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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Evidence that Fran can win competitions by writing about sporting activities

This is the story called 'Fishing' which I entered into the Writing Magazine's New Subscribers' Competition. I got the first prize of £150, which I'm putting towards printing a collection of some funny stuff.  Watch this space. 'Pieces of Me' will be available soon, if that's not more of a threat than a promise ...

They say 'write about what you know' and I broke that rule in this story, because I've never been fishing and don't intend to start, but don't carp on about it.  

Anyway, to save you the £3.75 that the magazine costs, here's the story, if you'd like to read it.  It's more about jealousy, and childhood, and wanting approval, than it is about fishing, to be fair.

Fishing

He just wouldn't learn, see.  I thought he was pretending, at first, to get me riled.  But whatever I said (‘try to relax, feel the water holding you up, don’t bend your knees’) he wouldn't learn.  He just thrashed about and then grabbed at me, gulping and coughing.  I tried to be patient.  I wanted to be a good teacher, like Miss Crossley, sticking with him, and if he'd learned it all right, nothing would have happened.  That's what I keep telling everybody, all these people who want me to tell them what happened, even recording it.  Now, Alan, they say.  Let’s just go through it one more time.  Why do they need to hear it all again?  It's making my head hurt.
Stephen got five quid from his dad for his report, even though he only got Cs and Ds.  He didn't get any As, and I got an A for Art and for PE.  Mr Reed wanted to put me in to run for the County, but when I told my dad that, while he was looking at my report, he just kept going on about Maths and Biology, as if I hadn't got any As at all.   And he never noticed the decorations I did all round his name on the envelope.  I stayed after school to finish them and Miss Crossley had to send me out, so she could lock the classroom.  Dad just ripped the envelope open with his thumb and pulled out the report.  Sometimes he just wants a chance to get at me.  Mum never did that.  She never called my drawings ‘bits of scribble’, and she'd come and watch me on Sports Day and go swimming with me, things like that.
  But Stephen was okay, and he was into fishing, like me, down at the river.  Our dads never knew about it.  We weren't supposed to be there, but no one came.  Stephen's dad had a couple of old fishing rods in the garage and Stephen reckoned he wouldn't ever miss them.  My dad had some too, from when he was a kid, but I wouldn't dare take them.  Sometimes I said to Dad, ‘Why can’t we go fishing?’ but he'd say where did I think he had the time to do that, now he had to do everything?
Me and Stephen never caught anything, not before that day anyway.  We'd heard there were some really big fish in there, but however long we waited they never came.  Just tiddlers.  I suppose I should have learned patience from fishing, the times we had to wait.  But trying to teach Stephen to swim, that was different. 
It was my idea.  I was busting to think, what could I do that would be a great surprise for Dad?  It was no good trying to get good at Maths or Science, because I couldn't.  I'd stopped showing him my pictures, or mentioning running, because he just got mad and started saying stuff about 'making something of yourself' and 'making your way in the world'.  I asked him once, ‘Is your job at the canning factory making something of yourself, Dad?’ and he slapped me across the head.  Mum would have laid into him for that. 
So when Stephen said he wished he could swim, I thought, why don't I teach him, take him down the swimming baths and show him?  He said he was useless at sports, and he's always tripping over his own legs in Games.  But I knew I was a good swimmer.  My mum taught me, but Dad's always said he could never get the hang of it.  So I got excited.  I thought: I could even teach Dad, if it worked out with Stephen.  I never told Dad what I was planning, even though a couple of times, when I was asking him for swimming money, I really wanted to.  No, I thought.  Wait until Stephen’s got the hang of it, and then get Dad to come to the swimming baths with me.  I grinned at myself in the hall mirror, thinking about it.
 Stephen said he was sure he could never learn, but I told him it was easy when you got used to it.  So, during the summer, after school and through the holidays, some days we'd go to the pool, some days down to the river, sometimes both.  But he could never get the swimming right and though I tried everything, moving his legs and arms to show him, holding my hand under his back, he couldn't get it.  Sometimes I felt like shaking him, I got so mad.  I couldn't understand why he wouldn't relax like I told him.  Day after day after day, he just wouldn't learn.  I knew I was doing the right things, because I remembered how Mum taught me.  But he wouldn't do it right.
