Tuesday, 29 November 2011

“What Five Words Best Describe You?”

I hate questions like this one, or “what animal would you be?”, “how would your friends describe you?” or worse “what colour would you be?” I’ve been asked all of these questions and I find them impossible to answer. How do I distill down my personality into such simplest terms? How does anyone? We’re complicated, social creatures, not the one-dimensional caricatures of people that pass for characters in soap operas.

I’m currently job hunting and I’ve been asked all those questions at interviews and even when recruiters call me up about a job. Often, though, when recruiters call me they have a tick-list of requirements for the latest job they have to fill and, no matter what my experience and what I can bring to a role, I get rejected because I don’t exactly match all those tick-boxes, even if I have transferable skills that could meet those requirements. Increasingly, I’m getting frustrated and want to scream back at these people, “I can do this bloody job, if only you’d listen to me!”

I was rung up a recruiter this morning about a job but, just because I don’t drive, she rejected me for it, before my CV or details could be sent to the employer. The job was a community nurse role in Central London, I job I am doing at the moment. My frustration goes beyond irony.

This also made me think as a writer. So often, characters in fiction fall into easy categories, “the hero”, “the cheating wife”, “the corrupt journalist”, “the shy virgin”, “”the camp gay man”, “the bitter old lesbian” etc... These characters can be summed up in five words or less. But how real are they?

At the moment, I’m writing a crime story revolving around the friendship of four people. The more I write this story the more complicated the characters get, the more they behaviour “out-of-character”, one of them is actually a murderer and another character is willingly covering up those murders, and the more I get involved with them. I don’t like any of these four people, I think they’re all corrupt and I’d feel very uncomfortable in their presence, but I’m fascinated by them.

I think that sums up my writing, I want to write about people who fascinate me, and those people will always have their complications and contradictions.


Friday, 18 November 2011

Oh Lord Make Me Funny...

Q: What’s white and falls out of trees?

 A: A fridge.

Above is one of my favourite jokes. It’s logical and yet surreal both at the same time, and it doesn’t make many people laugh. Most people just stare oddly at me when I tell it.

That’s been my problem with humour. I have a sense of humour, I enjoy things that are funny, but I’m not that good at telling jokes, I’m not one of those who can have a room full of people falling about with laughter. My sense of humour is very sarcastic and left field. I never thought there would be any place for me to use my sense of humour in my writing.

This summer I came across a call for sketches for The Treason Show, a bi-monthly Brighten satirical review. I checked out their website, which had videos of some of their sketches, and wondered if my sense of humour would fit here. I wrote a few sketches and sent them off and, to my deep surprise, received a reply saying they found my sketches very funny and to send more. I’ve submitted work to the two most recent Treason Shows and had sketches included in both shows, I’m just balled over by this.

It seems I can be funny after all, but I need to find those who understand my humour. So, what next? I don’t think I’m going to be the next, great sitcom writer; but it has re-fired my interest in play writing. I started off, as a teenager, wanting and trying to be a play writer, but for years I thought it was something I’d put behind me, well maybe not.

Watch this space.

The next Treason Show is the beginning of December and Martin and I are going to Brighten to see it. Fingers crossed I get sketches into that show too, it would be wonder.


Jonathan Roven is Lost

(A Flash Fiction Story)

Jonathan was sat upright in his chair, staring hard at the television in front of him. On it was some daytime program about buying houses, the usual cheap and mindless rubbish they filled the morning schedule with. I sat next to him, in a matching chair, and watched it with him.

We were sat together in the home’s TV Lounge, a smaller lounge with the large television set up in it. We were the only people in it, occasionally another resident would wonder in there but just as quickly they’d wonder out.

Previously, Jonathan had hated television. He would mock me whenever I wanted to watch it and he’d snap at me if I had the television on the background. As his mind had deteriorated he’d become more interested in television. Now he’d watch it twenty-four hours a day, if we let him, but sometimes I’d use it as a distraction when I visit him, so we could just sit together quietly. If the television wasn’t on he’d chatter on endless about bloody Dom Richards.

It started by him forgetting numbers and words he used every day. He couldn’t remember what his keys were called, what our meal was called, what colour his shirt was. The day he forgot my name was heartbreaking, he’d stood in front of me in tears because he couldn’t remember my name. It was then he admitted there was a problem and finally agreed to see his doctor.

