The Making of Alan Kirkpatrick

Here’s a short extract from a project I’m working on…

“Oh wow. You’re so pretty.”

Kippy wasn’t sure he liked a man touching his face, but Danny had reached out a hand and swept two fingers slowly from the temple to his jaw.

“I adore freckles.”

There was another thing Kippy wasn’t sure about: campness. Danny was as camp as Christmas, as the saying went. The party hadn’t been his idea, but Lillian insisted. She’d kind of taken him under her wing when he first arrived in Glasgow. She was very posh, but then he and posh girls got along if Daisy had been anything to go by.

Kippy was older than everyone else at art school, apart from Lillian whose parents had been wealthy enough to finance her through not just one, but two gap years. She swooped on him on their first day.

“Ooh—and what’s your name, precious?”

He was monosyllabic, partly through nerves and because he didn’t want to get into yet another Daisy situation where a woman fell for him.

She shook her head when he said ‘Kippy’. “I’m not calling you that. What’s your real name?”

“Alan Kirkpatrick.” He was still mumbling, hoping this pushy blonde would push off.

“Hmm,” she wrinkled her nose. “Terrible, too. I suppose I’ll have to stick with Kippy.”

She threaded an arm through his. “We need to stick together. Everyone else here is so young and so inexperienced. I hate teenagers, don’t you?” Said with all the bloated confidence of one just a year out of her teens.

Kippy’s worries about a repeat of the Daisy situation came to nothing. Lillian knew he was gay, she announced grandly. She had a sense for these things. As someone only just coming to terms with life beyond the closet, her revelation made him uncomfortable.

He remembered the teasing he’d put up with while he was doing his college course some years ago. Davy, Ewan and those other apprentices, the ones skilled in wrinkling out differences in their peers, zoning in on anything they suspected wasn’t just so. Had he not hidden it as well as he thought?

Kippy hadn’t actually known what he was hiding for a long time. Instinct had warned him to keep quiet about how different he felt from everyone around him anyway, though. He hid behind Daisy for some months until…The Thing happened. And then his life changed, mostly for the better but the start of his new life had been unbelievably hard and painful.

Lillian was like no-one else he’d ever met. She insisted that in the 90s, it was de riguer for al la mode women such as herself to have a GBF. When he looked mystified, she sighed. “A gay best friend, precious.”

She cocked her head to one side. “You’re from the sticks too. I don’t suppose you had much opportunity to explore your sexuality.”

Honestly, sometimes it was a bit like having a conversation about sex with your mum. He squirmed.

“Auntie Lillian can help!”

She was unbelievably nosey too. She asked questions all the time, almost as if she was researching him. So, tell me about Kirkcudbright? What about your mum and dad? When did you realise you were gay? Have you ever kissed a man?

When he finally admitted that no, he’d never so much as given a guy a hug, she clapped her hands together.

“That’s awful. First thing, then. I must introduce you to some friends of mine.”

Hence, the party.

These being Lillian’s friends, the party was taking place in a flat in the west end, just off the Great Western Road. These flats were so posh, they had two floors.

Lillian had insisted on picking out his outfit for him. Kippy had been going through a phase of velvet blazers, but she turned up her nose on them. “Too obvious!” She held up a plain white tee shirt and his old, worn Levi’s.

“Be the man in the laundrette,” she said, referring to the old advert where Nick Kamen stripped off, puts his jeans in a washing machine and sat in his boxers waiting for them to dry.

As a fourteen-year-old, Kippy had watched the advert a lot. Even now, if Marvin Gaye’s Heard it Through the Grapevine came on the radio, he felt his body quiver in excitement.

The outfit seemed to have done the trick. The party-goers were sixty-forty men to women. Lillian and Kippy were fashionably late arriving, and the attention that greeted them was flattering.

The party’s host made his way towards them, his eyes fixed on Kippy.

“Lillian! You beautiful thing, you. Who’s this?”

Danny wasn’t his ‘type’ anyway. Until very recently, Kippy couldn’t have told you what his type was. A picture swam before his eyes, a half-naked man wearing turned down overalls and a lazy grin. He blinked several times, hoping he wouldn’t cry.

Lillian leant forward and whispered something to Danny.

“I’ll get you both a drink,” Danny said. “And then mingle, do! We’re all good friends of Dorothy here.”

He winked, the eyes then flashing Kippy a lustful look.

“Are you okay, Alan?” Lillian asked. She was the only person under thirty who ever called him that, but he thought he maybe liked it. She said, ‘Alan’, when she was being serious, or asking difficult questions.

“Aye,” he nodded slowly. He’d be better once he had a drink in him. “Who’s Dorothy?”

 

©Emma Baird 2017

Preposterous Endings and Implausible Plots

The burnt-out car - it doesn't happen half as much as Hollywood would have you believe.