Then one day last week, we went down to the river.  We'd met at the pool because we'd arranged to go swimming first, but then Stephen moaned that he didn’t want to. Couldn't we just go fishing, he said, that day, because he was feeling lucky. He said his dad had given him another fiver for winning some chess prize at school.  When he told me that, I felt like there was something ugly taking up my brain.  I tried to get rid of the feeling, and we sat there, flipping the lines into the water, batting at the flies buzzing around our heads.  It was hot.  Stephen said did I want a swig of his lemonade, but I shook my head.
I didn't believe Stephen when he said he had a catch.  He kept tugging at the rod, and I thought he was mucking about, so I looked back at my rod and tried to ignore him.  His five pound note was sticking out of his pocket and I wished I could tear it up and throw the pieces into the river.  I wanted to watch them bob away on the water.  
But he did have a catch, and he started yelling at me to come and help him.  I stood behind him and yanked at his arm as he pulled the rod, and we could see this blue-green, flashing up and out of the water, the biggest fish I'd ever seen anyway.  I don't know what it was, a carp or something, whipping its body backwards and forwards. We hauled it in and it lay on the bank.  We both watched it, our eyes wide.  Stephen's mouth was hanging open, reminding me of how he wouldn't shut it when I was trying to teach him, so that he’d keep swallowing water.  Pathetic, it was.  I thought I was going to be sick, looking at him, looking at the fish.
When the fish had stopped moving, Stephen kept going on about how he thought he would tell his dad about the fishing now, and he knew he'd be pleased, even though he shouldn't have been down the river, and they'd have it for tea, with chips.  I thought he was talking a load of crap, I said to him.  His dad would go ballistic.  But he kept saying he'd tell him.  Maybe his dad would take him fishing after this, he said, teach him properly.  I thought, no one can teach you anything, but I didn't say.
I said to Stephen, just as he was looking for something to wrap up the fish and take it home, why don't we try a swim in the river for a change, now that he was used to the pool?  It was such a hot day.  He didn't want to.  He said he just wanted to go home, and anyway, he was worried about his fish.  We can't just leave it here, he said.  I said, ‘Nothing’s going to happen to it, and anyway, you said we could have a swim today, remember.’  So, in the end Stephen took off his jeans and T-shirt and we covered up the fish with my T-shirt.  Stephen got into the water, gingerly, like he always did at the pool, as if he thought it would hurt him.  I pulled him into the middle, which he didn't like, but as I told him, he should have been able to do it by now, if he'd learned properly.  He was crying a bit, like a kid, and shouting: 'You mean, if you could teach properly,' and I punched him in the belly before I thought about it.  What a baby.  I’d shown him what to do, so many times. He just never listened.
I threw out my arms and swam back to the bank just to scare him.  I was waiting for him to call out, ask me to help him back, but he didn't, and I didn't look behind me, so I thought he would perhaps try to doggy paddle back.  He should have been able to by then, if he'd tried.  When I reached the bank, I looked back but I couldn't see him.  The water had gone still.  I thought maybe he'd made it to the other bank instead, and run off home to complain to his dad about me.  I picked up my T-shirt and looked at the fish, then back at the water, then again at the fish.  There it was, the massive thing, shining silver and blue from the water, like jewels, and its great eye staring upwards. 
I wrapped the fish in the T-shirt and belted back towards home with it, falling over once so that I dropped it and had to brush all the dirt off its scales.  ‘Dad!  Dad!’ I yelled, as I ran up the front path towards the door, holding the fish tight against me and ringing and ringing the bell.  When he came out, shouting 'What's all the bloody noise about?' I shoved the T-shirt with the fish in it into his arms. 
‘Look, Dad,’ I said.  ‘Look what I got for you’.

            

34 comments:

  1. It is no wonder you won Fran - bloody brilliant!
    Anna :o]

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    1. Cheers, Anna. Glad you liked it, and thanks for reading.

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  2. Wow. So good. Congratulations.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Thanks, Janie. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  3. Great story but it made me sad. Can't stop thinking about it...sign of a good story though. Well done!

