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Paula

by Anna Reynolds 

Posted: 26 March 2003
Word Count: 461
Summary: I wondered what writers would feel like writing in response to ongoing world events. So I thought I'd better put my money where my mouth is. I wrote this for a recent writers' conference on this very subject.


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PAULA

Once upon a time is how the story starts. Itís always the same. The ending changes but it always begins the same, it has to. I get off the plane. Thereís nobody to meet me, there never is, just a blanket of thin snow and a high wind lifting the flaps on the wings and an empty building in front of me, windows blown out. There used to be a bar but now thereís just shards of glass lying on the floor. Thereís blood on some of the shards. I pick one up. It snags at my hand. I bleed but the freezing air heals my wound almost straight away. Thatís when I think itís going to be alright.

I follow the signs. They donít lead anywhere. I donít know how I know, but I know. I see some people, standing by a truck. They might be waiting for me. Theyíre strangers to me. They do not smile at me. Not once. They stand by the open door at the back of the truck. And I get in, I donít know why, it isnít sensible, it isnít recommended but I get in. Inside suddenly itís dark and hot and then nothing.

Somebody speaks. Very low. I can only just hear the shape of the words.

Listen. Thereís no time but you must listen very carefully. I think itís about to happen. They say it wonít but I think it is, I know it is, Iím the only one who seems to know and NOBODY IS LISTENING TO ME. This is how it starts. We are waiting to die and not knowing what to do until we do. In the end, in the end she will beg me to go, to leave her, to get help, but when it comes I wonít go. I canít, how can I? She will say, and thereís a certain kind of logic here, she will say that one of us has to survive, one of us must or nobody will know the truth anymore, but why should it have to be me?

I donít know what to say. The truck starts and bumps, suddenly, just once, and then somebody sighs and I realize there are other bodies. I canít see or hear them but I can feel them. Near me. Pressing in on me. Afraid, hot, trying to say something without speaking. I reach out and touch a hand. Fingers, dry and thin. Warm. Warming me up. Gripping me. Hurting my hand but I donít let go. I canít. Weíre sharing the same air. Breathing the same breath. Going to the same destination, not knowing where that is, if weíll make it. Iíll wake up soon. Iíll try and wake up soon, before it gets to the end.











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Comments by other Members



Niamh at 19:55 on 29 March 2003  Report this post
vagueness lasts too long.it would be better to clarify what is going on sooner in the passage.

Jibunnessa at 07:56 on 04 April 2003  Report this post
This is very confusing. I thought at first that your narrator was involved in an aeroplane disaster, and was going to talk of her feelings, what she sees, what goes on, etc. Then the paragraph about nobody listening, and something about to happen, suggests that it might be about something else entirely. I think that if that paragraph wasn't there then the rest of the piece would work better together. ...And would probably address Niamh's assertion of vagueness.

skyblue2 at 12:47 on 04 April 2003  Report this post
This is very reminsicent of Brian Aldiss.

The writing is confused because the protagonist is confused. Unfortunately so is the reader.

Hopefully it will all become clear shortly or you will lose the reader.

Anna Reynolds at 13:03 on 04 April 2003  Report this post
I probably should have said-- this is the very early possible beginning of a piece of stage work, which was written on the spot in response to some improvisation actors were doing- which is why it might seem confusing or vague. It's not intended to be read as a story, but that's by the by.

Shadowgirl at 17:43 on 05 April 2003  Report this post
I rather like the vagueness - it created a storyline in my head (which may of course be different to what you intended) but I love to read work which leaves some things up to MY imagination. I like to "work" when I am reading, rather than being "spoon fed" and this fulfilled those instincts of mine.
It was a breathless piece for me - I liked the short sentences, almost as if the narrator, had little energy for anything else. Maybe it was the narrator who was breathless rather than me.
It made me think and feel, and that's always good!

