A Mouse, Doubt, and a Ginger Beer

Leave a comment

Writing Exercise: Short Story using ‘Mouse, Doubt, Beer’

Frank had to book the holiday online if he wanted to be in the competition. And, he not only wanted to be in the competition, he wanted to win.

His eyes had lit up when he saw the ad on telly. It would be the best surprise ever for Marge. She had been talking about a cruise for the last twelve months. And if he won? Well, that would be the icing on the cake. All that extra spending money!

The screen in front of him came to life. Following the instructions they had been given in computer class, Frank put his hand on the mouse and clicked on the little multi-coloured circle on the desktop. He had it all there in front of him. Step by step, in pictures – how to order and pay online.

He could hear the instructor now, ‘Frank, don’t despair. It’s easy when you get the hang of it.’

But what if he didn’t have the hang of it? What if he pressed the wrong button? What if he put in the wrong details? What if he was too slow? What if he booked the wrong cruise? What if he was still in the middle of it all when Marge got home? Frank was overwhelmed with doubt and apprehension.

‘Don’t be silly,’ he told himself. ‘You can do this Frank!’ Employing his careful one-finger typing, he put in the website address. Up popped a kaleidoscope of colours, moving pictures, and even a talking video. Staring at the screen, Frank felt more confused than ever, when he heard, ‘Hey Pops, whatcha doin’?’

It was young Clare, Frank’s granddaughter, holding up her keys, ‘Pops, you didn’t hear the door!’

‘Oh Clare, pet. You don’t know how glad I am to see you.’

Before he could say easy-peasy, Clare had done it all. Would he ever get the hang of this Googling, surfing, and ordering online? He didn’t think so. But then, he knew what he had to offer was worth much more.

Clare had come to ask for his advice.

So, on this hot summer day, it was time for a refreshing homemade ginger beer and a chat.

© Inara Hawley

(361 Words)

Amelia – Part 4

Leave a comment

Amelia’s Lucky Day

Amelia was feeling on top of the world. She was almost skipping along as she headed for work. This was her last day.

The magazine had been a great training ground, but Amelia was ready to take the leap. Her stylist business, The Barefoot Fashionista was on its way, and today, at midday she was hopefully signing up her first big client – Maggie Barker, an up and coming actress.

Amelia was ready, willing, and able, and she couldn’t wait!

She was bouncing along happily as she thought of the meeting. She was smiling at everyone she passed. As she got closer to the office, she waved to the pop-up coffee shop owners and to the sales girl from the boutique next door. She sidestepped the courier who was delivering parcels, and as she was about to walk through the front door, she noticed the camera crew further up the street. Wonder what that’s all about, she thought.

Life was good and everything was going exactly as it should be. Even the sun was shining.

The morning passed uneventfully. Amelia was handing over the last bits and pieces to the new girl, recruited from fashion school. She remembered when she started and how daunting the magazine was. She looked at the clock…. 11.30 a.m. Not long to go.

They were meeting at Maggie’s flat, not too far away. It should only take 10 minutes to get there, so she had fifteen minutes up her sleeve before she had to leave. Maggie had slotted Amelia into her tight schedule so she couldn’t afford to be late. She quietly gathered together the personal portfolio she had prepared for Maggie so she could scoot out the door quickly. She hadn’t made it public knowledge that she had a meeting and didn’t want anyone asking questions. After all, she hadn’t clinched the deal yet.

Satisfied, she was giving herself a big mental tick for organisation – not always her best strength. Just as she was about to leave Amelia noticed Bev, the head secretary purposefully hurrying towards her.

“Just popping out for lunch Bev.”

“Could you spare a minute,” Bev said, as she steered Amelia towards the Board Room.

“Can’t this wait.”

“No, not today,” said Bev, as they reached the door.

Bev stepped forward, opened the door and there stood at least 20 people – all with a glass of champagne in their hand. Amelia was stunned. This was the last thing she expected. The magazine was not one of those girly friendly places. It had been all work, work, work in the five years that she had been there. Deadlines and pressure didn’t make for a chatty social environment, but here, in front of her were all the important people, and even some of her clients – all, holding their glass of bubbly.

