The little details

It was my writing group today, and we talked about writing stories set in a past known to us, so the period details are something we remember – we may have to do a little research but we remember the furniture, the carpets, the clothes our parents and grandparents wore. We can write creatively using our own past – in our group people could remember vividly their surroundings, their homes, cars, fashion from the 40’s onwards – one of the group even remembered the Blitz and being evacuated from London.

Their optional task for next time is to write something which uses descriptions, names, sayings, phrases from what they remember. I shared something from my 1950’s novel, two scenes – the first where the main character is just leaving his bedsit in an old Victorian house owned by Mrs Brewer, and the second where a young woman who he saw in the Dog and Pineapple the previous evening, asks him for help:

Mike paused at the doorway of his room and looked round it… how depressing. The old iron bedstead with the patchwork quilt granny had made… it looked neat enough but the mattress was terrible. Where Mrs Brewer had found the furniture was anyone’s guess, maybe it had been in the house since it was built, an old chest of drawers which refused to easily yield its drawers without a fight – they stuck and then would pull out unexpectedly, sometimes right out, to empty their contents on the floor, sometimes just rocking the chest so whatever was on top fell over…
He used the dressing table as an overflow bookcase, the mirror was so marked and spotted it was beyond being attended to, no amount of re-silvering would make up for the damaged edges even if it was rendered clear of black spots. If a woman had this room she would be demanding a new one. As usual the door of the wardrobe leered open. Adam had fixed it once but either the floor wasn’t quite even (or the boards did creak ominously) or the wardrobe’s little feet were at fault. Mike actually didn’t care, no-one ever visited, except Adam.
He felt particularly gloomy as he closed and locked his door.
“Hello Mr. Scott, I say, you’re not about to have a bath, are you?”
Did he look as if he was about to have a bath? He had his sports jacket on, hat in hand and not a towel but a newspaper under his arm. “Good evening Miss Frost, no I am just on my way out.”
Miss Frost was one of the three teachers; she was the oldest and had lost her fiancé in the war. When Mike had first taken the room here she and her two friends had been very pleasant and welcoming, but there was a subtle desperation in their friendliness. One of them was now seeing an older man whose name Mike could never remember, someone who was a clerical officer in some part of the town hall. Miss Frost and Miss Silvers, however were unattached.
He saw them sometimes at the Rex Ballroom, or the Dorothy, but he would usually decide that it was time for a pint, and slip away

Well, at least it wasn’t raining. Mike belted his mac, and put on his bicycle clips, stowed his things in his saddle bag and buckled it up securely. He’d become careless with closing it and had lost his lunch recently when he went over a pot hole and his sandwiches flew out of his unfastened bag.  He’d stopped and turned to see a stray dog run off with something, a seagull take something else and the milkman’s horse tread on the remains. He’d had a rather solid poached egg at the café for lunch, 1/4d it had cost him, plus a cup of tea…
He was just about to throw his leg over his saddle when he realised someone was addressing him.
“Excuse me sir,” it was the girl from the pub, not the singer but the girl whose friend had left her… Penny, Adam had said, no not Penny, Jenny… “Excuse me sir, I think you were in the Dog and Pineapple last night, with your friend Mr. Bravo… Well, sir, I don’t know if you noticed me and my friend, Rosie, she was wearing a red blouse and a black skirt, did you see her, sir?”
“Yes, yes, I did notice you – you seemed to be enjoying the entertainment.”
He looked at her more directly; she was very pale, apart from her reddened nose and eyes, puffy from crying. He had felt fuzzy and queasy this morning after a few pints of mild, but she had been sinking gin as if it was lemonade, she must have felt terrible when she woke up, and now she couldn’t find her friend.
“We were sir, we were having a gay old time, and then Rosie went, I thought she was going to powder her nose, but she never came back.”
“Maybe she was feeling a little under the weather and she went home…”
“I went to her lodgings and the landlady said she never came home.” The girl’s shoulders drooped and she held her handkerchief to her nose.


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