I stepped out of the house to a gorgeous blue sky with fragments of fluffy white clouds. Cherry trees boasted early blossom, the sun shielded my face and ears from the wind’s bite. Everywhere was calm, in fact, almost silent, except for birds tweeting and chirping amongst the trees. A stationery car engine rumbled, an occasional motor vehicle hummed as it drove by. An aeroplane flew over, it’s drone joined the orchestra— the birds, definitely the solo, soprano part.
I divided my walk to the station into six legs as I listened to my character’s voices chatting in my head. I’d just passed leg three when I came to an old tubby red Royal Mail post box. We don’t see many like this these days. When I think of the changes in the past fifty years it seems a tremendous jump. I wonder what my grandparents would have made of it all. The days when we had tin baths and outside toilets like featured in House of Grace. Of course a home such as Granville Hall where Grace lived before marrying Jack, had luxury bathrooms and inside toilets. What a struggle it must have been for Grace to come to terms with her new life when she became a coalminer’s wife, yet she never complained.
After having lunch with my student friend, we began this week’s Prose/Fiction seminar. First a freewrite, followed by looking at Voice and Style, starting with Alvatrez’s, The Writer’s Voice. When I read through this at home it brought up old familiar names like Ezra Pound, prompting me to think of Hilda Doolittle, or H.D. Imagiste as otherwise known. H.D. was a big inspiration to me when I studied poetry last year. Henry James jumped out and I thought of my friend and fellow student, Sue, who draws from him in her gothic work.
We moved on to discuss readings from various writers. Out of this we drew on the effects created from using nouns, verbs and adjectives. For instance: strong verbs create a sense of movement so ideal for an action scene and adjectives can form a dream like quality.
After looking at interior monologue and free indirect style we were given a writing challenge to produce small passages on both. I failed miserably. However, for our homework we were given a 1000 word assignment to write using an interior monologue or free indirect style. Having started this work, I think perhaps I’ve grasped it. Or as Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady would say, ‘I think she’s got it.’ Let’s hope so.
The second half of the session we split up into two groups and read our writing homework assignments given last week. We offered feedback to each other. I re-wrote a scene from my current novel, The Heir of Granville. The feedback was very encouraging. I enjoyed listening to the work of the other members in my group and impressed by the overall quality.
Here is the scene when George first arrives at Granville Hall:
Martha wiped her hands down her pinny before hauling me up the winding staircase. Grey hair hung down from the cap that circled her lined face.
‘Stop pulling me,’ I said.
The batty old hag took no notice, just kept tugging and then pushed me into a large bathroom. She turned on the gold taps, they were really posh. The bath was clean and white, unlike our old tinnie that had to be dragged in from the backyard. Mam had to boil buckets of water on the stove to fill it.
The patterned window reminded me of church and shiny green tiles and pictures covered the walls. We had flowery wallpaper in our house which Da decorated before I was even born. Martha took a bottle of brown liquid off the shelf and added some to the running water. The smell reminded me of school when I mopped up Smelly Susie’s wee. I wished I was home in Wigan and at school with Miss Jones.
Martha turned the taps off. ‘Get undressed.’
‘Not with you looking.’
‘Do as you’re told, lad.’
I just stood there, so she ripped off me clothes, even me underpants. I put me hands over me privates and squeezed me eyes shut so she couldn’t see me cry.
‘Get in. I haven’t got all day.’
I climbed into the smelly warm water. Big boys shouldn’t cry but I couldn’t help it. I turned my head towards the door, a girl dressed like Martha stood in the doorway. She waved to me. I wanted to wave back because she seemed nice but I couldn’t because I was in the nuddie. What would Da have said if he saw me like this?
‘Annie, don’t stand there gawking.’ Martha pointed. ‘Pass that carbolic soap.’
She grabbed the slab of soap off Annie and started to scrub me like Mam scrubs the floor. Me skin was going raw like Smelly Susie’s face. Martha’s hands moved lower so I quickly covered up me willie but she wasn’t having any of that, she shoved me hands out of the way and sank hers down into the water to scrub.
‘Stop it,’ I said, ‘You’re hurting me.’
Annie bit her lip.
‘What’s your problem?’ Martha said to the girl. ‘Lady Granville wants him deloused. This is the best way.’ She tutted. ‘Make yourself useful, get his clean clothes.’
I looked up into the old witch’s face. ‘I don’t have louses.’
Annie winked at me before she left the room. Maybe I’d made a new friend.
The witch slapped me. ‘Of course you do, all poor people do. Now shut that bawling, you’ll have her Ladyship up here.’
‘I don’t, I don’t. Mam checks me hair every week after bath night.’ I pointed down in the water. ‘I don’t have any down there either.’
Annie dashed in and plonked me clothes on a stool.
Martha finally stopped scrubbing. ‘Girl, pass that nit rake, will you?’ She snatched the metal comb from Annie and tugged it through me hair. ‘Now go and get his room ready.’
The girl dashed out.
Once the witch was happy I didn’t have louses, she threw a white towel on top of me clothes. ‘I’ll be back in five minutes.’ She left the room huffing and puffing.
Me skin was stinging, and red like a cooked lobster. Miss Jones taught me what happens to lobsters when they’ve been cooked. I drained the bath and the water whizzed down the plughole and made a rude noise. Mam would like a bath like this instead of having to heave the tinnie out into the yard to empty it. Sometimes I helped now that Da had died. What was Mam going to do without me? Who would help to feed Betty and cook the sausage and mash? I wrapped the massive towel around me belly, it was soft on me sore skin and I dabbed meself dry. I was climbing into the clean shorts just as Martha and Annie wandered back in.
‘Good God, look at those rags,’ Martha said to Annie, ‘he can’t possibly meet his Lordship like that. Miss Elizabeth better take him to town in the morning to buy new clothes.’
I lowered me head. There was nothing wrong with me clothes, why did she say that? She sounded just like Grandma.
‘Is his room ready?’ she added.
‘Yes, I’ll take him. George, if you’d like to follow me?’ Annie smiled before marching along the landing making me run to keep up.
‘This is your room. Cook will prepare your dinner and just for tonight you can eat it in here.’ In the morning come down to the kitchen and meet her, she’ll make you breakfast and make a big fuss of you. Martha’s not that bad either once you get to know her. Chin up Chicken.’
Left alone, I explored the huge room, running me fingers over the silky blue cover on the bed. In the mirror of the tall wardrobe I could see the matching chest of drawers. I remembered Mam sitting at her dressing table putting on lippie for Da’s funeral. She just sat staring in the mirror. She didn’t even know I was there.
I stomped over to the other side of the room to look out of the wide window. Bees were buzzing over gorgeous purple and pink flowers. A pigeon plodded around on the grass, he must be hunting for worms. I hunted for worms when we used to go to the park with Da, Mam was too sick to come when she was expecting our Betty. I sank me fingers into the gold curtain and brought it up to me face to wipe me eyes.
The door opened, I quickly jumped away from the curtain. What was the old witch going to do now? I shivered. Mam, I want me mam.