Surrounded by happy faces, Amelia couldn’t think of a thing to say. She couldn’t run and she couldn’t stay. She needed to get to a phone and she needed to do it quickly, but the minutes ticked by as she walked around with a smile plastered on her face.

“Thank you. This is so thoughtful.”

Tick, tick, tick.

Fifteen minutes later she was in a loo cubicle with a mobile in her hand, but Maggie wasn’t answering. She heard the door to the ladies open.

“Amelia, are you in here?”

“Yep, be out in a sec.”

“The boss wants you.”

Oh geez, what now!

Andrea waved her arm as Amelia walked back into the boardroom. There was no way she could escape the boss. She would just have to keep ducking out and ringing.

Fifteen minutes later, and Maggie still wasn’t answering.

Amelia looked at the clock. 12.30, and just as she was about to make her excuses, food trollies were wheeled into the room. Oh, I give up, she thought. I will try Maggie once more, and if she doesn’t answer, I’m going to relax and enjoy this.  Maggie didn’t answer and Amelia did relax, and she enjoyed herself immensely.

Much later, after she’d tidied her desk for the last time, and was heading down the street towards home, she saw the film crew up ahead. Right in the middle was Maggie. She had seen Amelia walking towards them, and was smiling.

Maggie had been called away to her shoot much earlier than she had expected and had turned off her phone. She’d left a note on her door.

All was well.

The Barefoot Fashionista’s reputation was intact.

© Inara Hawley 2017

The Writing Exercise for this piece: 
Create a ticking clock situation for the main character who has an appointment and can’t be late.

Dreams Do Come True

Leave a comment

“Move along, be quick. Get in line.”

Harsh voices, loud noises, pushing and shoving. It’s late 1937, two years before the Second World War and the place is a Latvian orphanage.  A desolate and very unhappy young girl is living a miserable existence, her legs scratched and bleeding from the rough woollen socks she is forced to wear and her feet are wet because she has no gumboots.

She is lonely and she is sick. For you see she has spent most of her young life in a hospital isolation ward for tuberculosis of the spine. When it was time to leave, she had no family to go to. Her parents and her grandmother had long since died, and her only close relative, her grandfather, had fallen on hard times. He lived in a cramped one-room attic, and the authorities would not allow him to take her, so she was placed in Riga Orphanage. She was admitted on 7th September 1937, a week after her 14th Birthday.

“Get your hands off, that’s mine.”

Too many bullies. The safe refuge of the hospital that was home for nine long years is gone, and daily life is now about the survival of the fittest. But unfortunately, her lungs and spine are badly damaged and still weak, and having to fend for herself and deal with the harsh daily regime is not easy. She sleeps in a twenty-bed dormitory, her only private space, her bed. And her life is dominated by bells. There is a bell for everything; for washing, for dressing, for eating, for school, and for sleeping. Bell after bell controls her every movement. There is never a moment to recover. She has, to be sharp and fast, something that is difficult for a girl who is not physically strong. She even has, to fight for food – breakfast is a case of the quick or the dead, and she is not quick.

“Don’t you know how to walk!”

It’s slow. Getting around is difficult. There are lots of steps. She doesn’t walk like other children, nor can she run or play as she still wears a back brace. And because her gait is different, the other children ridicule her and often push her over. Years of living in an institution has left its mark – she is insecure, fearful, and lacks self-esteem. So, she speaks to no one, and no one speaks to her.

“Please, send me a miracle.”

She prays every day. When she was discharged from hospital, she was given a parting gift – a book of her favourite stories. One of these stories, about an angel sent to earth at Christmas to find a child for a mother who had lost hers, had captured her heart. The angel searches and searches, and on Christmas Eve, finds the child he is looking for – a destitute orphan who desperately needs a mother. And in the words of the book, ‘with the love in the light of a candle flame’, the angel brings them together.

