At my writing group last night (Birmingham Writers’ Group) we did an instant writing session utilising word prompts.
We started with our theme, which ties in to the anthology we’re aiming to get out next year sometime (as the editor, that’s going to be a really interesting project and one I’m excited about) and which is Alternative Birmingham. Our city, but other. Different. What if?
The theme has already generated some great pieces at our summer competition – Cthulu-esque monsters pining for human women, post-apocalyptic cityscapes, modern-day fairytales, mythological takes on Birmingham etc, and we wanted to continue the theme in order to generate some more pieces that can enter the anthology slush pile.
So, we began with word prompts drafted by Martin, one of our members, during his lunch hour. He got the creative juices and then the rest of us jumped in, producing brief outlines on loads of different themes and takes on Alternative Birmingham – from post-Brexit economic collapse to so-called Islamic State turning Birmingham into a caliphate, from mermaids and mermen taking over Birmingham’s canals to a Battle Royale between Birmingham and Manchester for the title of Second City.
Then, we laid out all the prompts and read through them. When one leaped out at us, we took that idea and spent an hour writing.
It was really great fun. I started with the Battle Royale and then realised it just wasn’t working, and that another idea was niggling away at me, and that it tied in nicely with a Blind Melon song that had always made me laugh. It’s called Skinned, and it’s a jaunty tune partly played on kazoos and is based on the life of serial killer Ed Gein. Gein achieved infamy for exhuming bodies from graveyards and making trophies out of their body parts. He was also convicted of murdering two people.
Not a jolly subject for a song, but I have to say that what I love about it is the juxtaposition of subject matter with the tone of the music. It’s upbeat. It’s happy. It has kazoos in it. But then, that was Blind Melon all over.
The word prompt that melded with Skinned in my mind was the one that read: In a future Birmingham, human body parts are re-purposed into items of furniture and tools, as well as decorative pieces.
No why. No how. Just that. And that’s what led me into my first attempt at writing comedy-horror. Because it’s just gross, isn’t it? So of course it’s funny if you make it perfectly ordinary to the characters within the story.
Which is why when Ellen’s husband Frank dies, she wants a few little mementos of him. So she has a shoehorn made out of his shinbone and a lampshade out of his skin and a water feature for the back garden out of his hands.
I’m pleased to say I elicited a few chuckles, as well as a few exclamations of disgust, when I read it out last night – even from myself, which I take as a good sign. If you can amuse yourself with your writing, maybe it doesn’t totally suck.
It was tremendous fun to write and I can see myself getting totally carried away with the macabre absurdness of it all. It’s definitely a short piece I’ll spend some time working on for the sheer joy of it – what does that say about me, I wonder – so, dear readers, can anyone lend me a hand?
Currently reading: The Relic Guild, Edward Cox
Currently listening: Thriller, Michael Jackson
Currently watching: Killjoys season 2