22 April 2011

Home From Mass

When we got home from mass there was a farmer waiting outside our house.

‘Is that your dog?’

Nelson was in his usual place on the doorstep.  He wagged his tail weakly in greeting.

I nodded shyly.

‘He was chasing sheep. I had to put a shot in him.’

I looked again and saw that our pet’s neck was hanging open. Where his black coat met his white chest there was a glaring open wound. It wasn’t red like the spots on the doorstep under him but a lurid pink with bluish purple bits showing through it. I didn’t know a gunshot wound could be so big, so bright. On TV all you see is a litle bullet-hole and a speck of blood.

‘Where are your parents?’

‘In the shop.’

Our parents had a grocery shop in the village. It would be busy now with The Mass Crowd forming a queue down the little aisle, stopping in town on the way home for a pint of milk, or some forgotten ingredient for the dinner. In a few years we’d be working there too.

My little sister started to cry. The farmer explained again that he’d had to shoot our dog and went away to find our parents.

Nelson looked up at us pitifully. His big brown eyes just showed pain and confusion. He had made it home. How lucky, I thought, that he wasn’t killed. The farmer mustn’t have got a good shot. He must have seen him run home and given chase. At least he didn’t finish him off.

My child’s brain didn’t understand about wounding the animal so you can follow it home and claim damages from the owner. My child’s brain was certain that there had been some mistake.

He whimpered at us, but his voice was stifled and wheezing. I petted him to calm him and make him stop, the exertion of each pathetic little noise was clearly causing further pain. His breathing was desperate and laboured, made worse when he tried to move towards me. By now his imploring eyes had become bloodshot, as if the bleeding was somehow spreading across his body.

When my parents came home the vet was called and the suffering ended. I don’t remember much else but I had some of his blood on my clothes from when I hugged him.

14 April 2011


Carol groaned and flung the manuscript down.

‘Great.’ She sighed. ‘Another idyllic farmyard tale.’

The first paragraph described the milking of a cow and all the sloshing and rattling and hearty wholesome smells that go with it. Why - with all this sensory imagery, it feels just like being on the farm! …which would be great if the reader had any interest in being next to or near any farm.

She braced herself and picked it up again. I bet there’ll be a nice metaphor about the seasons and the cycles of life and renewal. Ah here we go. By the third paragraph a feeble cow had died tragically but valiantly while calving. Death-count: 1.

Nobody had prepared Carol for what she would have to do in her writer’s group. For the depths to which she would have to sink. In the last three weeks she had read three detailed accounts of bereavement, two frilly romances set in olden times, and four – soon to be five – wistful accounts of hard times on the farm which nonetheless made the author nostalgic for a simpler era.

Reading these rural ruminations was bad enough but the biggest challenge was critiquing these works. She pored over page after page of idyllic imagery, occasionally sniggering at the descriptions of the swarthy farm-hand, his pitchfork clasped in his muscular arm, or the sweet crisp crunchy apple that represented the epitome of all that was good in this world.

Once it was read, she repeated ‘constructive criticism’ under her breath a few times and began to scribble notes in the margins.

The petticoats swaying around the girls’ feet is a very strong visual image.

I love the use of the word ‘tine’.

Dolphins are actually mammals.

You really captured the softness of that heifer's flank.

On some occasions she actually felt resentful towards the author for having inflicted their literature upon her. She would have to go away and leave it for a while before going back and writing her criticism.

I would give less detail here.

I don’t understand what you mean by this.

This character could be further developed.

It was annoying that she had to spend so much time and energy helping others with their work, leaving her with no time to write her own.

Make a new paragraph for each character’s dialogue.

Then she realised that she was indeed developing her fiction-writing skills. The greatest editing she ever did was sculpting her words down into constructive criticism.

Were you going for ironic comedy through the over-use of clich├ęs?

Exclamation marks don’t make it exciting they are just annoying!

Don't forget to recycle. Every copy of this manuscript. Before anyone else has to look at it.

I can’t believe I just spent fifteen whole minutes of my life slogging through this drivel.

I’d like to make you eat that manuscript and then kick the pulpy vomit out of you.