With her very soul, this young girl believes it is a true story, and with burning faith, believes it is also her story. She sleeps with the book under her pillow and whispers the words every night, praying to God and the angels for her miracle to come true. So, deep and intense is her belief that she is convinced her prayers will be answered with the coming of Christmas, only weeks away. She is sure the angels will send her a mother, exactly the right mother, to fill her life with love.

“Oh, my child, my heart bleeds.”

The rescuer comes. In this lonely existence, one day she has an unexpected visitor – her grandfather. He has come to see what her life is like. And what he finds not only shocks him, it makes him very angry. He is not prepared to lose his granddaughter to a life of poverty and struggle. He is still owed money from the days when he was a wealthy man, and if he couldn’t get the money, he was going to make damn sure his granddaughter’s needs were met. And so, without ceremony, he turns on his heel and makes his way to the doorstep of the man who owes him the most.

His actions set powerful wheels in motion. Karline, the wife of the man he visits decides to go to the orphanage to see for herself, this child he is so passionate about. She is a kind and loving woman, and it is with a caring heart that she sits beside a tiny, frail young girl, in the dormitory of the orphanage. And as if it is heaven sent, the girl beside her instantly knows this is the miracle she has been praying for. This kind lady with the loving eyes is her mother. She is certain of it. And without a second’s thought, she looks up into the face of compassion and utters the words which are the turning point in both their lives.

“Mother, when are we going home?”

This was indeed the miracle she had been longing for. The young girl was my mother and the kind stranger was the only grandmother I ever knew. And so, it was that my mother spent her first Christmas in ten years in the care of a loving family. And as the weeks went by, their bond grew. With the blessing of my mother’s grandfather, in February 1938 they adopted her, and Omi and Opaps, as we always called them, became my grandparents. Omi did everything in her power to bring my mother back to health and Opaps lived up to his responsibility and gave her everything she needed, and more.

So, yes, dreams do come true and debts are paid in the most miraculous way. And the gift of love lives on.

© Inara Hawley 2017

Note: This is a university writing assignment with a limit of 1000 words, and a rewrite of a family memoir story I wrote in 2013 with the same title. You can find it here if you wish to compare them. It’s not vastly different, but I like to think the changes I have made have improved the piece.  I hope you do too!

Amelia – Part 3

Leave a comment

The Barefoot Fashionista

“This is going to be fabulous!”

Amelia loved her job as a stylist. Working for a magazine was a great job, but today, she was the stylist for a local fashion show. It was a charity do, but the best promotion Amelia could ever get if she was ever going to start her own business. And that’s what she wanted to do.

The air was buzzing with excitement. All the right people were in the audience.

Amelia had always had an eye for fashion. And, she knew precisely what an outfit needed – a scarf, beads, a hat or a splash of colour. That was why she was the stylist in charge of getting the models onto the runway looking exactly as they should.

One by one her girls hit the lights and did their thing. It was going like clockwork. The usual backstage chaos was humming along surprisingly smoothly. Of course, Amelia’s wardrobe assistant, Jeannie – perky, bubbly, enthusiastic little Jeannie was an absolute gem.

With hair and makeup done, it was, dress on, accessories, shoes and then out they went. The music was throbbing, the lights were flashing, and the dress rack was thinning – only three more to go, and then the finale. The show-stopper and only one model could do it – the fabulously tall Jo.

Putting the finishing touches to the last outfits, Amelia started to relax. She peered through the curtains – yes, it was going well. She was feeling more than chuffed when suddenly, a panic-stricken Jeannie rushed towards her.

“Jo isn’t here.”

“What do you mean, Jo isn’t here?”

“She’s not here yet, I haven’t seen her.”

“Jeannie, why didn’t you tell me? She needs to be here now!” Amelia could feel herself getting hot. She couldn’t afford anything to go wrong. She was depending on this show.

But the seconds were ticking and no Jo. How could Amelia not have noticed she was missing? Because Jeannie was so organised, that’s why, and Amelia depended on her to get the models into their dresses.

“I am so sorry. I was so busy, I didn’t notice.”

None of the other models fitted into the show-stopper.

