He drops his metaphorical hoe,
steps out of the working-day
beyond carpeted fields
where each labourer digs only at each other,
and harvests nothing but victory points.
Relaxes into couch creases.

Between beer-can and throat
exists a comfortable intimacy.

He puts his sweet lips
a little closer to the rim,
whispers a song of emptiness
and personal dissatisfaction.

Sacred confessions.

Each ring-pull release
exposes a dark void
that he eyes up 
with the male gaze 
of thirst.

It washes away
the blandness of his day:
the grey office walls,
flat-hum bus ride,
tofu salad, ordered to impress,
that did anything but.

Then he crushes aluminium
into something useless
and sharp-edged,
pretending its purpose
never had a chance
to consume him.

Ó Bhéal 5 Words Challenge (09.08.21)
Intimacy. Release. Beer-can. Tofu. Hoe.
Coventry, we need a name
for that feeling
of easing into serenity -

                                     like how nooks of aged trees
                                     become nature-perfect armchairs,
                                     like the brief rest in a familiar neighbourhood
                                     on a convenient wall or protruding stair -

undercut by the tiptoe-tiptoe
of rising alarm
because, out of the corner of your eye,
you can see the intruding arm
of a crane, or carnivorous digger jaws 
or paving slabs vandalised by
tell-tale code squiggles in chalk.

                                          Uh oh, danger.

Is there a piece of the puzzle
you can embed lovingly in your heart,
to resist them finalising the full picture
and then smugly taking it all apart?   
There are people who'd happily
flatten our whole city
'til only the three spires remain,
The rest of us, 
we only stand, work and play
in the way 
of their progress.

These days, people throw compliments 
they figure I will fetch, snaffle up
mid-air and bury deep down. But 
that black dog at my side barks and howls. 
Snarls. Growls. Drowns them out.

Do I say Good boy? Is he just protecting me,
from the dangerous indulgence 
of developed self-belief?

For years, the dog has shadowed at my heels. 
Only an occasional whimper, 
to remind me he was there. Not enough 
noise to overwhelm with despair.

We don’t talk about the times he tried 
to rip my throat out, no – we lock that 
in a crate labelled The Incidents 
and store it all in the past.

Visitors now accept the dog; how he sits, 
between us, on the couch. Guarded.
Give him a little fuss. (When did you last play 
tug-of-war) Has he been behaving? 
(with the idea of not existing?) 
We check his lead for signs of fraying.

Shall I compare thee to a warm dog turd?
You are as pungent, something to avoid;
Mistake regretted, like a sentence slurred.
Love pulled me under when it should have buoyed.
Scoop up reminders (bag ‘em and bin ‘em),
Flush toilet-bowl heart and scrub at the stains.
Sometimes you lose and sometimes you win ‘em
Say flies caught in cobwebs on window panes –
Reminding me that things could be much worse,
Although we both know there once was a time
I saw no future, other than a hearse,
And all because you were no longer mine.

Dogs and people are full of the same stuff –
But we don’t admit it, and call ours ‘love’.



3 o’clock and I’m woken from a dream
What’s banging on my door frantically?
Knock, knock
Groping for the lock, I open up still half-asleep
I know it’s you, no asking who, no need to speak
Literally and metaphorically, how many times now have I watched you bleed
In my kitchen drinking a cup of tea, thinking I don’t see
Cuts, scratches, bruises on your face
How many more excuses are you gonna make?
I can’t lock you up in my flat to make you stay
Like your man can and has in the past because he’s insane
Wish I could but it’s no good
(There goes your ring-tone)
I’ve never understood why but you always go

You say he’s a nice guy most of the time
Prick writes the scripts and feeds you lines
I’ve never seen him treat you with respect
Don’t forget he’d just beaten you up first time we met
Five years have gone by since then,
Not much has changed except
He’s more deranged and you’re in more debt
‘cos he buys weed and fags with all the cash you earn
You don’t need him, when you gonna learn?
He’s got an aversion to work and your throat hurts from the smoke
But you have to buy him cigarettes and dope – it’s a joke
He checks your texts and gets vexed, always going through your phone
(Connects with his ex all the time though)
Necks a few Becks and then wrecks your life like a cyclone
So what’s next? Place your bets at Infinite Chances casino
Trust me when I say you’d be better off alone

