthesia by hope and expectation. Surgery by mind control.

I was sceptical even as she cleaned you. I didn’t like the smell. The sight of an uncut wound made me point and almost laugh.

Flippantly, she turned.

“Have you any ailments I can help you with, my dear?”

I shook my head, shocked. Disgusted at her hungry eyes.

So she spoke to you as if I were senseless and mouthless. “Your sister. Your friend, does she need a little prayer too?”

Cosmetic vacuuming.

Artificial repair.

Theatrical miracle.

It was bullshit.

* *

So we made our way home on foot, uncured, but feeling better if only relieved. Thirty miles.

Then the pain was even worse.

Bruising, with no visible incision. Disillusioned. Those love birds were miniature ravens.

Grateful millionaires pay the bills with donations and then, thankfully for the vile, violating, trickster, they usually die. How the hell we believed in her cures I’ll never know. Tunnel-vision for each other. Safety in the firmness of our love-bond. My adoration sanctioned my every move.

* *

You are not dead nor dying. Your face is white, your mind serene, the new wound in your belly is all sealed up and the bruising is back, but this time it’s valid, not pummelled for the sake of effect.

I hold your hand and you move it a little, but I wonder if the numbing drug was too strong to let you ever recover.

To let you feel anything again:

The touch of my hand on your cheek.

The blow of my whisper on your face.

The hair from my fringe when I kiss the bony valleys of your temples, in anticipation of whispering and loving you – tentatively – tenderly – on the trembling nerve-ends in a line down your spine. When you’re well.

Slowly, hesitantly, a feather-like touch flowing over your fine down, drawing dimples and craters, pot-holes and molehills, gooseflesh and spikes along the contours toward thy pelvic mound. I want to look at your face and see the tension melting, the creases pronounced in their aim to flesh out and disappear. As the corners of your mouth spread into a contented smile, so will your knees fall effortlessly open and a force beyond words, beyond resistance will pull my fingers to your quim where the healing warmth of love begins to stroke away the pain… and bring life.

Do you hear me now? Can you feel my presence? My breath and my thoughts. See my shadow even though your eyes refuse to move? Can you taste the foul bitter breath of illness and does it ring true with the smell of Dettol and polish, of hospital dinners and stout black shoes on the dirtless tile floor?

Here: lick the water I place on your lips, it’s lukewarm and clear as if double-distilled.

It is good. Show me

the life inside your body.

The happiness inside your head.

Tell me now, if there’s none. I need to know and to share your death, and brace myself to leave you.

Body and soul; substitute mother; lover and sister and minder.

Can you feel anything when I do this?

© Bernie Ross, 1996

Please note the date. In a desperate attempt to find new ways of saying the same old thing, too much so-called erotic writing in the 21st Century has become littered with over-the-top synonyms, resulting in a plethora of ridiculous euphemisms leading to blatant flesh on flesh. The writing is crude. But if it’s crude it isn’t erotic, so it has removed itself from the respectable position it held.

The character Fry, in the Futurama cartoon, (a Matt Groening brainchild) summed it up recently in words to the effect: “Thanks to the Internet I’m bored with sex. Now where’s the violence?”

I’ve said for a long time that writing horror (Arguments) is something every writer should tackle so that it’s under their belt. When you’ve written the ultimate (wrenched the depths of your psyche on to the page) then you’ll be able to handle absolutely anything in your writing. You’ll have set yourself free from internal censors and you’ll be able to write things you didn’t know were in there, including lively, savage, boundary-pushing prose, television, comedy or more. You’ll be able to become a criminal, a child, a mad person or a religious guru, if you’re not one of these already. Go to Experimental Writing and see what springs from your mind.

The World Wide Web is teeming with sites about writing and seems to be hottest on the specialists in Science Fiction and Fantasy. It is no small wonder that boundaries blur when everyone has their own definitions. You just have to keep on reading, writing, and trying.

If something doesn’t quite work effectively nor have the impact you intended, it might benefit from being turned to suit another medium, or another genre. At the end of the day it will have taught you a lot about your writing, and it might just find the rostrum that suits you.

Wikipedia, as always, is a good starting place. Look at