“Oh God! What am I going to do?”

Be calm! Be calm! Amelia told herself. There has, to be an answer.

“Amelia, you could do it.”

“What?!!”

“You’re the same size, and you’re tall enough.”

“What?!”

“Amelia, listen to me – you can do it, you have to do it.”

“But my hair!”

“I’ll fluff it.”

“But makeup? There’s no time.”

“Just lipstick.”

“Oh, My God! There’s no time.”

“Quick, here… put it on.”

The dress slid on like magic. A glittering sheath of beauty. Oh, how wonderful it felt!

“Sit down.”

Jeannie went to work on Amelia’s hair. She ripped out the clip and let Amelia’s blond locks fall loose. Oh, yes, this will be easy. She put a loose comb through it and grabbed the hairspray.

“Bend down, let your hair fall forward,” said Jeannie, already spraying madly.

When Amelia put her head up, she couldn’t believe it. Her hair was fluffed and really, quite spectacular. She rummaged through the lipsticks. Yes, there it was. The bright red. That’s the one.

She looked at herself. Not bad. Not bad at all. Only two minutes to show time. Amelia reached for the shoes. Oh, no, no, no! They didn’t fit. Amelia’s feet were too big.

“What next!”

“Bare feet, that’s what,” declared Jeannie

Looking around wildly, Amelia’s eyes fell on a long sheer scarf. Bright red, just like her lipstick. Yes, the perfect thing to trail along the floor.

“Thank God I painted my toenails this morning!”

Red lips, red scarf, red toenails, fluffed hair – it would have to do.

She grabbed the scarf, fluffed her hair for confidence, looked down at her big feet with the fabulously painted toes and knew she was ready.

The music cued. Amelia straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin, mentally crossed her fingers and out she went.

The finale was a huge success. And ‘darling, wasn’t it just marvellous how the stylist wore the show-stopper’. Amelia’s talent was duly, noted and some even started calling her the ‘Barefoot Fashionista’.

Her business as a personal stylist had begun.

© Inara Hawley 2017

The Writing Exercise for this piece:
Create a two-level problem for your main character

Amelia – Part 2

Leave a comment

Got It!

Flooded with relief, Amelia rushed forward and grabbed the envelope that was stuck in the screen door.

“Thank God. Bless you, whoever you are!” she shouted to the heavens as she waved the envelope above her head. She had the letter in her hand – a good Samaritan had returned it. Amelia wasn’t about to lose it again. But then, just as she was dancing a little jig of triumph, she stumbled and lost her grip. At that very moment, the breezy afternoon whipped up a colossal gust, grabbed the blue missive and shot it up into the air.

“Oh no! Kids, help me!”

Amelia and her three children began twirling and jumping, trying to grab the flash of blue that was flurrying about in the wind. But to no avail. Suddenly, it lifted and off it went across the street.

“Kids! Go next door,” shouted Amelia. “I’ll go after the letter.” She knew her neighbour was home and would look after her brood.

“Mum!” Andy, her oldest yelled back. “You won’t get it – it’s too high.”

“Don’t you worry. I’ll get it,” shot back Amelia. Your Dad will kill me if I don’t, she thought, as she charged after it.

Across the street, she tore, not taking her eyes off the more and more distant speck of blue.  How can this be happening? It must be payback for my flighty ways. If I catch it, I’m going to change, she bargained with herself. Yes! She would take herself in hand. As each foot hit the ground, she spurred herself on chanting: “New me! New me! New me!”

Amelia was hoping it was slowing down a bit. And surely it was getting closer to the ground too. She was now three streets away from home, still running. But, if she had to turn the next corner, she would be on the main road. Please, no, not the main road, she thought.

She was now a touch breathless. It was hard work, this running after a speck in the sky, but she couldn’t afford to lose sight of it. David had been waiting weeks for the letter. How could she lose it twice in one day? First leaving it in the library book, and then letting it fly right out of her hand!

