I am a Racehorse in Drag

This piece for Sotogrande Writers was in response to the theme entitled: ‘And the Winner Is . . .’ I am a racehorse in drag.

He was an ex-boyfriend, which constitutes an ex everything in my eyes. He knows where the mole on the arch of my foot sings, the secret stash of sugar I hide at arms-reach. It’s strange to think he can’t recognise me now. I wonder why? Surely, I’m in a dress, my make‑up taking away the obvious, I’ve managed to cover the lines under my eyes, a gift of my late father, the acne scars and although they are faded now, they feel furry and new like mould. In all my contoured construction, my limbs are mine. My legs trump those of a gladiator. I am a winning racehorse in drag.

There’s a red light on the stage, and I know it jumps off my cheekbones and makes me look like authority. It takes me back to our first date. Twenty-two, two ripened minds discussing William Blake as if we were competing with one another. My dissertation was better than yours. Better, is too strong a word, perhaps, it was more convincing. I mean you never really did want to do an English degree, did you? I didn’t have much confidence back then. My quick wit was protective clothing. It came off when I watched you laugh. I owe everything to Kenneth Williams. 

Even then, I flirted with your mystery, it smelt dangerous, like a match. The fire, its sharpness and how quickly it burns the wood. A race. We were always interested in that race, we wanted to start fires, but now we know that starting fires means burning things down. 

The bar is full. The crowd looks tiny here, round black heads and stick drawings for bodies like a Lowry landscape. The other two people at my side don’t appear to be nervous. I would be if I were them. Make-up can do wonders, it can trick, it can get you out of any situation, but somehow, it can’t cover up a beard. I hear the crowd growl; their dark heads and spotlight smiles begin to cheer. Their feet stamp. The banging, it resonates. My heart isn’t in my chest, but strapped to me and next to a loudspeaker. 

My eyes are on him, but my mind is on you. Your sanguine face, always smiling. It needs no fanfare. Your dimples, even at forty-five years of age your frown hasn’t surrendered to the demands of your job. Goodness, if I were you, my skin would look like a rotten piece of fruit, perhaps a banana. Blotchy, but good on the inside and so you feel reluctant to throw me away.  

‘And the winner is’ says Madame Butterfly. Whose large face and deliberate separation of the words makes her as loveable as a carpet burn. Her roughness, her voice is smoky and she looks over cooked. 

As soon as my name is called, the audience stands. I feel my face tighten, my eyes closing and my stallion heart amplified. For the first time in my life I felt masculine. I felt masculine even though I stand here in drag. I’m a winner, I’m a winner in drag. What is a winner in drag? I get off the stage and feel your hands grab mine. I knew you’d embrace me, I knew you’d treat me like a champion. 

I was alone, taking off my make-up, slipping out of this shell and putting my own skin back on. My bearded ladies came and congratulated me. I loved the sense of brotherhood. I may have won, but somehow, I still had a sensitivity which didn’t discount my racehorse status. Recognition? He must have left by the time I was me again.

So, I lit a cigarette with the last match in the box.

By Liam Anthony

Liam is a Mancunian raised on a diet of pet shop boys, William Blake and plenty of Oscar Wilde. As well as being a teacher, he is working on his first book of poetry. Liam used to sing and write in a band called Motorway Slow Dance. He lives in Malaga with his partner and their two cats.

If you’d like to join us, but do not live near, submit your writing – or an excerpt – approx. 500 words – to be read out at our monthly meetings.

No Time Like The Present Theme for March

Below are two very different examples from our theme for March. It’s always fun to write something and to let loose your creativity.

Sumo Gnome with Tie

Culture Crash

No Tie Like The Present

Karneval is the German religious celebrations leading up to Lent. Karneval starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and runs through Rose Monday, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday on into Lent. The idea was to give up eating anything fatty, especially meats (Carne!) but more importantly, nowadays, it is a time to let your hair down – especially for the women on Frautag, that first Thursday. Apart from women being allowed to kiss any man she meets – if she wants to! – she will also be allowed to cut off the lower end of his tie. Offices are strewn with trophies won by the girls, particularly in Rhineland.

