That was always the plan anyway, from the young age of seven when my school notebooks were filled with funny anecdotes and badly drawn three-legged dogs. The aim to amuse continued to sweep through my long teenage letters scrawled to friends, describing trips and tribulations during the badly-permed eighties. And it has always been the undercurrent at my blog OMG I’m fifty! — a purely self-indulgent, observational space which I like to describe as a mishmash of moments in the life of a very ordinary fifty-ish wife, mother, daughter, sister, and wannabe writer. Most of those moments have made me laugh in some way or other and have hopefully got a snigger or three from readers along the way. And really that was my only goal. Nothing more, nothing less. A simple need to make people laugh in this big, grey, ugly world ruled by outstandingly strange, angry and ugly people.
But that was then. What happened in October 2017 has somewhat changed that plan. That was when I seriously bumped into Sarah Brentyn. We had already rubbed shoulders at her blogs Lemon Shark and Lemon Shark Reef and I am a great admirer of her style and tone. But this time she was asking for help. How could I refuse? So I wrote a piece, only fifty words long, to help victims of the hurricanes which had just swept through the Caribbean. Sarah had offered to put forward one dollar for every piece she received, and although this type of writing was extremely far-removed from what I normally do, I accepted and posted this on my site:
Her face in my lap was the colour of ash. Pain-darkened eyes pleaded with mine.
“Will they be able to fix it quickly?”
“Of course they will”, I lied. “They’re on their way.”
My eyes smiled down at hers, carefully avoiding looking at the tiny arm, broken in two.
The process was hard. Fifty words is nothing. How could I create any kind of emotion in so few syllables? So I cut and cut until I was pleased with my tiny little flash. Based on a real moment spent with a young girl who had just fallen from her pony, I wanted to convey the worry and pain she was feeling and my forced, fake optimism that everything would be just fine. What I didn’t know then was that it would be the first of many flashes. That the little flash bug had just bitten me, slipped under my skin and would make me scratch and scratch at its itchy presence for the weeks and months to come.
She slipped out of her school uniform and into the scorching bath. The heat turned her pale skin a bright shade of pink which would have been unbearable a few months earlier. Now she needed that hot water running over her body. It helped the ache in her breasts. But it did nothing to relieve the throbbing pain in her empty heart and abdomen. And even less to remove the dark brown line running from her navel to her pubis – the mark of her mistake, which she scrubbed daily, hard and fast, without success. She was branded for life.
His tongue made its way down that fine brown line to reach more interesting parts of her naked body. Had he never noticed it or perhaps just never mentioned it? As his face came back to hers, he whispered the words he’d been saying for the last five years.
“Let’s keep trying.”
He wanted this more than anything. She did too. But how could she tell him that maybe she had only had the one chance? That any hope of a second chance had been thrown away the day she had given away her baby, all those years ago.
Where that piece came from is a mystery to me. It took me to places in my story-telling brain that had never been entered before. Painful places — sheer, rocky-edged cliffs I had to ascend; long, low, winding tunnels I had to crawl along on my naked belly to rip the right words from the deepest recesses of dripping caves. I was right there with that young girl scrubbing at her scar in the scorching bath. And I think the judge who picked me, Angie Oakley, knew that I was there too. Next came a sharp, murderous piece for Sherri Matthews’ prompt, and a very TUFF father-son story for the finale. They all took me to a level of writing I had never experienced before. The shift in style was perturbing, surprising, but exciting too.
When the Rodeo was over, I immediately started following Charli’s weekly challenges, Thursday now becoming my favourite day of the week. As soon as the post and the prompt have been read, I start thinking. Sometimes inspiration comes fast, sometimes I mull. But I haven’t missed a single one since November and probably never will. I am addicted to the effort they demand and the pleasure they procure. And the feedback from the other writers is a precious gift.
But I rarely share these little stories on my own blog. Why? I’m having trouble trying to explain it, even to myself. Maybe because some of them are so unlike the chatty, bubbly persona I like to portray there. Am I afraid of strange looks from family and friends who do not see me as this type of writer? Or do I hold onto a firm denial of the fact that I don’t always have to be funny or smart-arsed or droll? That I can have another side to my writing which may be bleak and sad, or shocking and odd. That there is a distinct, imaginative part of me which I have always refused to acknowledge and possibly even accept.
But whatever it is that has been holding me back is beginning to ebb away. I am starting to realise that I can be made up of two distinct halves. That writing is much more than just black or white, it is a multi-faceted occupation which allows us to shine through many different keyholes. That I can allow myself to start working on a collection of short tales which spring from dark inner places, and at the same time dream of finally finishing my comical book about my miraculously long marriage. The two are wildly different yet ultimately they are compatible. Why choose just one half when the other is well and truly present?
So if we ever have the pleasure of meeting, and you care to ask me “Will the real Juliet Nubel, please stand up?” both halves of my writing-self will slowly rise, merge into one, and firmly shake your hand. There may be a cheeky sparkle in my eye, but if you look deeper, you will see that the glint comes from a roughly hewn block of granite. The one where I sharpen my penknife each week at the Ranch.
About Juliet Nubel
Juliet is the author of the blog omgimfifty.com She was born and bred in Glasgow, Scotland then studied social anthropology (don’t ask) at St Andrews University, long before Will and Kate had even heard of the place. Love brought her to France then took her to Miami and Barbados for three years before bringing her ‘home’ to Angers, a beautiful French city where she now lives with Hubby and their two daughters. She works full time in an English language school but for the rest and best part of her time, she can be found writing on her pet iPad in their favourite leather armchair. She uses blogging, and more recently flash fiction, as her training ground for that book she keeps planning on finishing. She is also a regular contributor to the British website fabafterfifty.co.uk under her maiden name Juliet Young.
Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.