Writing Workout - Curtis Browne

Writing Workout

The last few weeks I've been taking part in a free Writing Workout from @CurtisBrownCreative. I thought I would share one of my writing workouts and their feedback to help writers out there understand how they can improve. It's been a real treat to do these and I feel I'm improving all the time. I'm pretty pleased with the feedback I was given. They guessed the time and the location correctly from the description.

This week we were asked to write a scene which evokes a strong sense of place and atmosphere, and which does it in a way that is distinctly yours.

Here is mine:

Ted kissed her full on the lips. His breath smelled of brown ale and woodbine.

His fingertips brushed over her knee, lifting her skirt until they reached further. Further than he’d been before. He tugged at the top of her stocking. She grabbed his hand and pushed it back down, but it came back up with just as much insistence, his fingers slipping under the elastic hem of her knickers. Bottles clattered against the pavement, kicked from the doorstep of the King’s Arms where they had been left.

‘Ay up, looks like you’re in there, boss,’ a man’s voice bellowed.

Ted pulled his hand away and gasped. 

‘Fuck off, Jim will ya.’

Jim belched, long and loud. ‘Suit yerself. The night is young, my lovers. See you on the other side.’ His ankle gave way as he stepped off the kerb. He tumbled into the cobbled street and disappeared into the darkness whistling to the tune of Mony Mony.

Christine pressed her head against the bricks, warm from a day of sun. The heat stifled; a breezeless mid summer’s night where stale air festered in alleyways. She closed her eyes, drew in a breath, the three Babyshams fizzing in her head like a dose of Epsom salts. When she opened them again, Ted was staring at her, lips apart. But he didn’t see her, his pupils shrunk closed by the last rum and coke. His eyes were bloodshot, rivers of red veins running through white ice. His cheeks, clean-shaven and pock-marked glowed in the lamplight. His mouth turned up at one corner in a lopsided grin.

‘Come on Chris, it’s been two months now.’

She turned away, to where his palm was resting against the brick, and shook her head silently. He ran his bent forefinger along her jaw, pulling her face to look at his, pressing his thumb deep in the centre of her chin.

‘You can’t blame a man for trying, especially when you’re such a stunna.’

Christine felt heat on her cheeks, and wetness between her legs. She pressed her palms against his chest, her elbows against the wall, locked in protection. From what she’s wasn’t sure. Part of her wanted him just as much.

‘Me mam will kill me, Ted.’ 

He nuzzled his face into her neck, and she felt his weight, heavier now, his pelvis pressed into hers. The hardness between his legs, waiting for her.

‘Yer mam can go fuck herself.’

She’d promised herself she wouldn’t give in, not for a good while yet. She’d seen too many girls up the duff faster than Elsie Thomson’s knickers pulled down behind the rec. Two bairn’s and counting. All out of wedlock, and another one on the way. Or so the girls at Johnson’s would have you believe. And they always disappeared, even Elsie. A six months working holiday to Blackpool. The first time she’d asked, her mam had told her just that. The second time, her mam told her the truth. She shivered at the thought of the alternative, the needles, bloodied at the tips, discarded in the bins at the back of Coates street. No, she wouldn’t be one of those girls.

‘Give us a fag,’ she said, a smile teased at her lips.

Ted grinned. ‘What’s it worth?’

‘Ted, come on. Don’t be stupid.’

He shook his head and gulped back a belch, reaching into his top pocket to pull out a small green tin. He flipped it open and sprinkled the woodbine into the paper before rolling it. He squinted, pulling it towards his eyes and swayed backwards.

‘For fuck sake. Conna see nothing round ‘ere. Let’s walk up to the rec.’

He placed his arm around her shoulders and pulled her towards him. They walked down the street in silence, him stumbling every second step, her court shoes clipping on the pavement to keep up. He was a short man, but Christine was even shorter, and she felt off balance as they walked, the crook of his arm curled around her neck. His bicep, muscular and hard, pushed against her cheek, pulling her towards him like a ship listing at sea.

When they reached the rec, his arm fell loose by his side. He stepped forward and opened the gate, gesturing with his hand for her to enter. 

‘Ladies first,’ he said with a grin. Christine hesitated, just for a second. She wondered if she should leave. What are you doing Christine? What in god’s name are you doing? 

‘Suit yourself,’ he said and walked in front of her through the gate. She followed him and they sat on the wooden roundabout, watching the shadow of a black cat slink in front of them. It stopped, turning its face towards theirs, its eyes narrowed and glinting in the moonlight. Ted picked up a can and threw it in the  cat’s direction. It rattled to a stop, the cat’s paws scrambling across the gravel into the darkness. 

Ted offered her a new roll up. She took a drag, deep and long, and laid back on the warm wood, safely separated from Ted by metal bars on either side. The night was clear, stars sprinkled on black like salt on coal.

And the feedback from author Anthony Trevelyan:

This is a vivid and evocative piece, Claire, with a strong sense of time, place and person. You suggest atmosphere with some really well-chosen details – the pub, the cobbled street, the stifling heat. References to ‘Mony Mony’ and ‘Babychams’ locate your narrative in the (late?) 1960s, while the discreet use of phonetic spelling in dialogue imply a northern English setting. I only wonder how firmly you want readers to connect with Christine. Your close, third-person narration is wonderfully charged and ambiguous, but both Ted and Jim are named before she is, and there is an exchange of dialogue between the two men before the line ‘Christine pressed her head against the bricks...’ provides the first strong indication of her point of view. If your overall intention relies on readers forming a close bond to Christine, I would recommend introducing her more fully earlier, even in the first paragraph giving us her name (temporarily relegating Ted to a ‘he’) and bringing to this earlier point some of your superb evocation of her impressions, thoughts and feelings, before we hear about other characters.
Your writing superbly enhances the tension of Christine’s situation – the description of Ted’s eyes as ‘rivers of red veins running through white ice’ conveys the chill of real menace.