He’s getting a free ride, think about what you provide
He wants to go somewhere, who drives?
He doesn’t want a wife, he wants a chauffeur, maid and cook
Don’t be his gopher, tell the waste of space to get fucked
I know it’s easier said than done
But you gotta look out for Number One
And he’s a number two, you know it’s true
Talks so much shit I’m surprised there ain’t bits of sweet-corn in him too
So do what’s right, close your eyes and flush the loo
Then seal the lid with glue and the bathroom door
You know what to do: don’t contact him any more
You won’t be on your own, other end of the phone you ‘ve got friends for support
And when pay day comes that whole cheque is yours
You’ll never forget him and I’m not asking you to
First love’s the hardest habit to quit, I’ve been through it too
But if you don’t, you’ll regret it and your life will be screwed

He’s a manipulator, knew exactly how to bait ya
Picked you off from the herd like a flipping alligator
Then he ate your self-worth and kept the rest for later
To create a relationship with a turd who seems to hate ya
Is crazy to me, too absurd for me to relate to
He was in a mood, sees a tin of dog food, puts together two and two
Equals forehead, your skull ‘til it bleeds – is that a loving thing to do?
(Can’t wait to see what he gets you for Valentine’s…)
All the times that you’ve ran to his side because he was paranoid and high
But man cried wolf when he cried love, it was a lie
Soon as you needed to rely on him, he put you and your stuff outside
Is that love? He didn’t care enough if you lived or died
Out on the street, freezing because it’s minus 5
So what’s this? Are you a masochist? Does pain make you feel alive?
Are you addicted to dialling 999?
Users and abusers mess with your mind until it breaks
The loser hates you having mates because we open up the gates, hoping you’ll make an escape
He chased away your family, landed you in B&Bs and poverty
Waste of opportunities – you’ve been to university
Wouldn’t matter if he loved you but seems like the reverse to me
Life could have been heavenly but instead he puts you through hell
You said you have nice moments but far as I can tell, doesn’t mean conversation, hitting it off
Just means the psycho ain’t kicking off
Anyone could sit with you on the couch and watch Eastenders
But he knocked you about, that’s not what a friend does

Misery pushes your buttons and puts history on repeat
Don’t say you can trust him just because he won’t cheat
Because you can’t trust him to respect you, can’t trust him to be sweet
Can’t trust him to text you and not address you as a C-U-N-T
Can’t trust him not to deck you, it’s beyond belief
Can’t even trust him with your car, he wrote it off the other week
That’s bad enough but he pounds your self-esteem
I know he’s had it rough and deep down your boy hurts
But doesn’t mean he can destroy you, that’s not how love works
That’s how the cycle rides on – don’t be playing with maybes
Do you want a violent time bomb raising your babies?
I don’t care you’re on the Pill still, no contraception’s guaranteed
My mum was taking hers daily when she got pregnant with me
You went to uni, got a degree, you’re meant to be clever
Do the maths: how long are you gonna last if you and him stay together?



Coursework II: Descriptive Prose

Posted: September 26, 2020 in Prose
Tags: ,



A lone mallard scouts along the edge of the pond, neck arched over like a paperclip, vivid banana beak scanning the mottled mud for stray crusts. He has not heard about the recession; nobody thinks to tell ducks these things. Sometimes people leave newspapers behind, littering his home with fresh scandal in bold, sombre print – but it’s useless, as the mallard can’t read. Humans are not bringing plentiful bread like they should, this he knows. They are breaching tradition, and the mallard is perturbed. Several other ducks glide past, bodies deceptively motionless above the surface, and nudge the pond into rippled action. Murky as industrial mop water, it nips gently at the anatine imprints of broken peace signs traipsed across the mud. The mallard, alerted by his friends’ guttural squeaks and grunts, surmises he is missing out on some communal dining further along and launches himself back onto the water.

