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Opera North - The Little Greats

6 Creative Writing Pieces You Need To Read Today

10 August 17 words: Write Lion
illustrations: Ian Carrington

Over the past few months, Nottingham Trent University have been working in association with Broadway Cinema, Writing East Midlands and Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature to host talks and critical-creative writing workshops that explore contemporary issues: from race and sexuality, to discovering life on Mars. The event series was called Re:Vision, and attendees have been crafting loads of work over the duration, so here’s a selection of the goods for you to sample…

York House

We moved to Nottingham in the summer of 1970 to Shearing Hill in Gedling. My father started his new job at Trent Polytechnic as a lecturer in special needs education. He had a small office in the sixties monstrosity called York House. I remember staring up from a new Victoria Centre, trying to locate his room from rows of bland windows among the seven stories. When you went inside and passed to the rear of the reception area, there were crude silver fairground carriages that passed for lifts, which jolted you to a whoosh from a vacuum cleaner.

Once I met him from work. He took me across Mansfield Road for fish and chips at Queen’s Fish Bar. Unlike York House it’s still there, though under new management and with a new name. Over the table, he told me about how students were smoking marijuana and scrawling swastikas in the toilets. It was chaotic and exciting to me, but Dad seemed to think it was a problem.

Then he was relocated to the Clifton site and York House became a ghost looming over my changing teenage years. A stuck symbol once charged with vitality and promise, now threatening to stomp on the iconic Rose of England pub.

In his later years, we’d meet in a vegetarian café in Hurt’s Yard: a tight alley, one of several connecting Market Square to Upper Parliament Street. This alley didn’t actually go anywhere, it just ended in a concrete courtyard looked down upon by a solicitor’s and hair dressing salon. After we’d eaten, I’d wait for him to come out of the toilet. I’d stare at a big, colourful map of the world on the wall and wonder how we ended up here. 

By Neil Deakin

Deserted Identity

I get asked repeatedly if I speak Arabic. Growing up, I always felt indifferent to the idea of being allowed to really understand the language. Outside of school, I was an expat, a foreigner: white. Only seen to know inshallah or perhaps counting to ten: wahid, ithnaan, thalaatha, arba'a, khamsa, sitta, saba’a, thamania, tiss'a, ashra. Looking back, it’s gone. The opportunity to extend my mother tongue, to allow new voices to tone my teeth, to ravel ancient sayings, defining my lips like dunes woven within wadi, to be able to speak from foreign lands, tracing the Middle East on my skin, where desert sunrises caramelised my hair, medjool palms sweetened my mouth – it’s gone.

I looked to French, Spanish, German as languages that I could grasp, based on British boundaries restricting my knowledge to these cultures, as my passport spelt my name over red-locked immigration folders. I am transported to my home away from home when as-salaamu-alaikum, wa-alaikum-as-salaam echoes around the shop corner. These words send fear through the city in which I now live. I have to remind others of the translation: “Peace be upon you, upon you be peace”, but in response, side-eyed glances scream “terrorist”, withering palms beg to scissor a forefinger to the next exit of “back to your country.”

How can I have a country to own me if I am not even labelled Saudi based on people’s perception of my skin, and not British based on the short time I have lived here? As a child, I was shown that women had to cover up with black sheets clipped to their shoulders draping onto the ground, disguising the shape of their hips as easily as the words they didn’t say through their lips. I now use my voice to speak my own, and for the women who cannot.

By Meegan Worcester

A Beam of Light

The house next door is no longer empty; it’s occupied by people foreign to me. They arrived at 9:17pm with loud noises and loud language and amidst their racket was the sound of a baby, squawking to itself. I assume it was a baby, I’ve seen no sign of livestock.

This morning at half past eight, I stepped outside for my morning dose of polluted air and the newspaper. One of them was sitting on his front stoop, smoking a cigarette. He had thick black hair, hazel eyes and wore a white t-shirt with a penny shaped hole below the collar. I turned left, though I needed to go right, and he spoke.

“Hello! Hello Mister!”

I shuffled on, but he was a persistent bugger. “Hi Mister, please, how are you?”

I turned back, lifting the corners of my mouth into a smile, the pressure making my forehead twinge. “Hello,” I replied, hoping that would do.

“Hi,” he beamed. I’d always wondered what this description of a smile looked like, and now I knew.

“I am Amir. And you?”

“I am Herbert Walters, pleased to meet you,” I lied.

“Her-Bert,” he said carefully, “Heeer…Beert.”

“Yes, just Herbert will do, thank you,” I said. “I must get on.”

“Oh, please meet my wife!” he said, standing and presenting his open front door as though I’d won an adventure.

“Oh, no, no, no,” I said.

“Oh, please, please, please!” he said. I don’t know what came over me, but suddenly I was in his hallway. I vaguely thought to myself that his beam must have disarmed me and made me stupid.

Amir nudged me towards the kitchen where the radio was playing that type of Arabian music that’s in a hurry to reach its destination. I saw that the kitchen was beige and the ceiling had signs of damp. A small yellow table was the only thing of brightness in there until I crossed the threshold and found myself staring at a woman with curls peeking out from the edges of her headscarf, dancing on the peeling lino, swooshing and swishing her arms about in the air. The baby she was holding had thrown its small bald head backwards and was laughing in that way babies do, like animated clef notes bouncing along on a sheet of music.

