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79. October the 19th 81. Writing... Live!

October 20th, 2020

Ruby Chocolate

Red Sky At Night, Ruby Delight (47% Ruby Chocolate) The charming story of the last remaining night shepherd. With handmade nets and endless ladders, She seeks the priceless rubies of red skies. In the hours before dawn, singing, she stepped out through the back door, remembering the lights of the evening, and the ring of the bells somewhere east, where the choir had, singing, gathered under the eaves to save the souls of those who clustered there. Winter knew her movements, while Summer had let her run free, and so between them she moved unsteadily, cursed to crunch the tea-stained leaves with a heel that pierced garnet hearts on a pin-cushion, and a toe that popped bubblegum balloons after children’s birthday parties, when the air had gone out of them. Would she take the river, lazy, or the hills, a slog? Instinct took her towards the water where the bridge lights glistened and Lady Dawn, who would soon be stretching and yawning, would glow coral from the mouth, at once the fire-light and the homeward beacon. From the bridge’s arching towers she could stand a ladder, lean up and touch the stars, sweet shining diamonds, the moon a great pearl, and, on a clear night like tonight, the red planets are crimson jewels. What strange things she passed as she wandered the streets: the misshapen shapes of towering hats, the life of the underworld who scurried and gnawed, fast cars and smart bars, trees shaking their turning leaves, a woman in an evening gown followed by a mound of ambling fur. She turned down such-and-such street and— Damn, she thought, I forgot. She considered going back but curiosity spurred her past the corner of something-or-other alley, notorious, avoided, black-listed for its clientele. A friend worked there and she waved as she passed. Hold on a minute, came the reply, let me change and I’ll come walk with you. So she stood leaning against the railings of the square, frowning at the flock who massed and thronged, shoaling herds, snapping and whistling. Another She would have stepped among them, crook in hand, the chaos and tangling her nightmare and haven, but tonight she was content to stand by. In the gutter it glistened, a misbegotten sequin from the jacket of a fancy man, the light glinting on its candy-apple surface. Strange, she thought, for a ruby to be so far from home. She nudged it with her toe and found it solid, and larger than she had thought on first glance. She bent down and picked it up, excitement building as she held in her hand the perfectly wrapped present, the glistening scarlet foil still twisted on either side. She looked around, half expecting to see an upturned box or a trail of empty wrappers, but the treat was alone. Her parents and teachers flashed through her mind, the five-second rule, the dirt of the street, the day’s rain, it all came to nought as temptation overcame her. Above her the sky glittered ruby red as, gloriously tart, and subtly sour-sweet, the pink shell broke and her ruby heart burst with it.
This story, I wrote for a competition run by Fortnum & Masons which they also ran last year, to find chocolate related stories to accompany a new range of chocolate bars with weird and wonderful titles, for which they have done a call out for weird and wonderful stories. I looked a the starting point given for this with a rather alternative approach… Handmade nets and endless ladders to me sparked out as an idea of fishnet tights, and from there I wanted to point the night shepherd towards a sex-worker character, the endless ladders of their night work. As I started working on it though, I looked more into the examples given of previous stories and found them all quaint little tales, things like mice and dreamlike streets. The picture on the front of the chocolate bar is also quite literal in terms of shepherd, a Little Red Riding Hood character with a large butterfly net catching stars. So I toned it down a little and made it more ambiguous. If you like, the friend is still a sex-worker, but the vibe is slightly lighter, she might work in a bar. There were men who drooled over her, and propositioned her where she stood waiting. The whole thing had a darker tone, and I was aiming for a less ambiguous character for the main lady, but the change of vibe, along with cutting for word count left me with the above piece. As a self-assessment of my writing, I think I’m approaching a point where I can make active judgement calls on how I’m working, and how I piece together a short work such as this one. Up until now, before I began this project especially, I would simply write on instinct as it were, putting my first thoughts onto paper and revising on the basis that if something simply didn’t sound write, I would rewrite it. This meant going back and forth quite a lot, and not really looking at works as a whole, but rather comb as I go, and hope the final piece turns out alright. Whilst I do still value the instinctive approach, and still 99% of the time work in this manner, the ability to analyse and assess writing from the outside does have inordinate benefits. Part of this is aiming for a ‘natural’ tone, which, rather unusually, comes from less natural revision. I generally like to put things in terms of acting technique, and my deep belief in the Invisible vs Visible idea, that you put in hours and hours of invisible work, the text analysis, the character work, the games and exercises you play, and then forget all that and present the visible work to the audience. When you’re on stage, you don’t want to be thinking about the notes in your script. With writing, I don’t know if that works… It’s not a live medium after all, but could it be?

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