The jarwal stared at her malevolently, saliva dripping from its gaping jaws, making its fearsome teeth glisten in the harsh winter sunlight.
What's a jarwal?
I don't know. I haven't though about it. Something fierce and nasty. A huge maggot-like beastie with a ferocious temper and huge teeth. A bit like in Alien, only more like a maggot.
It's a bit science fiction isn't it? You don't even like science fiction.
I know. I'm just trying to convey an atmosphere of terror and anger in the light of recent events. I suppose the jarwal is a representation of my anger.
Well try another approach. Don't make up words or fierce animals. No jarwals. Be direct.
He was angry.
That's good. You can't get more direct than that.
What? Why are we waiting?
What was he angry about?
I don't know. You're writing the story. Make something up. Draw on your own experiences.
He was angry. He hated her. And not just her. He hated everybody. He wanted to go to the cupboard in the hall, get the axe he kept there, walk out into the street and inflict bloody, messy carnage on anybody he found passing by.
You are angry, aren't you? I can't help feeling though, that if you're going to make this an interesting story, you're going to have to try to focus your anger just a tad more.
The jarwal bit her head off at the neck and he watched with grim satisfaction as her corpse fell to the floor juddering and spurting blood in a crimson fountain.
Forget the jarwal. No-one knows what a jarwal is. Anyway, this is way too bloody and violent. It's distasteful and you'll repel most of your readers before you've even started. Besides, how are you going to top that opening? Your story will need to end with a climax. How are you going to top a beheading and a juddering corpse spurting blood in a crimson fountain? Start small and work your way up to the big stuff, that's my advice. And keep it real. Draw on your experiences, on what you see around you.
It was nine o'clock in the evening.
I know I said small, but not quite that small. Small but interesting. You've only got small there. Still, it can be quite rewarding to draw on your immediate circumstances. Work it up. It is nine o'clock. Tell us a bit more.
It was nine o'clock on a crisp and chill winter evening.
That's better, but you still need a bit more detail. You've got to get your reader or listener hooked from the word go.
The phrase 'the word go' had always appalled him.
I didn't mean literally the word 'go'.
I know. I was just messing about. I'm finding this very difficult.
Get on with it. Apply yourself. We need a small but interesting beginning. We need focused anger, we need detail. You were on the right lines with that nine o'clock on a crisp and chill winter evening business. You just need to work it up a bit, that's all.
It was nine o'clock on a crisp and chill winter evening, the sort of evening when the natural instinct is to nestle by the fire, the sort of evening that's so cold that those poor souls who are out in it are loth to breathe in for fear of the damage the air will do to their lungs.
Good image. A bit Victorian, perhaps. Too many words, but a good image. Try and cut it down a bit.
It was cold - the sort of cold that hurts when you breathe in, that you feel in your lungs and makes the skin of your face what?
What does it make your face?
I don't know. It's your story.
But it was your idea for me to write it. You're so angry, you said. Why not try and write a story, you said. Use those feelings creatively, you said. You've got a real way with words, you said. I'll help, you said.
OK. Sting and smart like it's been slapped.
Makes the skin of your face tingle and smart like it's been slapped.
That's good. That's very good. We've got bitter cold, which I like, and we've got a suggestion of violence, which I like a lot. Very indicative of my mood. Maybe we need some sharp teeth and a giant maggot.
No, we don't. In any case I'm not so sure now.
Why? I thought it was going quite well.
It's not bad, but there are no people in it.
We've only had the one sentence. We can put a person or two in the next one.
OK. Give it a go.
It was cold - the sort of cold that hurts when you breathe in, that you feel in your lungs and makes the skin of your face tingle and smart like it's just been slapped. Next sentence: She was very cold.
That won't do at all, will it? We know it's cold. You've told us that already. We need to be moving forward. Tell us something else. Make something up.
There was a maggot in her ear.
A giant maggot?
No, just a maggot. Ordinary, household variety. In her ear.
Actually, I rather like that. I like that a lot. I like that much more than I liked all that cold stuff.
I thought you liked all that cold stuff?
I did. I'm just saying that I like this maggot thing even more. It's really strong. It's a great image. I think you should forget all about the cold stuff for a while and concentrate on the maggot. What happened next?
It crawled around a bit.
That's a bit of a disappointment, if you don't mind me saying so. 'There was a maggot in her ear' was such a strong first line, but you ruin it completely by saying 'it crawled around a bit'. You need to amplify your first image, or explain it. Why was there a maggot in her ear?
I don't know.
Don't try to think about it. Don't try to work it out. Feel the answer.
Because she left me.
Yes, I know she did. In real life. But you'll still need to explain why the maggot is there in the story. 'There was a maggot in her ear. It was there because she left me' just doesn't work. Or does it? Maybe it does. It's different. Startling. Perhaps even intriguing. Let's go with it for a little while. If it's not working we can come back later and take it out. Continue.
There was a maggot in her ear. It was there because she left me. It had been there for two weeks.
You know, I really like this. It's slightly distasteful, but you're building up a great image. Already I want to know why the maggot is there, what it's doing, and I want to know about her. Gillian, I presume. What did she think about the maggot in her ear?
She didn't mind. In full. There was a maggot in her ear. It was there because she left me. It had been there for two weeks but she didn't mind. I don't know.
Well, it's a bit misogynistic, isn't it?
How do you mean?
Well, the reason she didn't mind the maggot is because she's dead. That's the only reason someone wouldn't mind a maggot in her ear. In fact, now that I think about it, it's probably the only reason there would be a maggot in someone's ear in the first place.
Maybe you're right.
So I can't use it, can I? I can't be misogynistic.
Because it's misogynistic.