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    1. Yes, not one of my belly-laugh stories, that one. Sorry!

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  4. Wow. There's a real sense of impending disaster all the way through... an innocent wide-eyed kind of menace. Money well earned, m'dear.

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    1. Oh, good. It's nice when what you try to do actually shows! Thanks for reading, Steve.

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  5. An excellent, well paced story that reeled me in from from the first line. Congratulations.

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    1. Ha ha, I knew someone would start the fishing jokes. Thanks for reading and commenting, Stephen. Pleased you like it, because I know you tell a good story.

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  6. Really enjoyed your story, had a real feeling of empathy with the main character and even though he did something deplorable, I could see where he was coming from - loved it.

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    1. That's a great compliment about the characterisation, Lou. Thanks. I wanted you to side with him.

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  7. Really good Fran. Lots of undertones, made me sad. You are damn good, love your work. Kev

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    1. Hello! Thanks, Kev, for reading. I'm glad it made you sad. That was the aim. Sorry!

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  8. Poor boy has to live with the guilt. I bet they never ate the fish either.

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    1. Yes, and who's going to tell the carp's side of the story? Poor minor characters, always getting left out.

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    2. And Mrs Carp and all the little Carps.

      (Hmm... a spin off?)

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  9. Great story, Fran. I'm increasingly coming to recognise the important part that structure plays in writing, and this is a good example. The way it's put together, the reader starts off thinking that this is a tragic accident (at least, I did!). By the time you understand what really happened, you also understand why. That gives it depth (no pun intended!): there are multiple layers of tragedy here. In fact, you've fitted more into this short story than some writers manage in an entire novel! Very well done.

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    1. Funny you should say that, Paul. Getting those layers into my novel is exactly what I'm having trouble with, and Ali Hull is trying to get me to sort myself out!

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    2. I think you had something of this in 'Being Miss', in that the apparently straightforward (and funny!) story on top was underlaid by a sense of the motivation and commitment involved in teaching. You perhaps didn't plan it that way, but that's how it came through to me! In some ways, the tightness of prose and structure required by a short story makes it easier to work these layers in: you can see the entire thing at once.

      Or am I talking complete ****** ?

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    3. No, of COURSE I planned it that way (she says, looking shifty). Yes, I'm sure it's easier with a short story. You're not talking complete asterisks.

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  10. Oh no... poor Stephen, poor narrator... Great story, beautifully told. I was emotionally invested right from the start and found myself sitting bolt upright by the end.
    I want to know: Did he nick Stephen's fiver on his way past the pile of clothes?

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    1. Thanks, Helen. I would hate to think he nicked the fiver. Maybe he felt it wasn't his plaice. Ho ho.

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  11. An excellent read, Fran. A worthy winner, indeed.

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    1. Thanks, Martin, for reading. No puns today? No fish jokes? I am disappointed ....

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    2. I should have said 'gutted'. Missed opportunity or what?

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  12. Oh dear! Very good story but I had to skip to the end to make sure that it was going to be ok. Am now harrowed. But you richly deserved to win, all the same. Hooray for Fran.

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    1. I love the way you skipped to the end to make sure it had a happy ending! That's what I call a disappointment!

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  13. Well, I had a strong feeling that it might not!

    I always read the end of books after I've read the first few chapters. I like to see the threads as they weave towards the conclusion.

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    1. Nooooooo! I could never do that! I'd think there was no point in reading the book. I only do that if I've got jolly fed up with the book's style, can't be bothered to wade through, and so I look to see how it ended and then start another. But if I'm enjoying it, I love the anticipation.

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    2. I read it too fast if I don't do it and then I miss the details.

      But I know it's wicked. (Hangs head.)

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    3. It'd be interesting to find out how others read. We all do it so differently!

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  14. not a fishing person, vehemently not, but the story was a real 'page turner'

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    1. Thanks, Diana. I really don't see what people find fascinating about fishing, to be frank. All that time just sitting and waiting, and then in most cases having to throw the fish back. That's like ordering a pizza, waiting in for it, and then turning the man away at the door. But the topic worked for my story, so I used it.

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