I remember…

Among writers, it is a pretty well known fact that one of the best ways to beat writer’s block is by doing a writing prompt. You know, a little exercise that gets you writing about something. Anything. So tell me this: how is it that, while writing this post, I spend about an hour deciding how best to write the beginning?

Well, enough of that, and on to a simple exercise I learned during my first year at uni. If you’re trying to get your writing brain in gear, or even just bored, set yourself a time limit and begin with:

I remember…

Having a boy at secondary school call me a “ch*nky”, most likely to impress his mates. I don’t know if he was hoping to get lucky, but strangely, I don’t find casual racism to be much of a turn on.

Not understanding why Mum was being so violently sick in the months before my sister was born.

My grandparents’ cats coming back from the vet and me not knowing why the female was shaved on one side and the male under his tail.

Visiting the Nottingham Christmas Market with my secondary school as a reward for good behaviour, and one of the boys getting caught shoplifting.

Calling potato wedges “wedgies”.

My thirteenth birthday party, in which I must have eaten a ton of chocolate, party food, pancakes and birthday cake. Not surprisingly, the party ended with me feeling a little peaky.

And this was before the food hangover…

Going to my Friday night Year 10+ youth club, and the evening coming to an unceremonious halt when a boy’s arm went straight through a window. His arm was shredded and spurting blood, and he was definitely crying.

Overhearing him at school some time later bragging to other kids about how it was just a scratch and how he’d laughed throughout the whole thing.

Recovering from the trauma of my (then five year old) sister being rushed to hospital with a broken arm when I realised I could watch any video I wanted without negotiation.

Saying goodbye to Mum after hers and my stepdad’s wedding reception, and trying not to show how much I was going to miss her.

Mum and I moving from Taiwan to England when I was just four, and not understanding how final this was after so many holidays with my (English) grandparents.

That “first day of school” feeling on my first day at university.

Learning about the Black Death at school and being afraid to sleep with my lamp off that night.

The first time I had pizza when I was little, and thinking it was the best thing I’d ever tasted.

 

So there you go. Besides getting you writing, this is also a pretty entertaining group activity. Just get your heads down, write down as many random memories as possible, and exchange. How weird does it get? Why not have a go and get back to me?

 

 

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Moments at uni – the good, the bad, and the manic

Most fun: going on a field trip to the Birmingham BBC studios. Namely, having my picture taken with a dalek, seeing where live morning TV, music and The Archers are recorded and being in a short radio drama about being eaten by a cannibal. (3rd year)

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Most embarrassing: reading out a short story I’d written to the class, and the main feedback from a guy going on about how bad it was and how it didn’t fit the requirements given, while punctuating every criticism with “no offence.”* (1st year)

Most stressful: 3rd year group projects, InDesign, no water in the flat…pretty much all of this year!

Weirdest: many moments with certain people on my course present. Ranging from listening to a detailed imitation of sex noises, to everyone’s boobs being given names. Like ‘Ben and Jerry.’ Or ‘Trinny and Susannah.’ Or in my case, ‘Ant and Dec.’ (3rd year)

Stupidest: realising I no longer had my bag of books, not finding it anywhere on campus, reporting to security, then going back to my flat and finding it in my room. I tried to tell security “it had been found”, but they wanted to know where and by whom… (3rd year)

Most annoying: when I was in the DMU choir and I told them I couldn’t make it to a performance, as it clashed with the day I had just told the Derby Telegraph I would be changing to. When I got roped in anyway, the people in charge swore blind they heard me say I could make it… (2nd year)

Funniest: when political debates in Journalism lectures got so heated, many minutes were wasted by two students (not quite, but almost) shouting over each other about freedom of speech, should kids be interested in politics, etc. Meanwhile, the rest of us – lecturer included – would be watching in wide-eyed silence. ‘Twas quality entertainment. Yes, I do think someone should have brought popcorn. (2nd year)

Overall worst: almost missing my only exam (1st year). Or being told I didn’t need to come back for more counselling before I’d explained how low I was, emotionally (2nd year). All in the past.

Overall best: my final marks – 70%, 66%, 66% and 61%, and 66% (a 2:1) overall. Woo!

And on that note, happy graduation to my fellow graduates!

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*In his defence, he was autistic. I had this theory that we were put together because we had the same condition, so of course we would work well together.

Novel preview in progress – or how not to help an Aspie

Nearly seven months ago, my course mates and I were at the beginning of the end. Several essays, one booklet, two group projects and four presentations later, and we are facing the final curtain. Of university. With one more week until the final deadline, I am about to finish writing my dissertation* – a few extracts of a novel that I had been planning for years now. Presenting the first preview of…When You’re Strange.

The story mainly focuses on 16 year old Eleanor and her struggles with secondary school and parents who can’t agree on a possible diagnosis. Some of it is inspired by my real life experiences, some is supposed to portray humourous insights about people and inspiration for kids on the spectrum. So, how many of these failed attempts at understanding autism have you heard?

