Bethan set BHASVIC students a writing challenge based around developing a new skill, inspired by the epigraph to Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple (‘Show me how to do like you. Show me how to do it.’) and her character Marion in My Policeman, who experiences a turning point in her feelings for Tom when he teaches her to swim in the sea at Brighton.
Bethan wrote: Learning experiences can be very fruitful locations for fiction. I’d like you to pick a skill you don’t have but would like to develop. It could be anything: singing, baking the perfect mille-feuille, mending a motorbike, throwing a vase, snowboarding, dancing a tango, driving, building a wall…Whatever it is, it should involve some level of physical activity. Now pick your tutor. You could base them on a real person, make them up completely, or perhaps use a character who came to you previously. In your writing, I want you to make sure you include the following: 1) A specific place and time (e.g. Brighton beach, September 1957) 2) A detailed description of the activity itself, and how it feels to try it out for the first time. 3) A twist in the relationship between tutor and student. Is there love involved? Is it one-sided? Or perhaps jealousy? Or a long-standing feud? Or a difficult friendship? You may need to do some research into your skill in order to make your scene more convincing! Good Luck!
Here’s B’s fantastic response to the challenge:
Mum had promised to teach me how to run a marathon, or perhaps train for one over the next few months. Of course she had to choose this day to begin ‘phase one conditioning’ along Brighton seafront; the day that I would break the news. Initially, the idea of running for a prolonged period of time was unappealing but reminiscing on the black and white photographs of her crossing the finish line convinced me to take the challenge. Mum, more commonly known as Hattie, has always relished in her competitive streak and hoped to install that in me on June 21st, 2003. It wasn’t quite like the bouncy grass that cushioned my feet when competing in Year 6 cross country, instead the smooth concrete was resistant and hurt my ankles. Mum told me: “toughen up”, and increased the pace towards the ice cream hut, not noticing that I was trailing behind. Her muscly figure became smaller and smaller, and I began to lose sight of her amongst the gaggles of Brightoners. I was hoping to become closer to her, attending a University in my hometown however the opposite had happened. Now more than ever, she was becoming distant… nothing I’m not used to. Ever since I was young I can remember mum’s overwhelming disappointment that her athletic career was cut short, all for the sake of a child that can’t even run one kilometre without panting like an overweight asthmatic. To call her exercise obsessed would be an understatement; she spends all her money on new matching gym sets, embroidered with her initials. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t call my marathon training attire ‘workout appropriate’ – just some light brown Next leggings and an old Olly Murs t-shirt. The sun was beaming down on us and, after ten more excruciating minutes of running alongside the peaceful waves, I spotted her hazel brown hair. “Mum! Mum!”. Reluctantly, she turned her head for a moment to look at my bright red face against the clear blue sky.
“Water?” After nodding, she watched me drink the contents of the bottle in no more than ten seconds. For a moment, I was waiting for her to crack a smile.
Instead, she muttered, “You’re unbelievable” under her breath, and carried on towards the old pier. Attempting to stick to her rhythm, I forced my legs to move, even though my knees felt weak, and I could feel blisters forming rapidly. When we arrived at the pebbles, I sat next to mum, feeling at peace now that we had finally stepped off of promenade’s hot coals. I had something to tell mum, and now seemed like the right time. We were alone, by the sea. How could she react badly in such a beautiful landscape?
“I was thinking” I murmured
“Speak up” said Hattie (sometimes I call her Hattie because mum is too personal)
“I was thinking of dropping out”
There was a deafening pause. Without another word, she got up and kept running. Within minutes she was lost again, amongst the strangers who meant just as little to her as her own daughter did.
Bethan commented: B, I loved your piece! I thought it had real drama and tension. The relationship between mother and daughter felt very real to me, and I think the running (away from each other) works as a very appropriate and revealing metaphor for their situation and how they are failing to communicate. Excellent work.