After an almost endless round of tests, and a referral to a Specialist, Jonathan was finally given his diagnosis; he had Alzheimer's Disease. It was so final and complete, no hope of treatment and cure. We had both withdrawn with that diagnosis, Jonathan into denial and me in hopelessness.

Jonathan’s ten years older than me and I had always expected that his health to fail before mine, I’d even silently prepared myself for it. I’d expected it would be something like cancer or heart disease, a slow disease that would gradually take away his physical abilities, and I would care for him throughout all of this. I never expected that it would be his mind that would fail, while his body remained as healthy as mine.

To begin with, as his mind forgot the names of more things, Jonathan had reacted with anger. He’d get frustrated at his inability to remember and lash out in anger, rarely at me but usually at the object in question – at that time he broke three different kettles. Then, almost overnight it seemed, he forgot that he couldn’t remember. His lack of memory seemed of no concern to him, and he settled down into a happy fog of his Alzheimer's. At first, I’d been relived the anger had stopped, it was an anger that I couldn’t do anything to prevent. Only much later did I realise he’d begun to forget about me.

Even when he would forget my name he’d still remember who I was, his lover, but in that happy fog he forget who I was. He’d been calling me Dom for nearly two weeks when I realised what was happening. He’s forgotten about me, now he called me by the name of his first lover because that was all he could remember. When I realised that, I locked myself away in our bathroom and wept.

He’d met Dom Richards back in the seventies. Jonathan had come to London to be gay, after years of trying not to be, and Dom was only the third man he’d slept with yet they fell into a relationship. Dom, though, was the cliché of the self-hating closet case. He was terrified that anyone would find out he was gay; he would only meet Jonathan at gay clubs or at Jonathan’s flat, nowhere else. Dom drank heavily which would lead to fights and often ended with Dom hitting Jonathan. They would breakup, only to be back together a week later, with drunken sex. As abusive as their relationship was Jonathan couldn’t break away from it, the pull of sex with Dom was too great.

His escape came when Dom was arrested and later jailed for attacking another man outside a club. Dom was gone from Jonathan’s life for six months and with that absence he was finally able to break away from their relationship.

It was many years after this that I meet Jonathan but part of him was still hurting from that relationship and it shocked me how much. I was such an innocent back then. But the longer we were together the less hold and hurt Dom Richards had over him. I was quietly proud of that.

When Jonathan called me Dom it broke my heart. I struggled on for nearly two months after that but as each day passed I coped less. Jonathan would chatter about things he’d obviously done with Dom Richards and inside I would scream with frustration. I should have been the one he remembered, not that bastard. In the end I told our social worker I couldn’t cope and she made the arrangements for Jonathan to move into this Care Home.

The staff here are so good with Jonathan and they treat me the same as any other spouse, but I still feel a failure. I’m his lover and I should be the one looking after him, allowing him to move in here has meant that I’ve failed in my promise to him. I visit him every day but still isn’t the same, I should be doing more even if he doesn’t love me anymore because he’s forgotten who I am.

“Dom, remember that day we went down to Brighton?” Jonathan suddenly announced.

I gripped the chair’s arms in frustration.

“No,” I said, “I’m Steve...”

Drew Payne
April 2011.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Boxing Day 1975

(A Flash Fiction Story)

We were all gathered around the TV, that evening, as we always did on Boxing Day, to watch the holiday film. Mum sitting and knitting in her armchair, dad with his unread newspaper across his lap in his armchair, my older brother Gary slouched at one end of the sofa and me sat at the other end. That year the film was One Million Years B.C., the nineteen-sixties dinosaur fantasy with Raquel Welch in a fur bikini. Even to my seven year old eyes the film was rubbish, the story thinner then Raquel’s costume. Gary, at fifteen, was loving every minute of it, and dad was watching it intently too.

“Look at the knockers on that,” Gary said, his eyes on Raquel.

“Don’t be crude,” mum replied, not even looking up from her knitting.

“But that Raquel Welch has a great set of melons,” Gary protested.

“And that’s all this film has got, its complete rubbish,” mum said.

“They’ve got it quite realistic,” dad said, shifting in his chair.

“For God’s sake! Dinosaurs and people never lived at the same time. I’ve helped our sons with their homework enough times to know that,” mum said, putting her knitting down.

“It’s a harmless bit of fun,” dad said.

“No, it’s rubbish. There’s no story to it. You lot only want to watch it for that Raquel Welch,” mum snapped.

