Thursday, 8 November 2007

Writing Tips for a Princess!

The Clemence Dane Cup for a Monologue 2007


Regular Writers' Forum contributor, Janet Cameron, has won the prestigious Clemence Dane Cup from the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. The prize for the best monologue submitted by an SWWJ member is awarded in memory of the novelist and playwright Clemence Dane who presided over the Society in the 1930s. This year the Cup was presented by Princess Michael of Kent at a lunch at the National Liberal Club in London

Janet's winning entry, Frog Heaven, was chosen by judge Simon Brett. SWWJ Chairman, Valerie Dunmore said, 'It is a slick, moving, yet amusing example in a difficult genre. Clemence Dane's friend, Joyce Grenfell, also once President of our Society, is revered as queen of the monologue but Janet Cameron's winning entry is proof that she has the imagination and literary discipline to produce a script equal to anything in Joyce Grenfell's repertoire.'

Janet says that if she were to offer advice to beginners, it is: 'Never be rigid. Allow anything to work... and soon something will! And there is nothing to match the joy of your first published work - save for having SWWJ Competition Coordinator, Fiona Kendall, phone and say, 'Hi Winner.' (Writers' Forum, November, 2007)

The Writing Tip Story

After the event, Princess Michael approached me to say she thought my story was lovely. Then she asked me if I had any writing tips. I was stunned and could hardly reply; she's an experienced author in her own right and it was hard to think there was anything I could tell her. But it seemed she was interested in trying out monologue-writing for herself. So we talked about ways of writing monologues, where as a writer you have only the limited viewpoint of the narrator, but can allow your reader to 'read between the lines' and surmise what is going on behind the scenes.

Everyone found the Princess delightful. When she arrived, on seeing some of the ladies wearing their headgear, she exclaimed, 'Oh, should I have worn a hat?'

I wonder if it would be okay if I had 'By Royal Appointment' at the top of my working stationery.

The Story:


Jeremy’s in the garden, wearing red wellies and the cute mini dungarees I got him because they looked like Steve’s. He’s digging a hole and dashed in five moments ago to tell me he’s making a grave. I dropped a plate.

It’s not in the childcare-books, that sort of stuff. No hint of what to do when your kid’s digging a grave and there’s no dead hamster, guinea pig, even a small bird to bury. I let Jeremy get on with it, hoping this acting-out of an impossible concept is healthier than repression. Carefully, he removes another muddy spadeful, his body a small, plump question mark. Still bent, he discards his spade to inspect a worm.

I’m glad it’s starting to rain. From the window, I call Jeremy who swivels his short neck to look at me, half-cocked. ‘I haven’t finished my grave,’ he says. I say he can finish later, but resist asking what it’s for. Perhaps it’s enough just to have dug it. He understands burial because we interred his rabbit under the holly tree last Christmas with a cross of lollipop sticks.

Crashes of thunder overhead. Lightning streaks through an outcrop of trees fringing the field’s edge, a bright stage in a huge theatre. The horses go berserk, heads elongated, manes wild as irritable snakes, tails stretched full length. Distant hooves hammer my brain. Unfazed, flushed and damp, Jeremy struts to the back door, wispy fringe plastered to his forehead. I step out and gather him up, wiping the icy wetness from his skin. Needles of rain sting the back of my neck. Jeremy’s face, streaked with dirt, resembles a crumpled, gravy-streaked dumpling. I remark it’s raining cats and dogs, and Jeremy says no, it’s raining frogs.

I rub a towel over his head; he locks chubby arms around my neck. ‘Lots of frogs, no cats, no dogs,’ he chants. He says he likes dogs, but frogs are nice. As I glance out the window, anxious for the horses, my eyes never reach middle-distance.

He’s right, it is frogs. The lawn is covered with the dead, the almost dead, the merely stunned and those who’ve managed to survive intact. They keep coming. Great swathes of murkiness morph into seething masses of wet bodies flopping onto the grass. Crawling over their dead to escape living burial.

Instinctively, I shield Jeremy’s eyes but he whimpers, smacking my hand. ‘Mummy, can’t see.’ Quickly, I explain it was a strong wind which captured all the frogs from the swamp and carried them across the sky to us.

He asks what a swamp is and why the wind did that. My sister would say the wind is naughty. I don’t. I trawl my brain for scientific information to simplify. He asks if frogs go to heaven. Jeremy likes the idea of heaven so I nod, hugging him. Screwing his mouth, he says, ‘I’ll make my hole bigger for the dead frogs.’

I stare out at the skyline. Behind the meadow, the hills lift high till they crest, falling sharply the other side to the river estuary. Perhaps its mudflats were the provenance of the unhappy frogs. Some have already hopped off in a confused, lolloping gait.

How I miss Steve’s reassurance. That’s selfish I know. Sometimes I forget him, but the human spirit can’t grieve at the same intensity continuously. You’d go mad. I remember my guilt the first time someone told me a dirty joke – and I laughed. Yes, I laughed, and Steve hardly cold in his grave! I exist on this guilt-laden cycle of forgetting and remembering. What kind of woman am I to need Steve most desperately simply because I don’t want to deal with the frogs? How pathetic!

Jeremy’s plastic cup hangs on a hook beside Steve’s mug. WORLD’S BEST DAD. I catch my breath. Steve had his cocoa in it, while I had my Ovaltine in a china beaker. Once, my sister hid Steve’s WORLD’S BEST DAD mug but I went mad. ‘I need to feel awful when I see it,’ I screamed. ‘You silly cow, don’t you understand? It has to be there and it has to make me feel awful.’ I don’t think she understood, not really. Usually, it’s the bereaved who must make allowances for other people.
Handing Jeremy his juice, I perch him on the drainer, ease off the muddy boots, rinsing them under the tap. ‘Frogs, frogs, go away, come again another day,’ pipes Jeremy in his high-pitched twang.

What to do about upward of a hundred frogs expiring on my lawn? Phone the RSPCA? The exodus from the garden continues as they sneak through hedges into adjoining fields. I remember there’s a sewer ditch nearby. The thunder has moved away and is only a distant rumble but the horses are still twitchy.

I get out Steve’s WORLD’S BEST DAD mug and make cocoa. I need to drink Steve’s cocoa for him. Stirring four teaspoons into milk, I top up the cocoa with boiling water. Orange juice gurgling down his throat from the upended baby-cup, Jeremy trails after me into the lounge.

He plonks onto the floor, enraptured at the Tweenies while I sip my – Steve’s – cocoa. I’m shaking all over and splashing my skirt. When a tractor clunks down the lane past the cottage, I stifle the urge to rush outside and importune the driver for a listening ear.

I take Steve’s watch from the mantelpiece. Its leather strap dwarfs my small wrist. Then I plop the blue baseball cap from the door-hook onto my head.
Jeremy’s shaking pudgy arms at the Tweenies; he leans against my knee, fingering the watch. Accuses me of wearing Daddy’s things, threatens to tell on me. How quickly kids learn to play one parent off against another. How reassuring I can see Steve's mischief in our son's eyes. People say let the dead go, but that has to happen when it happens.

Perhaps the rain will level off Jeremy's little grave and he won't remember it tomorrow. Perhaps if the sun comes out later, we'll go and feed apples to the horses.


Paul said...

Congratulations on your win, Janet! Do I have to refer to you as "ma'am" from now on?

Paul x

Janet Cameron said...

Nice to know your getting the hang of it Paul. And don't forget to tip your forelock. Janet x

Janet Cameron said...

I meant, of course, 'you're' not 'your'. Can't figure out how to edit a comment. Janet