Is it misogynistic because you've got a dead woman in it?
Yes, I suppose so.
What if it isn't?
What if it isn't misogynistic, just because you've got a dead woman at the beginning. What if you're just stating a matter of fact, like saying it was cold. What if you're just reporting events?
You mean, what if I think of it as morally neutral?
Oh? Why not?
Because she'll think it's misogynistic and I won't be able to get her back.
Do you want her back?
Even though you're so angry with her?
She's a cow. She left you standing at the airport the day you were supposed to be flying off to Corfu for a romantic holiday. She took all your stuff, she left you stranded with the plane tickets hoping that you'd get on the plane anyway and go on your own so that she'd be able to use your flat for shagging this Graham character in the meantime, and you would have gone had you not accidentally met me at the departure desk. And you want her back?
Double chump. She's bad news. If she's thinking about you at all she's probably laughing her socks off because she still thinks you're in Corfu. Forget about her. Write your story. Get it out of your system.
There was a maggot in her ear. It
It's not working. I can't do it. I love her.
Write about that then.
He loved her. Even though she was the cruellest, meanest, vilest person he'd ever known. Even though she'd betrayed him, humiliated him, even though he wanted her dead. He loved her.
And that's not misogynistic?
It's true though.
But what's the difference between this and the maggot? Take it from me, the maggot's better. Go with the maggot.
There was a maggot in her ear. It was there because she left him. It had been there for two weeks but she didn't mind. She was certainly not complaining. I think this is better.
Because I changed the me to a him. There's a bit of distance now. It's not me doing the violence.
See? It's just a question of sticking with it once you're on to a good idea.
It was a question of distance.
Yes, you said.
No, this is the story.
Oh, I see.
There was a maggot in her ear. It was there because she left him. It had been there for two weeks but she didn't mind. She was certainly not complaining. It was a question of distance - the distance between her head and her heart. It had always been too big, but now it was more than three miles. The one was on a shelf in his bedroom, and the other under a metric tonne of coal in her mother's cellar. He'd always hated her mother.
I can see why you were worried about this being misogynistic.
I think I might be able to tell this story without condoning violence towards women.
No-one in their right mind would condone violence towards women.
It's a bit risky though. You're going to have to make sure that the thrust of this story isn't saying 'if she leaves you, put her in her place'.
Or, as in this case, places.
I see what you mean. It's difficult. Maybe the problem is the maggot.
The maggot in her ear?
Yes. The maggot in her ear is connoting violence from, as you would say, the word go.
Maybe you should change direction and make it plain that there's no violence involved right from the word start.
Good idea. Shall we get rid of the maggot?
No, the maggot's good. Keep the maggot for now.
OK. How to make plain she's not dead? I know ... The maggot in her ear itched like torture but she couldn't scratch it because
I'm not sure. Because she had her hands tied behind her back, I suppose.
It's not working, is it? If anything, this is worse than the head in the coal cellar.
You're right. It's the maggot that's the problem. It's a good image, but it implies violence. Forget the maggot.
Hang on a minute. I've had an idea.
There was a maggot in his ear. She'd put it there when she'd left him.
That does seem somehow more acceptable, doesn't it?
Yes. I guess the answer is to turn one's rage against oneself.
Do yourself damage, you mean? A way of coping with your feelings of rejection and humiliation and inadequacy, your utter insignificance?
I might not have put it quite like that, but yes. It's an intriguing thought, isn't it? I didn't feel at all comfortable expressing hostility towards her, even after everything she's done to me, but I feel quite comfortable expressing hostility towards myself. Maybe that's because deep down I'm a really nice guy. Or maybe it's a reflection of the way I really feel. More angry with me than with her. For being a chump.
You may be right. You are a chump. You're a nice guy too, and it's OK to feel angry with yourself. Let that hostility out.
The jarwal in his head was screaming to get out. He wanted it to bust out the front of his face, eat his whole body, rend him limb from limb and toss the severed remains of his body to the four winds of that bleak and barren place.
And you feel quite comfortable with this?
Yes, I suppose so.
You don't think you might be taking the self-hatred thing just a little too far?
I don't know. Am I?
We'll I'm beginning to get a little concerned about it, I must admit. I think you need to calm down a little.
Maybe you're right. It's just that I'm so angry. I want to feel hurt. I deserve it. I'm a chump.
Yes, you are, but the answer is not imagining giant maggots bursting out the front of your face. It's disgusting, and it's not altogether healthy. People will think you're crazy. I think the answer is for you to feel some real pain.
Are you going to hit me again?
No. I'm suggesting a mixture of pleasure and pain. I think we should both do ourselves some real damage. I'll keep you company.
You mean ...?
They were going to the pub. They felt like getting completely bladdered.
That's more like it.
They were going to get obliterated.
This story telling business was too difficult. He was too angry.
Maybe he would feel calmer in the cold light of morning, especially if he woke up with a headache and nausea?
Maybe he would feel better if he felt worse in the morning. It was entirely possible. Right now, though, he needed a sedative and he needed it bad. He knew just the place to get it.
The Bow Bar?
If they met the jarwal on the way there, he would kick it in the nuts.
No he wouldn't. Forget the bloody jarwal. He was angry, but he was trying to calm down. He needed to stay calm to write his story. Violence wouldn't help. Besides, the jarwal was probably female.
His friend was right. If he met the jarwal tonight, he would ignore it.
Precisely. Well done.
He thanked his friend and said Come on then, let's go. He got his coat. They were going to get smashed. It was cold out but it was going to be good night, he could feel it in his bones. They had demons to exorcise and a broken heart to mend. They had a jarwal to ignore.
They had a what?
Exactly. You can get the first round.