Overhead, a bumblebee darts back and forth, distracted, panicking; self-preservation a few calendar pages behind the winter cold that is seeping in. Wings struggle to support fragile body, spiracles murmur plans for retirement: Nature is checking expiry dates and honing her scythe. In need of rest the bee crash-lands a few feet from the pond, on a grassy island adrift in a grey ocean of jagged boulders, beside a scuffed white trainer. The owner of the trainer, a man fighting November winds to light his cigarette, eyes up the optimistic tuft of grass and punts a small stone at the bee, who takes the hint without protest and rises quickly into the distance. Satisfied, the man’s eyes accompany the bee as it shrinks into a featureless ink blot, a full stop, the dot over an ‘i’, and then abruptly vanishes into the blank canvas overhead.

Crunching further up the gravel the man reaches a weathered park bench and sits down, leaning back against the fading adolescent attempts at immortality: scrawled declarations of love and animosity. Exhaling a fog of smoke and winter breath, he stares at the expanse of greenery on the other side of the pond and sees only the flecks of bird shit. He fast-forwards through the past month, its litany of bad news:we regret to inform you…lay-offs…insufficient funds. The wind dislodges an empty Fosters can from beneath the bench, sends it helter-skeltering noisily across the pathway. It startles a toddler and her grandfather, who both turn their heads towards him like prairie dogs, alert and wary. He shifts uncomfortably, scowling, feeling judged and unsure how to communicate his innocence; there is a universal signal for Do you want a beer? and yet none to say I haven’t been drinking beer, that can isn’t mine. He wishes he was down the pub.

The tiny girl is mummified in protective layers, one visible slice of face – peepholes and a nose – sandwiched amid strips of hat and scarf. One of the mittens threaded through the sleeves of her padded coat dangles like a woollen pendulum, leaving fingers free to tear off strips of bread and hurl them unsuccessfully at the water. Grandfather and granddaughter work as a team but they are still not swift enough to satisfy the ducks, who jeer impatiently between convulsive gulps, beaks stabbing at the sky. The plastic bag grows lighter; there are only a few slices left. She tries to divide the bread fairly, primly scolding the forefront ducks for their opportunistic greed. There is a solitary coot at the back of the crowd, a slow swimmer who has not managed to retrieve anything, and this offends her infantile sense of justice. Even her most determined throws can’t reach the coot (Granddad do it, Granddad needs to throw him some bread, the duck at the back, the little black one with the white nose, Granddad, the hungry duck). He doesn’t understand her babbling; she is pointing and he is haphazardly chucking bread in all directions trying to please, but he can’t sense the coot’s hunger and now the bag is empty. Granddad holds the bag at one end and shakes out the final crumbs, sing-songs all-gone with promises to return another day. Frustrated, the toddler lashes out against her stunted vocabulary – eyes screwed into slits, volume wrenched up to maximum.

The mob of ducks begins to drift apart. They have noted the empty hands, ritual of crumbs sprinkled over grass, are bored of the whole scene. Pulverizing his dog-end into mulch underfoot, the man on the bench witnesses the screaming girl’s grandfather scoop her up and over his shoulder. The kid clearly doesn’t want to leave; she shrieks and pummels the old man’s back with her baby fists, but he’s having none of it. Nearby traffic is so still the girl’s cries are audible even when the pair of them step beyond the park and drop out of sight. The man considers having another cigarette, but checks his watch and there isn’t time; the Job Centre, that first awkward appointment, is a five-minute walk away. He sighs, rises on unsteady legs and takes one last look at the pond, where a lone mallard paces the perimeter, pecking at the mottled mud for stray crusts.

Elsewhere, the bumblebee is dying.