Extract 5

‘Excuse me, sir?’ Mr Adams?’ Eleanor asked, before she could stop herself.
Mr Adams paused, still facing the staff room, and looked over his shoulder at her. ‘Yes, Eleanor?’
‘I, um, I’m sorry about the other week…in PE…’ she faltered. Why did this have to be so hard? She didn’t even know what to apologise for!
‘It wasn’t a hard game.’
Eleanor took a deep breath, trying to remember what it said in the leaflet about explaining to other people. Say it like it is.
‘I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which means I have trouble with reading people and physical co-ordination,’ she said.
‘Oh,’ Mr Adams looked down. ‘I’m…sorry.’
‘Why?’
‘Never mind. It’s ok. I had an Asperger student a few years ago.’ He paused. ‘But everybody’s clumsy or awkward sometimes. We can’t make allowances for anyone having an off day. Do you understand?’
Eleanor shrugged. Not really.
Mr Adams went on. ‘Besides, although you made a few errors, I didn’t see you struggling too much. But if you ever need extra help, just let me know.’
‘Ok.’ She looked at the floor. Had he understood?

 

Most students I have known feel like they can’t be free of their dissertation soon enough. If anything, if I want to turn this into a proper book, I could be spending many more years on it. But if I can get it published, it will be one goal crossed off my bucket list. I’m glad I chose to go to uni, and I don’t regret it for a minute. It has pushed me one step further along my chosen path, and on the day I see my name on the front of a book, it will all have been worth it.

And on that note, happy Autism Awareness Month!

 

 

*Known as a Portfolio, in Creative Writing speak. But would you have understood what I meant if I had used that word instead?

Monologue and interactive story aka Operation Ethanol

Good evening and excuse the slight decrease in recent posts! I really do want to blog more regularly, but sadly, coursework calls. In the meantime, talking of coursework, here are two examples. The first is a monologue I wrote that I later had to stretch (3,000 words!). The second is an interactive story in the link below. Enjoy:

Monologue

It looks like it’s going to be a good morning. See the sun out there? I love it when it’s like this. All calm and quiet. You see those red tulips out there in the back garden? I’ve been tending to them every morning since I got back and it’s really paying off. Anyway, I’d better put on my Classical CD. That’s another part of my therapy programme.

That’s it, nothing like a bit of Beethoven to keep the mind still. Especially when everything’s quiet. Harold went off earlier. He said he was going to work. He says that most mornings. I’ve just got to keep trusting that he’ll come back when he says, that he isn’t…no, I trust Harold. He’ll come back from…wherever it is. Where is it he goes every morning? Ah yes. Work.

I don’t like the tone of that music. It’s too loud. It’ll make them come back again. I know it. I have to – I can’t remember. No, wait, I think it’s something to do with those capsules by the CD player, and the water, and the words…’Lorraine, remember to take your meds’

Lorraine, remember to take your meds…Lorraine, remember the meds…Lorraine, you have to take…Lorraine, DON’T TAKE THEM!

They’re coming. No I won’t listen, I know the steps: relax, focus on what is real. What is real, what is real, what is real?! I don’t know anymore!

I am home, I am safe. I will recover. That is real.

But is it? I don’t know.

Of course you don’t know, you’re useless, stupid…The music, focus on it. It hurts my ears. Why do I listen to it? He bought it for me, on our…he bought it…no, he didn’t buy it to hurt my ears. He didn’t, why would he – but then why would he leave you alone every day with just me for company – shut out that light and you’ll be safe –

Those flowers – they’re covered with blood. It’s a sign, why did I plant them? Close the curtains!

Why? Because you’re weak, you believe everything they tell you at that sick place. You’re sick, you’re weak, it was all a trap but you’re too scared to even –

I’m doing it! Have to get that glass…

You’ll choke, just like the weak, sick, pathetic piece of…

Am I choking? I can breathe, I can breathe. Will I live? Where are they? Where are…who?

Excuse me for a second, just lost my train of thought. Hang on, the music’s gone quiet, I’ll turn it back up. Damn, I haven’t even thought to look at the garden today. I’d better take a look, ah that’s better, let some light into the house before I water the tulips.

Interactive story – Operation Ethanol

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Changing times

It has been a year now since I first started this blog. A year of endless rambling about my life, with the occasional interesting thought thrown in. I’m using this fact as an excuse for not having blogged in over a month. If I can come up with a better excuse, I will let you know. Right now I am still in a state of internal conflict regarding whether I have a winter birthday or a spring birthday. March 17th is at that weird, transitional stage in the year when the weather can’t decide which season it is. And I am digressing…

This month has not been without excitement. For a start, I am now 21. Being the raving party animal that I am, I celebrated by having a night out at the pub, having a drink with a shot and hitting the town. And by that I mean having dinner at Wetherspoons the weekend before and having a caramel-shot hot chocolate and a sudden Journalism assessment on the day. Yes, I can liken an assessment to “hitting the town.” My Practical Journalism lecturer announced that he had something “fun” planned for us. I have learnt from a very young age that when authoritative types use words like “fun” or “treat”, a sense of dread and foreboding is rarely unfounded.