Jibunnessa at 12:17 on 06 April 2003  Report this post
I think what you say Anna about this being the very early beginning of a piece of work is very important. And sometimes things need to be read more than once before they can be fully appreciated. I've now read this twice in my head and now out loud so that I can hear the narrator's voice. I think that as a very early part of a piece, the uncertainty is well placed. The narrator herself is uncertain of her surroundings - surroundings that are not only unfamiliar but ripe with so many dangerous possibilities. I now think that rather than the paragraph beginning with LISTEN adding vagueness and confusion, it introduces interesting questions and the indirect introduction of a relationship with someone important that may be revealed through the rest of the story. After all, who is this 'she' that she speaks of? A real person or hypothetical? And why does the narrator feel that nobody's listening? Does this say something about her past and her lack of self-esteem, where she feels that she's never been listened to? Or does she feel that everyone around her is somehow sleep-walking into disaster? Or perhaps even a combination of the two?

I think this is an interesting piece of writing, with great potential for a larger story. Write some more. I'd like to know what happends to her. But, more than that, I'd like to journey further with her internal dialogue.

Adam at 19:23 on 16 April 2003  Report this post
Anna,

I really like this. The words seem to create an effect which mirrors the icy breath in the air. Very adept!

Are you intending to develop this? If so, I think it's a very intriguing strarting point which whets the audience's appetite. I certainly think it has the scope to become a very interesting piece. You mentioned it was for the stage. Is it going to remain a monologue, or take on other characters' voices?

I'm very interested in monologues at the moment, as I'm directing a play called 'apple: anatomy of a sin', which I helped edit. Please let me know where you intend to take 'Paula'...

Well done! A very interesting piece of writing. Please keep my inundated if there are to be further installments!

Adam x

Anna Reynolds at 20:06 on 16 April 2003  Report this post
Thanks! I'm honestly not sure where it's going at the moment.... my commissions are for young people's theatre so not sure how this theme could play, but it was partly in response to improvising. I started off with pure monologue so probably would be loathe to go back, but possibly it might have to morph into prose! where's your play?

Glimity at 16:01 on 04 May 2003  Report this post
Hi Anna

Enjoyable read. This piece allowed my imagination to run wild and draw its own conclusion about what is going on in the story (right or wrong).

Here's where my mind travelled to when reading it:

The subject (some kind of journalist or investigator from a First World country) gets off the plane and is in a war torn country (I decided wartorn because of the glass, so I'm assuming that a bomb has exploded recently!) where there's a truckload of people waiting as nervously as she is, to take them to safety. Obviously none of the natives want their faces to be seen for fear of repercussion hence the darkness of the truck. The speaker is telling her that something bad is going to happen and has been brewing for some time and he has been trying to get this message out for months to no avail. She is their country's only hope at letting the rest of the world know what is going on so they can get help. The truck is taking them somewhere so she can see things first hand for herself. Then perhaps she and the rest of the world will believe.

Phew - Thanks for the journey Anna! I'm probably totally off mark with what you had in mind but with something as short as this, I love being able to add my own story between the lines.

Good luck with it.

regards
Jennifer

roger at 09:40 on 05 May 2003  Report this post
Well yes, it was confusing, and I wasn't clear what was what by the end. But as a 'beginning' I thought it was beautifully done...although the 'story' was confusing, the writing had such clarity...simple, but economical in a way that I thought really worked.

Becca at 09:07 on 17 May 2003  Report this post
Anna,
I read this as a dream in the first three paras, because the narrator has experienced it before.
The para that makes it a bit confusing is the one that starts with Listen, because I'm not sure if it's the narrator speaking about no one listening to her, or the one who is begging for help. But again at this point I read it as someone's nightmare. This might be a quirk of mine, but it was very cold outside and then very hot in the truck, and I kind of wanted it to be cold in there as well.