Description has always been one of the weak elements in my writing: I struggle to sustain consistency and originality within stories because I get side-tracked by dialogue, characterisation and the processes of keeping the story in motion. It frustrates me, because almost all of the writers whose work I enjoy and admire are talented at describing their settings and characters using creative and figurative language. One of my favourite quotes about writing comes from Chekhov – ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass’ (Wolff 2012: 79); I agree with him that it is important to ‘show’ readers as much as possible rather than explicitly ‘tell’ them everything that happens. When re-reading some of Chekhov’s short stories, I felt that he makes sparing use of pure description, preferring to steer his narratives with dialogue and character development; however, his representations are always effective and often reflect the nature of the story, such as the simile ‘a woebegone birch tree, naked and wet, like a roadside beggar’ (Chekhov 1996: 64).

I have treated this module as an opportunity to try and improve my descriptive language skills, via the tasks set for us in workshops and suggested writing exercises, such as noting ‘verbal sketches’ of my environment (Bell and Magrs 2001: 23). Most of the prose that I have written over the past few years has been narrated in the first-person or subjective third-person, heavy with dialogue or introspection. Therefore I set myself the challenge of writing from a more distanced perspective and favouring none of my characters over any of the others. The first draft of my prose seemed really boring, as it offered the reader no chance to identify with the characters because I had attempted to write completely objective observation, like a fly-on-the-wall with no investment in any of the events. I explored the different styles of third-person narration, from extreme journalistic detachment – ‘The man drank his beer’ (Hemingway 1994: 38) to subjective omniscience  – ‘Jude, dying of anxiety lest she should have caught a chill’ (Hardy 1978: 199) and ‘She could not help feeling that she belonged to him’ (Hardy 1978: 250) to third-person subjective – ‘His belly felt as though he had eaten grass and would be sick’ (Golding 1961: 84). Based on my reading, I decided to make the narrator’s omniscience ‘episodically limited’ (Killian 2003) so that readers could get a brief glimpse of each character’s internal workings, whilst still being careful to focus predominantly on describing each scene.

I appreciate fiction that strives to capture the mundane, like a man on his lunch break contemplating shoelaces and drinking-straws (Baker 1998), so I deliberately wrote a piece in which not much happens. It can be seen from the hints dropped about an economic crisis – ‘He has not heard about the recession’, ‘the Job Centre, that first awkward appointment’ – that I initially hoped to write something with a political angle. However, in the end, I realised that my piece was basically about nothing, and was left wondering whether I could slip in some pretentious profundity about the non-impact of human activity upon the brutality of nature. Although Keats was referring to creative geniuses when he spoke of ‘negative capability’, I have been advised to claim that I was striving to  contemplate the world without imposing my own ego upon it (Bate 1963) and demonstrate ‘being in uncertainties…without… reaching after fact and reason’ (Keats and Gittings 1995: 33).

When I wasn’t sure how to start, I turned to other writers for ideas. Both King (2000) and Fowler (2006) have argued the importance for writers of wider reading in order to sharpen the tools of their craft. Fowler (2006:104) states that people who seek to improve their writing should ‘learn to imitate authors consciously’ in order to be aware and prevent ‘copying them unconsciously’. John Steinbeck dedicated large chunks of his novels to depicting landscapes in an entertaining manner; the land is always busy and active, a character in its own right. I like how he engages our attention in one early chapter by introducing the turtle – ‘turning aside for nothing, dragging his high-domed shell’ (Steinbeck 1992: 16) – and this inspired me to begin my piece centred upon an animal: ‘lone mallard scouts along the edge of the pond’. When it came to propelling the story forward, I recalled how Jon McGregor jumps conversationally from subject to subject in his debut novel, simultaneously building up the bigger picture and reducing it to its component details – “A girl sleeps…A couple in their early thirties…The boy with the wide trousers” (McGregor 2003: 16) – and decided I wanted to emulate the way in which he deals with each figure in the scene separately.

For many years I have tried to follow the story-writing advice offered by Stephen King in On Writing; for this piece of prose I paid particular attention to his thoughts on keeping physical character traits to a bare minimum (King 2000: 137-138), as shown by ‘a man fighting November winds to light his cigarette’, and on how sparing use of fragment sentences can ‘streamline narration, create clear images’ and ‘vary the pace’ (King 2000: 102) – ‘They have noted the empty hands, ritual of crumbs sprinkled over grass, are bored of the whole scene.’ I tried to use a variety of sentence types as recommended during a lecture (Kelly 2012), including some simple sentences, which can create a sense of impact (Leach and Short 2001: 176) – ‘The mob of ducks begins to drift apart’.