Off With your Tie – Soh dess nay

I happened to be in Germany some years ago, accompanying the Director of Toyota Europe as he visited our factory in Koblenz, this prior to Toyota opening their massive car plant in Derby in 1989. We would become one of their suppliers. I admit timing did not take account of religious celebrations nor the wild women of Koblenz. As the director stepped out of his car, along with his chief engineer, two stunning young ladies, each a good 15-20 cm taller than them, responded politely to their oriental bowing, and promptly cut off their ties – and believe me, they were not cheap ties! The two visitors were utterly horrified. Not a good start to the day’s discussions. It’s a funny thing, but the German factory never did get any orders from Toyota.

Allied Shame at Karneval

On a more sombre note it was on Shrove Tuesday that British and American bombers wreaked havoc on Dresden in 1945. In the following days, the bodies of children were pulled from the ruins still wearing their Karneval costumes. Even in wartime, those traditions were upheld.

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Delight

Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, meanwhile, takes over as the focal point of the same celebrations in many countries of Catholic and Anglican background, where all the fats and butters saved through the winter are used to make rich foods before the traditional fasting of Lent. Most of us are aware of the extent of celebrations of Mardi Gras in Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans, and even Sitges in Spain, where anything goes – song, dance and food. The lot!

And in the UK, we make pancakes!

Sotogrande – Too Close to Home

In Sotogrande, the local Anglican minister declared he was going to give up all cakes, biscuits, sweets and chocolate for the Lenten period. He was the first to admit he could lose a few pounds or even kilos, and Lent would be a good time to do so. So the Church Fund-Raising committee arranged to cash in on his decision, and from last Sunday, invited the congregation to guess what his weight would be on Easter Day – a prize of an Easter Egg to the winner. That should stiffen his resolve to complete his self-imposed challenge.

On closer examination, the minister was more than a touch outside the limits of a healthy Body Mass Index. Well, I thought, am I any better? Perhaps I too should go on a diet, maybe give up all those goodies as well. But when should I start? Lent has already started. Is it too late?

No. No time like the present!

Geoff Morgan

Ronda Gorge No Time Like The Present

Seat of the Moors and the Christians

No Time Like the Present.

Here am I standing proud and tall, rooted in history. Much could I tell of these lands, of the flora and fauna, of people’s lives and the language of their tongues.

Showboating or Bon Viveur

Why, it was not so long ago that Latin invaded the hills, to the sounds of iron on flint as legions marched on by. Then came the Moors with their strange guard-dogs that were not dogs and are still around today. Christians spoke with trembling voice about those monsters and their powers. Three-meter long devils disappeared into the shadows of camp-fire chatter. People staked their lives on what their eyes beheld and kept listeners spellbound in the power of their words. Call it showboating or bon viveur but not flaneur, too soon for Baudelaire.

When the Sun Orbited the Earth

But what were these creatures that lived when Sun orbited Earth, when Man knew the world was flat? When people rose and slept with daylight. Yes, I talk of a time before sins could be paid for in advance, still in the ever-present truth of wicked Eve and guileless Adam, but with marauding Islam perching on these Christian shores. Bridges could have formed had those followers of Allah and Mohammed not also brought cruelty and chains. For were they not wonderful vintners who traded symmetry and spice, science and secrets?

Myth and Infidel

The first time one of those mythical-creatures was seen was when the sun was setting and tired bodies ached for slumber. Once more these lands had been disturbed by strangers keen to settle and survive. Prepared to trounce all who would dare to send them back across the thirsty seas. Try or Die for what was Life if not pain peppered with pleasure and instinct. Then, as ever, all were gifted with laughter to help them on their way. A lucky few were blessed with time to reflect. It was not they who saw the monsters. Witnesses of those long black serpents were life’s troubled pawns, mouths opened wider than eyes to see snakes float at half the height of a man’s shin. Very Important People could daydream – goblet in hand, shading blurred eyes from the sun whilst drinking red wine gained in trade with enemies. They were genteel in their praise and marvelled at the safe encampments of the Moors whilst trembling from within at knowledge of how cruel could be the fate of the despised infidel.

Boughs for Vows

One such man sat beneath my boughs as almond blossom wafted in the breeze. He grasped at life like an autumn leaf before a windy day. The Moors sought to proselytise and he was quite a prize. He looked with care about him, seeking his chance to flee. It was then he saw the many legged serpent; it was a moving family of mongoose in an unbroken line. At that moment a chink of Hope appeared. Myth became Legend and later generations laughed at their grandfathers’ fears. Through this new found space the unchained man did flee, proclaiming, ‘No Time Like the Present’.