The woman saw me and halted, her cheeks rosy and her eyes shining. “Hello,” she beamed.

“Hello,” I replied.

“Annie, this Her-Bert,” said Amir,” “Her-Bert, this Annie my wife and Hannah my baby,” he said.

“Oh,” I said, startled into thinking about my wife, Hannah, who I had gotten good at not thinking about for a few months now. There was still the odd moment, like on Monday when I’d found one of her bobby pins behind the dresser and I’d spent the afternoon remembering the way her hair would fall in waves to the tips of her ears when she let it down at night.

“Please sit,” said Annie, “I make you tea.” I don’t know why I didn’t tell her I’d already had tea and that my second cup was usually at eleven on the dot. Instead, I sat on a rickety wooden chair and Annie placed the baby in my lap, telling her, “Hannah, this Grandfather Her-Bert. Say hello.”

On command, the baby gurgled at me and grabbed at the button on my shirt pocket. “Hello Hannah,” I said softly, and she beamed at me.

By Sarah Daoud

The Things We Share

I do not know where my papers are,
thieved in the night whilst I lay mute
in the belly of a boat
from which we crept at dawn
to a wordless roar,
surf hurling itself at the slick dark rocks.

Is this the same sea as our sea?

My left shoe is gritty – the betrayal
that let in bits of beach might have been forgiven
if only it were both.
Now grit grows sore between two toes,
chafes, blisters, bleeds.

Is this the same sand as our sand?

A man gives me a thing called plaster,
a pink skin of a thing that sticks
flesh on flesh: sand, sea, flesh –
all these things we share.  

By Lauren Colley

A moment of Bilingual

A mute gesture

Carries hundreds of words flying around

Alphabets

                Strokes                                

                                Characters

Yes

                Dui

Mo leng liang ke

                                Ambiguous

                                Cha bu duo,cha bu duo,cha bu duo...

Epiphany

---I am a new me

When my tongue reaches a different curl…

Notes:

Stroke: Stroke order refers to the order in which the strokes of a Chinese character are written. A stroke is a movement of a writing instrument on a writing surface.

Dui: Correct in Chinese

Mo leng liang ke: Ready to accept either in Chinese

Cha bu duo: Almost in Chinese

By Shaouhi He

Exit Right

Gradually the total blackness lifts – gentle blue-grey light moving to brighter tones. In each cubicle, the pillows inflate and tilt as the women are raised to a sitting position. Hydration machines bleep softly while waste is swiftly syphoned away through stainless steel pipes that travel deep underground.

Twenty-five kilometres away, at the control centre, the duty officer checks each monitor. Once the status of each inhabitant has been verified, screens turn on in each cubicle. In cubicle 57B, patient 4528TM regards her menu board.

Good morning 4528TM. Today is your birthday. You have reached your 167th year. Congratulations! An additional daily supplement will be added to your nutridrip. The cost of the above will be subtracted from the value of your estate. Your assets will allow your continued level of support for 234 more days. Today, in recognition of your birthday, the following treats will be rotated for the next 12 hours.

  1. pictures of cake
  2. virtual candle blowing experience
  3. the sound of party poppers and champagne corks
  4. traditional happy birthday song

The above will be in addition to any options you might choose from the regular menu and will not incur any additional cost.

The woman in the next cubicle, patient 7634ZT, is unaware that her neighbour has reached another milestone. She is much younger, having only achieved her century a couple of years earlier. Unlike most of the women, she is still capable of independent movement, although she finds this a cause for frustration rather than freedom. She has only recently been moved to the institution, the doctors convinced that the sharpness of her mind will soon be reduced once the daily regime of property programmes, mindfulness exercises and tranquilising drugs are allowed to take hold.

But for now, she still remembers the love and banter of friendship, the taste on her tongue of food and wine, the fulfilment of a piece of work well done, the joy of independent living. She thinks of her children and grandchildren and of her soon-to-be-born great grandchild. She thinks of them with love and longing, but she is resigned to her fate.

The last ten years have been hard – new knees and hips helped, but she had never expected to have to work until she was ninety-two. For eight years she has been able to keep living at home, but her heart is tired and she does not have any money left to pay for a replacement. Her family live far away and cannot be released for caring duties. The only option left was to move here, to the exit hostel where she will remain until her funds run out.

She would prefer to take the drugs now but, despite the many petitions and impassioned speeches from her generation, the law remains unchanged. No-one is permitted to leave any part of their estate to their children or grandchildren. Once funds run out, drugs are administered as a matter of course.

Her assets will allow her 21 more days. She is not afraid to die. But she is sad that she will not meet her great-grandson.

In the next cubicle, patient 4528TM stares at the screen, which shows an elaborate birthday cake sizzling under the combined heat of 167 blue candles. In a rare moment of lucidity she recognises that she feels strangely weak, unstable. She closes her eyes. The machine that monitors her heartbeat falters, emits an urgent bleep then falls suddenly silent.

At the control centre, a bored duty officer registers the death, noting that there are 233 days of finance still available. She allocates it randomly to a patient in the same centre before checking the personal details of patient 4528TM. She is surprised to see that this was a woman who had once been a leader of a political party that had been influential in the twentieth century and the first quarter of the twenty-first century. She plans to mention it to her grandmother who might remember the name.

But by the time she has set the program to release the body to the exit incinerator, she has forgotten what the name was.

By Julie Gardner

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