There isn’t any spoken dialogue because I wanted to concentrate on describing things evocatively enough for the reader to picture them, and knew I would get distracted if there was too much interaction between people. I have been asked why there are no inverted commas to indicate speech; italics have been used for reported speech – ‘sing-songs all-gone’ and also for imagined speech – ‘there is a universal signal for Do you want a beer?’ while the reported internal dialogue of the girl – ‘(Granddad do it…the hungry duck)’ was originally written as straight prose. I wanted to evade disrupting the narrative flow with dialogue; it took a while before I recognised this approach as a technique borrowed from Stephen King, who frequently allows his characters, especially children and animals, a voice within his description – ‘It was possible that one of them might call him BADDOG.” (King 1992: 27), ‘Daddy was not off somewhere doing the Bad Thing’ (King 1977: 31). He also makes use of parenthesis in various situations, one of these being when a character is thinking something that they are unable to say, which is why the segment is now enclosed in brackets. The girl in my prose has not yet acquired spoken English – ‘her babbling’ – and subsequently there are no speech marks; however, she thinks she is communicating clearly and I wanted the reader to also temporarily think she is, as we are seeing the world from her point of view. The disjointed syntax is intended to reflect her urgency and I tried to word it plausibly, for instance describing the coot’s beak as ‘the white nose’.

Overall, I think that I’ve done a poor job of presenting the pond and its surroundings in aesthetic detail, but that I have created a piece of writing that flows and contains at least some original description. I plan to keep developing my descriptive prose by repeating the practise tasks from the workshops and the textbook, which will hopefully lead to better and more consistent imagery in my stories and other writing.

Reference List

Baker, N. (1998) The Mezzanine. London: Granta Books

Bate, W. J (1963) ‘Negative Capability’ in John Keats [online] Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. available from < Negative%20Capability.pdf> [12 December 2012]

Bell, J. and Magrs, P. (2001) The Creative Writing Coursebook. London: Macmillan

Chekhov, A. (1996) ‘Dreams’ in Selected Short Stories. London: Wordsworth Editions

Fowler, A. (2006) ‘Originality’ in How to Write. New York: Oxford University Press

Golding, W. (1961) The Inheritors. Norwich: Faber

Hardy, T. (1978) Jude the Obscure. London: Penguin

Hemingway, E (1994) ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ in Men Without Women. London: Arrow Books, 38-42

Keats, J. and Gittings, R. (1995) Keats: Selected Poems and Letters. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers

Kelly, T (2012) Redrafting, Editing and Proofreading [lecture] module 150DEL, 5 December 2012. Coventry: Coventry University

Killian, C (2003) Narrative Voice. [24 July 2033] available from <> [8 December 2012]

King, S. (1992) Cujo. London: Warner Books

King, S. (2000) ‘On Writing’ in On Writing. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 83-166

King, S. (1977) The Shining. London: Hodder and Stoughton

Leach, G. and Short, M. (2007) ‘The Rhetoric of Text’ in Style in Fiction. 2nd edn. Harlow: Pearson Education, 168-205

McGregor, J (2003) If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. London: Bloomsbury Publishing

Steinbeck, J. (1992) The Grapes of Wrath. London: Penguin Books

Wolff, J. (2012).’ It’s in the details’ in Your Creative Writing Masterclass. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 179-186


Beckett, S. (1974) More Pricks Than Kicks. London: Picador

Chekhov, A. (1996) Selected Short Stories. London: Wordsworth Editions

Fitzgerald, S. F. (1996) This Side of Paradise. London: Penguin

Goodman, M. (2012) ‘Teaching Writers’ Commentaries’. National Association of Writers in Education Magazine 1 (57), 37-39