The burnt-out car – it doesn’t happen half as much as Hollywood would have you believe.**

Last week, I watched a film I thought preposterous and a book that featured an implausible plot.

It made me think because when you’re a writer you imagine various scenarios in your head, trying them out to see if they work or not, and rejecting plenty of ideas because they seem unbelievable.

It’s the biggest contradiction about fiction – good films and books need to be believable. Even if you’re writing about teenage boy wizards and their adventures saving the world from a malevolent man everyone fears to name. (Except for the said teenage boy wizard.)

By the time I’d got to the end of Jason Bourne, I had switched off. The last car chase (and there had been a few beforehand) seemed ludicrous, as did the final fight which was long, drawn out and physically impossible. Films like to throw together the main good guy and the main bad guy for a final fight, the main bad guy always managing to miraculously escape everyone else’s efforts to bring him down.

The book I read* featured three women who managed to set up a business together which was of course an immediate success. They all managed to find the loves of their lives at the same time so that the book had a happy – and very neat – ending.

It did make me think though. Should writers spend too much time worrying about the plausibility of their plots? Does it make something less enjoyable if the ending is predictable and unrealistic?

Plenty of us go to the cinema or read books for escapism. When life’s pretty uncertain, why not watch something or curl up with a book where you know the goodies will win, the baddies will get their just desserts and the heroine will find love?

I’m currently fretting over several elements of my own book, wondering if they are realistic enough. I’m worried about a car crash, where a car conveniently explodes (forums online suggest car explosions are nowhere near as common as Hollywood makes out), the progress of an old woman’s Alzheimer’s (I suspect I’ve made it too quick for plot reasons) and the timings of some revelations that I fear have come too thick and fast.

Making something interesting and making it believable don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but I’d rather write a book that people read and don’t feel forced to mutter, “Oh, for God’s sake! Seriously?” or “What a load of rubbish!”

 

 

 

*I don’t like giving mean book reviews, so I’ll keep the book’s identity a secret. And actually, I did quite enjoy it.

**Picture thanks to Jeff Buck.

How to Write Flash Fiction

Flash fiction, just like any kind of fiction, uses this process for narrative.

Flash fiction, just like any kind of fiction, uses this process for narrative.

I am a self-styled expert in many things… educating myself via the internet, for one thing and how to conduct endless research on different dieting and fitness methods without ever actually applying them consistently to self for another thing.

It seems that a lot of people type “how to” type queries into search engines (no kidding, Sherlock) and  therefore, from time to time, I decide to write a “how to” post in a bid for online popularity. How to make an art skill out of procrastination would be my real area of expertise, but seeing as you are currently (and very kindly)  reading my blog I’m going to label you an expert procrastinator without any need whatsoever of my help in that area so how to write flash fiction it is…

Flash fiction can be anything from 140 characters a la Twitter up to 1,000 words according to wikipedia, but there is no real prescribed limit. Aesop’s Fables can be thought of as flash fiction, according to the wonderful wiki, so very short stories are nothing new at all. If you want to write flash fiction (and there are many websites which welcome regular contributions, including this one and this one), here is how to start:

  1. A story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Very obvious yes, but the beginning should scene set (exposition), the middle describe a mini climax (rising action and falling action) and the end bring it all together.
  2. The end does not need to tie up all loose ends; it could leave the reader thinking – and wanting more.
  3. Sometimes, the first line is enough to think up in the first place without a clear idea of where the story is going. Take for example – ‘Molly’s latest boyfriend hadn’t specified at the beginning that he was a volunteer traffic warden and it was beginning to become a problem.‘ There are a lot of places you could go with this one line – the problems of being a volunteer traffic warden, or how to get rid of a dull boyfriend in murderous ways, for example.
  4. Excess words don’t have a place in flash fiction – you will need to ensure you have plenty of words to use so you can contrast descriptions, adjectives and adverbs, and then discard what you don’t need.
  5. It’s easier to write flash fiction if you write it all out, then check the word count and then start to pare back the words. Visualise the overall length at the beginning to help guide you – I’ve been writing 100-word flash fiction for seven months now and I know it is roughly three short paragraphs (six or seven sentences), whereas 500 words is about a page and half of A4.

As an added bonus, once you hone your skills on flash fiction they translate to other areas of your life. Writing a CV/resume? Think of the ‘why you want this job’ bit as the opportunity of flash fiction starring you*. Writing a synopsis of your fictional masterpiece? Flash fiction skills give you the discipline of condensing words into small amounts. Writing a presentation – flash fiction helps you sum up your story in a dynamic way etc etc.

 

*I take no responsibility if you carry out this bit of advice and your employers subsequently decide you have played fast and loose with ‘fiction’.