Hilary Custance at 18:01 on 18 May 2003  Report this post
Anna, I just bumped into this in one of my travels. Something you said in the introduction took me straight to a war situation. With the smashed up bar and the snow you took me to Afghanistan (or similar). Remote, dangerous, with civilians and informers, aid workers, any number of people with different agendas, and you/Paula had no idea which lot or lots you had as companions in the truck. Having recently read Brian Keenan's An Evil Cradling I identified very quickly with the terrifying sense that every second is a case of feeling your way,waiting for the next 'thing' to happen. I loved the contrast between the cold, glass strewn bar and the hot, silent humanity-thick truck.Agonisingly suspenseful.
I've just looked at a few of the comments and they seem to be about a different piece. We obviously all bring different baggage and expectations to our reading.Is there any more of your writing on the site, I enjoyed that? Hilary

olebut at 10:33 on 01 June 2003  Report this post
I was confused , but then I am confused about most things, but the cofusion was not confusion of dissapointment but confusion of anticipation wondering what happens next.

It staretd me wondring which to me is the best way to start any story I wonder, is it about prisoners, is it about persons being smuggled out or into somewhere is it just about a toruist travelling to a remote country
I wonder?

Nell at 19:54 on 28 June 2003  Report this post
Anna,

I read this through twice, liking the mystery and vagueness, the sense of not quite knowing what was happening. like Becca I also read the first part as a dream, and became confused at the point where the speaker says 'Listen...'

I was going to say that I'd have been grateful for speech marks here, so that it was clear when the speech began and ended, but since there are no speech marks I should perhaps assume that the words of the 'somebody' who was speaking very low were not reported by the narrator, and the words that follow are his/hers.

Then reading 'I don't know what to say' I wonder if he/she means that they don't know what to say in reply, or something quite different.


Intriguing. Incidentally, I once wrote 'I was intrigued...' in an English essay only to have a red line put through it and 'An intrigue is a PLOT!' written along the margin. Just goes to show...


Best, Nell.




old friend at 15:36 on 09 September 2003  Report this post
Hello Anna,

An interesting piece that read like a series of jottings or notes, each to be considered at a later date. Some would be discarded, others would be embellished, expanded or decorated with your expertise.

I would like to see the finished product.

old friend,
Len

Account Closed at 19:54 on 08 October 2003  Report this post
Hi. I liked this piece, and understood it to be a relation of events at some bombed out airstrip or the like. I agree with earlier comments that a story doesn't always have to be spoon fed to a reader, and your sentances certainly drew me on to the end of the piece with no negative feelings.





Ticonderoga at 19:34 on 10 October 2003  Report this post

Well, I LOVED this! I hate obvious, spell-it-out-to-the-idiot-reader prose which, like modern films, leaves absolutely nothing to the individual imagination. I love suggestion, adumbration and elliptical,pithy writing. This piece could go off in any direction, but has established such an atmosphere of cloying dread that I would happily follow it to any disturbing conclusion. The situation is inherently rivetingly dramatic & could, I think, be developed into a startling piece of theatre. More, please!

Best,
Mike

old friend at 17:21 on 14 October 2003  Report this post
Hi, After reading Mike's comments above I wonder if he is good at cooking..? He has summed up many of my efforts in the culinary arts department.

The story began with 'Once upon a time...' Let us just wait and see what the magic wand of Anna produces.

Len

KnoxOverstreet at 07:12 on 30 October 2003  Report this post

I liked this very much. It's also interesting to see what different people took away from it - and as dream-like prose it seems entirely appropriate that all perspectives diverge.

The word that sprang to my mind was 'billowy', like a net curtain wafting at an open window. So to pursue that theme I'd smooth out the phrasing a bit and replace things like "freezing air heals my wound almost straight away" with just "freezing air heals my wound".

I think it could work well as a monologue intro to a piece that explores some of the concepts raised... nice.



Colin-M at 20:22 on 03 February 2004  Report this post
I like this. I think it works well without need for expansion. As I read it, the focal point is Paula's emotions. The occasional pointer of the outside world is more than enough to reflect her feelings. We don't really need to know what's going on. I think this is really nice, delicate, poetic.

Colin M

scottwil at 15:00 on 31 March 2004  Report this post
I think it's incredibly powerful. I don't think that it matters that one can't place it- it could be Nazi Germany, it could be Serbia, Croatia, Afghanistan - to me it's about experiencing a kind of muffled terror and having no control over sinister events. Compelling Anna.
Best
Sion


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