My Five Point Method for writing a good story.
Story telling is an art.  I've known a few people who could tell a great story and make me laugh so much I was hugging myself.  My ex's Auntie Jessie was one (long dead) -  maybe it was from her that he inherited his comic gift. Visiting her, a plump Welsh woman,  was always a great treat -  tea,  cakes and laughter,  sometimes I'd be crying with laughter.

Then there was my uncle Billy and aunt Beryl.  I remember a knock on our door at 10 am one Sunday morning in Hampton-on-Thames, 20+ years ago - Beryl had plunging necklines and false eyelashes,  Billy was portly and had a big cigar in his teeth...we listened to story after story, clutching large brandies and cracking up laughing. Then they swept out leaving us gasping for air and slightly drunk at 11 am.yd My aunt Beryl is 90 now and my uncle is long gone, sadly.  But I’ll never forget any of them and how much they made us laugh with their hysterically funny stories.

If only I could tell stories like that ... I'm still practising. Meanwhile, I’ve put together five main components for a good written story. I think I have learnt that. You may want to add your own points too!

Click on the title for a link to my new book...
 a memoir about my journey across South Africa and life in Cape Town
in the time of apartheid in the 1970s.  It's a true story - have a look ...

Written story-telling is another dimension. Whether a story makes you laugh or cry, a good story immerses you in a different world and takes you away from the cares of your present.

1.      A good plot and well-defined characters, brought to life by dialogue.  Think about the emotional impact you wish to evoke in the reader. Trace the route in your head through to the finale. The story should grip the reader from the opening sentence. Or start with the conclusion and work backwards - how will you get there? Close observation gives detail and makes the story come to life.

2.      Be original and unusual in your treatment of the subject (not another pot boiler). Build the reader's involvement slowly, take them down a few tangents so it's not clear where the story's going. Let the end be unexpected. Build the reader's anticipation.

3.      Setting is important, culture, country, rural, urban, make it start/end in a specific place - a meeting in a park, a pub, a coffee bar, a house It's a sunny day, it's raining, cloudy, hot, cold.  Paint a picture, splash some colours, sounds and smells around. The smell of dust, pigs, manure, petrol, curry etc

4.       Grammar and spelling must work - a story has to be crafted carefully, keep the adjectives to a minimum, tone down flowery language or get rid of 'purple prose;. The dialogue must be natural, colloquial, flow in short bursts.

5.      Endings:  If you set up a puzzle or conundrum or mystery, it should move towards some kind of resolution, some kind of satisfaction of the plot, that ties together the whole story.

Whether the story is based in fact
 or fiction the components are still the same.

This article was inspired by one by Amy Reichert titled Libraries: Still all about the story Click here for a link.

Remembering Val today, dear friend.

Last year on Dec 1st I arrived in Jo'burg and in the back pack hostel I got the news from her son, I'd been dreading, but expecting, that my dearest friend Val had died two hours before.  The night before I left, I'd been to the hospital and said goodbye although by then she looked at me with far away eyes. 'Don't worry about me, I'm in Paradise' were her last words to me (she was a staunch and loving Christian in every good sense of the word).. I held her hand so briefly, told her I loved her and then left. I had a flight to catch, booked and planned from months before. I nearly cancelled but was going on a month long Buddhist retreat and losing her felt like mental collapse.  The  retreat, in the end, did save me from that, the quiet, the reflection, the peace of an isolated rural location.  Retreats can be hard as its always a challenge being with a new group of people.  But I made some new very dear friends there who I'm still in touch with.

Her loss is still so shocking and the grief still feels raw for me and for my daughters. She was closer than family. All the time I hear her voice, her dear, bantering, naughty, teasing Irish voice, talking to me, in my head, commenting in her usual ascerbic way on aspects of my life.  She was the repository of secrets never repeated, she was fanatical about not repeating or discussing other peoples business and expected the same high standards (often not so rigorously kept) from her few close friends.  Her son was the centre of her universe, she would have lain on nails for him. She loved my poetry - a few weeks before she died, not realising how much pain she was in, I read her some poems, which she loved to hear and always gave mountains of encouragement about. A few weeks ... if only I'd known how little time we had left together.  I took her to a hospital appointment on my birthday in late October and her son (damn and blast) had texted her while on the appointment to remind her it was my birthday as he'd seen it on FB.  While I was fetching the car, she dragged herself over to a stall to buy me a scarf, which I'll always hold dear.

Tomorrow we will all attend her memorial mass.  Here's the poem that I wrote on Dec 7th 2014 for her - for the funeral - I was on the retreat, chanting all day for her soul to fly to the bardo realms and for a happy rebirth. Om mani padme hum dear Val.  Here's the poem:

 You’ll be waiting

 You’ll be waiting when I go,
cracking your Irish jokes
‘Oh there y’are,’ you’ll say.
‘You took your time.’

I’ll say, ‘What’d’ya mean,
y’old bag, you Irish potato, you left me first you know.
So it’s been ages … let’s go down to Costa’s
or the World for our cappuccino

I’m paying this time, so don’t argue.’
‘Y’are not,’ you’ll say, ‘I am’...
‘Hmm,’ I’ll say …’and
we could share a carrot cake, yeh?’
‘Grand,’ you’ll say.

And then we’ll be jawing on,
two hours’ll fly by, talking of days in jobs,
customers and clients
when we were younger.

We’ll talk of days in Priory Park,
meeting at the toddler’s pool,
Pas at school, Jonathan and Tam
running naked, splashing in the sun.

and us drinking coffee, chatting, laughing …
One of them comes crying –
slipped and fell, bumped their head …
Kiss, kiss it better. Want an ice lolly? Twister?

Soon running round laughing again.
And me and you, smile knowingly
at each other, remembering our golden children
… that’s what it’ll be like.

You’ll be waiting,
one day when I get up there,
won’t you, Val?

After the memorial, her sister (who's very Irish fey), said to me 'Val says 'Yes!'' That cracked me up...