And so it was that I had to go into town, come back with several news stories and write them up, in less than two hours. Anxiety induced nausea and sweat are not ideal birthday presents. Thankfully my actual birthday presents more than made up for it, with me being up to my neck in chocolate, a handmade scarf courtesy of Hannah (see January 31) and even an airer for next year.

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Uni, meanwhile, continues to be one long joyride of assessments, writing and more published Demon articles. Only a week before my birthday, I had to read my “What the media told me” poem out loud in front of the rest of the lecture group. Yes, that was marginally better than the alternative of doing it on my birthday while my pulse was still calming down after my assessment. No, it’s not a good idea to read to an audience when a virus has robbed you of your voice.

Turning 21 has not been the only major event this month. Basil, who is insanity in feline form, has spent the past few months wreaking havoc, namely by peeing everywhere he shouldn’t, bullying the other cats, scratching and biting unpredictably and acting far more disturbed than he ever was living with Grannie. So we only went and contacted Vicky Halls, famous cat behaviourist whose books and signed photo I own, to come and look at him. Mum and I may have come across as slightly star struck at first, but her visit gave us some useful insights into his behaviour namely: He is a disturbed cat living in the wrong environment. It has also thrust a troubling decision upon us: do we rehome him? More on that when the outcome is clear.

Cold, wet and pushed for time

My blog has just congratulated me on reaching 20 posts. Which I thought was pretty considerate of it seeing as I had made no mark of the occasion whatsoever. I am sure a feeling of celebration will hit me any time later, but right now I am slightly preoccupied.

For a start, I realised only yesterday that I had to do three blog posts by today. Blogging is now part of the Creative Writing learning curve. As is Twitter. Only last week, my stepdad said I should be doing more to publicise my blog. I always post it on Facebook and, I clearly said to him, I really couldn’t be bothered to get Twitter just to advertise my writing. The next day came and guess what my Creative Writing lecturers had asked me online? Not only that, but I have been advised to do two Tweets a day. So if anyone’s interested: Grace Liu – @CREWgraceglsl.

Secondly, I am fully drenched and frozen to the bone. This is one of the setbacks to commuting. A half hour walk to the train station, followed by another walk to uni must have seriously tested my immune system and my hands’ resistance to frostbite. Did I mention that it was raining hard enough to soak through my jeans, blowing enough of a gale to make it hard to walk and even snowing?

Finally, my hand is still recovering from a cat restraining attempt gone wrong. Basil (see August 26) and I had a bit of a disagreement the other day – in other words, I thought he should be firmly picked up and put outside for aggressively chasing Bouncer and he disagreed. And my hand suffered multiple scratches and bite wounds as a result. I felt like a kid again, standing in the bathroom with Mum dabbing my hand with TCP and warning me that it would sting. But hey, it gave me something to put on Twitter.

So it is now 12:40 and I have successfully done three posts! Time for lunch, methinks…

Delight is…

Having said that I will use my blog to both improve and publicise my writing, I have just managed to find a piece I did last term for which I had to change tack at the last minute. This is a personal essay, and had to be titled “Delight is…” so here goes:

Delight is the first morsel of delicious hot food after two hours of sweat, smoke and sliced vegetables in the kitchen, which now looks like a culinary bombsite. Well, first you do the courteous thing of getting out the dishes and serving up a generous portion for every other person eating; it almost goes without saying. Then you simply sit at the table and begin to eat.

For me, the moment of delight comes with being able to sit down, relax and enjoy the results of my hard work. Don’t get me wrong, a tasty meal on an empty stomach is never to be sniffed at. Yet somehow, there is still that extra bit of something – a subtle addition to the flavour, perhaps – to a dish which you have burnt your hand, stained the work surfaces and toiled against the clock for. It all starts with the preparation. Pasta and tomato sauce? I waste at least half an hour with that one stepping away from the chopped onions, looking as if I have been crying hysterically. Chow Mein noodles? Do try not to leave them in that pan of boiling water a minute too long or you will end up with stringy Chow Mein porridge. Bean burritos? In my family I have to remember: meat but no cheese for my sister, chopped vegetables but no meat for Mum and a little of each topping for my stepdad. Me, I like spice. Extra chilli, sliced onions, lots of black pepper, maybe even a little garlic. Perfect.

So you scrape out the last remnants of warmly spiced sauce from your dish. You turn towards the kitchen, bracing yourself for the state in which you have left it. And then comes the last moment of delight: the family all rise from the table and get to work on the spattered work surfaces, the sink full of dishes, the spare ingredients lying around near their proper places, while you…you get to help yourself to seconds. Chef’s privilege.

For this personal essay we had to come up with topics that bring us (wait for it) delight. My first choice was something like “having a really deep conversation with someone that gives you a lot to think about.” At first I thought this was deep, philosophical and interesting, however on hearing other people’s delights, such as “cycling” and “Robert Pattinson” I felt that mine was more nerdy and pretentious than anything else. So I settled for cooking. Because the outcome of cooking is food, and food most definitely brings delight.

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