Heller, J. (1994) Catch-22. London: Vintage

Orwell, G. (1986) Coming Up for Air. London: Penguin

Orwell, G. (2000) ‘Why I Write’ in Essays. London: Penguin, 1-7

Sharples, M. (1999) How We Write: Writing as Creative Design. London: Routledge




A City Lost

When they shut down
all your favourite bars
and cut down
all your favourite trees
When they decide to put
you in your place
and just tut away your pleas
When they piss on all your fires
and only pause to watch you freeze

When they bulldoze through
your childhood,
erase landmark smiles
from the face of this earth
When your home develops
into a stranger glaring
in the mirror  –
you question
what the word ‘city’ is worth

An ever-mutating landscape
like a bad-trip psychedelic haze

When memories expose
unhelpful gaps
like a dentist X-ray
before the big fight
They leave you lost, probing
the craters, cracks,
only perplexed
instincts for a guide –
and then expect you to draw the maps


The clouds have lowered themselves to mingle with dog-walkers at dusk; peer over rooftops to catch the last of this evening’s Eastenders, or maybe just to check Eastenders still exists. Backdrop sky is exposed in elongated patches of paleness, like partly stripped wallpaper. I pass under a telephone wire strung with birds – like pretty Christmas cards, from people we can no longer hug. Count them. More than six. Quicken my pace, so we can’t be accused of loitering with intent to socialise. Their chatter takes flight after me halfway down the street. Blue ink blotches infect the paper trail looming homeward, discolour the long-view perspective and spread into moroseness. Tower blocks exhibit lights left on to stave off terrors of the night spent alone. Harsh yellow squares like Zoom call windows stacked up into forever, distressing as a lifelong condition. Terms & Conditions. Nobody read the smallprint for 2020, we just wanted to download the software and get on with it – fuck the warranty. Clouds stretched out, lounging in postcard poses, like a cruel promise of things looking better just over the horizon. Don’t wear out your boots, kid, chasing after a delusion; the shops might all be shut tomorrow. It’s a hard road ahead, but the glass shards legacy of our most recent peaceful protest would bite harder into bare feet. This season everyone grew beards, except our politicians. As usual, unable to disguise their bald-faced lies.

Dramatic skies tap into my soul like drunken last-call anthems, stir emotions into end of wedding disco rowdiness. Sunrise: a rare wonder that somehow occurs daily. At its most imaginative upon waking, rumpled duvets of creased colours are heaped one on another, a layer cake frosted with last night’s fever dreams. Undampened yet by the banality of day-to-day existing, the artistry is fantastical; almost too surreal. Bleary-eyed, it tries on outfits of colour palettes never before witnessed, yet perfectly coordinated – not in vision, but matched, well-met, in restless stomachs and chafed hearts in need of balm. Such beauty stings the eyes. Rides in on storms of instability. Nowhere else is this lack of reliability viewed as precious; all can change in a blink. Rooftops get in the way – chase down the buzz, duck and dodge between structures to catch just one more glimpse of this private show, displayed in hues implausible. At any other time, these scorching citrus canopies would be horrorshow danger. The world aflame. Nature can be as scary-gorgeous in her welcoming as her warnings. For want of a camera, pause to absorb, applaud, roar silent admiration. Lungs bulging with suppressed choral worship, involving alien lyrics like ‘glorious’ and ‘spectacular’. This whole scene risks turning a man slack-jawed, religious. I envy the birds their casual, wing-tipped closeness to celebrity. Smile hope at every passing human, all ticket-holders to this secret personal message of Not Today. Surely, after such a salutation, nobody picks up the phone when suicide calls…

Ergo, Ego

Posted: June 1, 2020 in Poetry
Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Some days, my ego is a shrivelled-up raisin;
other days, a fat, well-rounded grape.
I know you think it should be a pumped-up grapefruit,
but that’s a transformation I’m unable to make.
(Or unwilling – aren’t enough things about me bloated, grotesque?)
I know this world’s an overcrowded, rotten punnet
but there must be better ways to

stand out

from the rest?