“Yeah, and she’s a bit of all right,” Gary said.

“You shouldn’t be thinking like that at fifteen,” mum said.

“I’m sixteen next month,” Gary protested.

“And don’t I know it,” mum said.

“The lad’s only showing a natural interest,” dad added.

“You three are all the same,” mum cast one of her “looks” over all of us.

But we weren’t the same; I didn’t see the point of Raquel Welch either. She may have been pretty but she didn’t interest me. John Richardson, the actor playing her caveman boyfriend, was of far more interest to me.

He was ruggedly handsome, even under the thick beard and animal skin costume, and his costume showed off only slightly less flesh then Raquel Welch’s bikini. He radiated a strong masculinity, strutting around the screen with his spear and fighting the dinosaurs. I couldn’t take eyes off him, rapidly losing interest in the film when he wasn’t on screen. When he did appear I wanted to be the one he had to rescue from those dinosaurs, the one that he held in his arms.

It was the first time I had noticed how attractive a man could be and how uninterested physically in women I was. At the same moment I also knew that this realisation wouldn’t be welcome by those around me. I couldn’t see Gary or dad or even mum being happy to hear this news. Boys were supposed to be interested in Raquel Welch and not John Richardson, it was there all around me. I knew to keep quiet.

“I should change the channel from this nonsense,” mum said to the whole room.

“No mum,” Gary protested. “It’s a really good film… Isn’t it?” He directed his last comment to me.

“It’s boring,” I replied. John Richardson hadn’t been on screen for nearly five minutes and my attention was rapidly slipping.

“What do you know, sissy!” Gary snapped and punched me on the arm.

“Hey,” I shouted back as I looked at mum for support, but she’d returned to her knitting.

Drew Payne
August 2009.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Once More with Feeling

(A Flash Fiction Short Story)

I dropped the dirty clothes in front of our washing machine, and then crouched down to sort through them. Too often before important pieces of paper or even money had gone through the washing machine, hidden in pockets, and been ruined, therefore I now always checked all pockets before throwing clothes into the machine.

They were Dan’s favourite jeans, tatty and old and faded, he would preen when he wore them because of the flattering way they hugged his groin and buttocks. They were filthy, as if he’d been rolling around the garden in them. In the front pocket of them was a neatly folded piece of paper, its edges creased over. Against my better judgement, I quickly unfolded it and read the handwritten, sprawling words on it:


I can’t wait until next Tuesday. Last night was fucking amazing, my arse is still on fire from the banging you gave me. I’ll come around to your place at half-six, next Tuesday. We can’t meet at my place because my flatmate’s being an arsehole again.

I can’t wait.


Tuesday nights I always worked late, running the Men’s Health Clinic at the practice where I worked, spending the evening with a parade of middle-aged men worrying over their health. I wouldn’t get home until late each Tuesday; often so late that Dan had already gone to bed and fallen asleep.

Kris was a thin and very blonde party boy who worked in Dan’s office. He always seemed permanently hung-over or spaced-out, as if always coming down from the previous night’s clubbing and partying. He certainly didn’t like me, the few times I had met him he’d snarled distaste towards me and oozed indifference towards Dan.

I held the note in my hands, crouched there on our kitchen floor, and just stared at it. I had no desire to destroy it, only hold it and remain looking at it. It meant only thing one. After all the tears, arguments, emotional fallout and promises, Dan’s repeated promises to me, Dan was back to screwing around. After each time before he promised me it would be the last time, and his most recent promise had seemed to be his last one. It was nearly a year since he was last unfaithful, a fling at a work conference that carried on after he returned home, and since then he had seemed to keep his word. This note now made his last promise into another lie.

I didn’t feel angry or hurt, just a creeping curiosity. Kris was nearly twenty years my junior, could barely string together two sentences of speech together, so what was the attraction for Dan? Was it only sex? Was there more?

I brought the note up to my face and smelt the paper. There was the smell of Dan’s crotch, that distinct and sharp odour, mixed in with the vague odour of stale ink and dull paper. No smell of sex or aftershave or any erotic taint.

Tuesday was only two days away; could I get someone to cover my clinic? Could I slip home unnoticed? Could I spy on Dan and Kris? What would I see? Could I do it? Could I...?

Again I brought the note up to my face and inhaled deeply. I felt a warm and erotic thrill creeping over me, certainly not what I would have thought my reaction would be this time.

Drew Payne
December 2006.