Tracy Thomson

no time like the present

no time like the present

 

 

The Secret About Subtext – Creating Characters To Die For

Dick Tracy and Madonna

Dick Tracy and Madonna

Dr. Linda Seger, an internationally known script consultant, has written a book about subtext and how it strengthens and adds depth to your writing. She says, ‘Subtext is the true meaning simmering underneath the words and actions, . . .Subtext points to other meanings.’ I started to think about how the power lies, like an iceberg, below the surface and how an awareness of this can help us become better writers.

A Walking, Talking, Living Doll

We are familiar with different techniques to create real heart beats in our characters. These personality aids vary from the almost compulsive attention to detail e.g. how Sammy puts water on his toothbrush before adding toothpaste, to the unrounded characters required for cameo roles. Dr. Seger asks us in Chapter 2, to imagine that a character we create is applying for a job in our script. Not everything this person has done goes into the CV, but although some of the traits may stay unmentioned both on the CV and at the interview, in real life they will display themselves in all their resplendent glory and if the character has done their job well, they’ll be visible at work – after safely securing the position.

The Feared Info-Dump when we Get It All Wrong

When I’m creating a character and committing traits to paper I sometimes dump a whole lot of information in the early stages, right at the beginning of the story. I ignore the rule of Show don’t Tell. This helps me dredge my subconscious for who the character really is. This ‘character and plot plan’ works for me, I delete it all on my first edit and the reader never sees the backstory or dreaded info dump, but it steers me to where I need to be. What method do you use? Does it depend on the complexity of the character created? Certainly, there is value in asking and answering questions to create believable characters. After all, it is how we react to things that truly defines who we are.

Attitude Makes us Do What We Do, Say What we Say, Cry When we Cry

Job interviews and journalists interviewing famous people are some of the techniques we use in writing workshops and they help create a more rounded character complete with strengths, weaknesses and occasional full blown dysfunctionality. Another workshop technique is to create a stereo type of someone you kind of know, and then really get to know them by asking how they react in certain situations. This can be done with role plays of famous people and also with real individuals in your workshop once trust has established itself. We also use it with first person Point of View, when our character sees and responds to things in a way that befits his or her character. Woe betide you if having created a certain personality you then have that character do something the reader just cannot believe. Another person could have done it, but not Sammy.

When Subtext Becomes a Cardboard Cut-Out Once More

The power is much diluted when character traits become quick fixes to inject quirkiness and geekiness to suggest intelligence but social awkwardness. Have you noticed how Social Anxiety / Asperger’s Syndrome has become evident in many leading characters these days? It didn’t even start with Sheldon Cooper and the Big Bang. The eponymous Monk got there before him, as did Dr. Temperance Brennan of TV Series Bones and then there was Jerry Espenson of Boston Legal. And I haven’t even got to 2015 yet. Whatever the swamping order, there’s no denying its popularity.

Unique Selling Point  – Say No More

One of the many wonders that sets ‘Breaking Bad’ apart from so much derivative script writing is how a secondary character – the son, Flynn, has mild cerebral palsy and the character is acted by RJ Mitte who himself lives with mild cerebral palsy. Yes, ‘Breaking Bad’ is an education in so many ways. The third season of Orphan Black even pays homage to BB’s plot as if emulating its characters’ craziness were not enough. Sometimes it seems that you need a Unique Selling Point to get published, but thereafter you can emulate to your hearts content. It might pay the bills, but it doesn’t break records.

Adding Subtext to Age, True Desires, Wants and Goals

How do your characters feel about their age? That, according to Dr. Seger, is the key that opens the door for director, producer and actor to walk through and make the script their own. This is illustrated with the BBC’s version of Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh. Despite all that life has thrown at him, Wallander still feels, he is hanging by a thread, but continues to cling to humanity. It is this, in my opinion, which sets him apart from cynical, hard boiled cops nearing a retirement pension and time to kill in a world without hope, where dreams no longer surface. In one episode, Wallander’s daughter signs him up to a dating agency. His reaction shows us he really wants it, but he would never have admitted to it. He is ribbed for it in the office and ultimately supported and destroyed by his vision of the world. Nevertheless, his vulnerabilities and humanity surface and Wallander and the world survive to live another day.

Everything entwines and it is not the brash that reveals, but the subtleties of subtext that truly define who we are. Not as perceived by the outside world, but as felt 24/7 by us through our inner hopes, dreams and achievements. If we reveal these hidden depths in our characters and bring them kicking and screaming into the world of the written page, then our work is done.

Tracy Thomson

Icebergs in the sun's crepuscular rays

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