Amelia knew how much it meant to him – the first letter from his birth mother. It had taken years of searching. He would never forgive her if she lost it. As she turned the corner onto the main road, she saw the letter fly out into the middle of the street. She considered rushing out to stop the traffic, but thought better of it, and instead kept her eye on its floating path.

Then abruptly, it swooped back towards Amelia and straight into the leafy tall tree on the corner. Amazingly, it stayed there, wedged within the branches. I’ve got this, she thought, I’ve really got this now, she repeated as she headed towards the benches underneath the tree. And she did. As afraid as she was of heights, she climbed that tree and retrieved David’s letter.

She never did tell David about her escapade and she swore the children to secrecy. That night, she dreamt of chasing a blue speck… she is running, running, the blue speck falls into the back of a ute. Hang it, she thinks, I’m going after it. She commandeers a motorbike and takes off, her hair flying wildly in the wind. Crap, she thinks, was that a speed camera that flashed me? Not caring, she charges on, her quest thrilling her to the core.

In her dream, Amelia was last seen heading out of the city following a white ute.

Secretly, she loves her escapades.

© Inara Hawley 2017

The Writing Exercise for this piece:
The main character does something selfless that makes his or her life more difficult

A Beautiful Thing

Leave a comment

Writing Exercise – Placing an Ancestor’s Object in History

“I can’t leave it behind. What if I don’t come back?” said Karline, as she looked at her most precious piece of porcelain.

Karline, my grandmother, was preparing to leave Latvia and the Russian onslaught that was coming. She was packing her most prized possessions and sending them to a friend in the country. The piece she held in her hand represented the life she and her husband, Theodore had built for themselves.

As her husband’s business, had grown, so had their social standing. Karline learned to cook French cuisine, a dressmaker was hired to make new clothes, and she visited the hair salon regularly. On weekends, like all well-to-do people, they walked in the parks, listened to bands and drank coffee at cafes. They even had a private box at Riga’s Opera House.

And of course, they entertained often. Guests arrived in the early afternoon; the gentleman played cards and the ladies chatted, while they nibbled on French tartlets and cakes before dinner was served. This is the life she was leaving. The life the porcelain piece represented.

She could not leave it behind, and she didn’t. She carried it through war-torn Europe, as they moved from city to city and as the bombs fell. They survived the annihilation of Dresden and they survived the refugee camps. And miraculously, the porcelain that held my grandmother’s memories survived as well.

Today, I am privileged to own it. A beautiful handmade Jessen soup tureen – not only a tangible memory of my grandmother’s glory days, but a symbol of survival and a life well-lived.

(262 words)

© Inara Hawley 2017

Leaving Latvia

6 Comments

Writing Exercise – A ‘Point of No Return’ Event for An Ancestor

For my mother’s family, leaving Latvia was inevitable. When the Russians were close to regaining Communist control in 1944, it was time to prepare for escape.

My mother’s adoptive parents sent their porcelain and crystal to friends, then packed clothes, bedding, and the barter goods they would need. Next, they packed preserved food. Black bread, fish, vegetables, butter, jam, and tea. And my mother, who was still in high school, packed photos of her deceased parents, and her books.

When they heard the guns and saw the fires burning – the Germans were destroying Latvia as they left – it was time to go. On 4th September 1944, they fled on the last ship to leave Riga for Europe, a cargo vessel full of animals, injured soldiers, and terrified people.

With no available sleeping quarters, my grandfather bartered for beds. He bribed the crew with alcohol and cameras. My mother, the smallest, slept in a bathtub.

They arrived safely in Danzig two days later, lucky to have not been bombed. A month later, in October 1944, Riga fell.

My mother did not take in the full seriousness of the situation, nor the fact that they were fleeing to a Europe in the full grip of war. However, in a moment of true defiance, on the day she left Latvia, my mother expressed her true feelings for the first time, without fear of retribution. She scratched, ‘I HATE COMMUNISM’ in large letters across her desk for all to see.

She believed she would return. They never did, and not only did they leave behind their life and their possessions, they left behind their most precious ideal – Latvia’s freedom.

(275 words)

© Inara Hawley 2017