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Ai Fa Xian (Love Discovery)

“Why does it take so long to realise how much you love someone?” she wondered, as she sat on the bed next to her sleeping boyfriend, writing.

The first time she’d fallen in love it had happened quite quickly, she’d felt it within a couple of weeks.

The second time had been a sort of at-second-sight occasion. Meeting the man initially, she’d felt nothing, but on seeing him a year later it had been instant, she’d literally felt her heart drop from her chest to her feet.

This time, the first time her love had been requited, it had been very different. Beginning as a best friendship, the relationship had changed, but for a long time she’d thought that maybe it was more a case of lust. She felt a sturdy bond with him but often worried about whether she felt enough because it didn’t feel the same as the previous times. She put up barriers because she was afraid of getting hurt.

One day she became aware that he might propose and found herself willing it not to happen. So when she realised it wasn’t going to happen surely she should’ve been happy?

The disappointment was an eye-opener. She realised she did love him enough and that not seeing it before had been her own stupid fault. She realised she’d always loved him enough. She knew it only felt different because the situation was different. From then on her world had changed.

She put down her pen and watched him sleeping, unable to look anywhere else. It had always been this way, only now she was following her heart rather than her head. She would stop being afraid and stop analysing everything.

The barriers she’d so carefully built came tumbling down.

Cultural Issues

There’s a thin line between writing about a stereotype and coming across as racist.

I’ve encountered this problem during the writing of my short story (that is, annoyingly, looking like it’ll be a longer-than-short story and is annoying because with length comes my downfall) when describing the main character’s parents. Because the parents are Indian and due to the fact that I want their daughter to straddle both British and Indian sensibilities, I have to make the parents rather traditional.

I found a minor consolation in getting the mother to use the computer to watch dare-devil videos, which also allowed me to further explain who the daughter herself was in the way that she is modern and well-versed in the workings of her peer group’s society. But was that enough? I would’ve had the mother looking at pictures of George Clooney on the Internet if it hadn’t sounded dodgy. It’s something which correlates to real-life and what a lot of older women do – go gaga over the nice younger men – but in a book, without going into crazy detail, it would sound awful. It would’ve sounded less dodgy if I had made it pictures of an Indian celebrity, but that would’ve enforced a stereotype.

What got me thinking about this in the first place, initially, was that I didn’t want to bog myself down, because I’m aware that I’m fond of everything Indian but that my adoration could be seen as undesirable if I weren’t careful. My thoughts went back to Simon Montefiore’s Sashenka where I’d found that some men simply can not and should not make their main character a female when they don’t understand women. They make the character do things a woman would never do. Both schools of thought apply to my fictional Indian family – I know a lot but I am an outsider and so could never assume to know all, and if I include too many traditional aspects I am going to have to make guesses somewhere down the line that may be a million miles away from the truth. Since many people have first-hand experience, indeed are Indian, and would notice the damning flaws in my writing, I cannot let that happen.

Women (and of course men, but that’s for another day) are all too often misunderstood but it’s widespread, been going on since forever, and half the world experience it so if things go on in a novel it’s spurned and that’s generally it. But to misinterpret a different culture is a bigger problem and one that would be more hard-hitting.

In many cases it’s not think before you act, it’s don’t act at all.

The Writer And The Coffee Shop Customer

Something I’ve started to experience regularly is a burst of inspiration at night. It’s a peculiar occurrence because usually when I’m trying to think of what to write about I have absolutely no success, but if I do the same at night I will often unearth a basic idea: a general blog topic, the premise for a story – which tends to come as an image I can delve into – or the perfectly-formed sentence I’ve been attempting to create.

Inspiration came a week or so ago. I wanted to write a short story, I knew that, but I’ve written so many beginnings in the last couple of years that I dread more ideas coming to mind. As I lay there an image started to sketch itself. A coffee shop. I decided it was Starbucks because I’ve come to realise that being in Starbucks aids my imagination. A woman waiting in line. I couldn’t really see her because she was at that point just an initial thought, so I eased my focus away from the shop and gave her my full attention. She surprised me, I’d been expecting an average Brit like myself, but what I found was an Indian girl in traditional dress. She surprised me because I’ve never written about a different culture before.

It was perfect. Suddenly I was filling in her clothes, wondering why she was there, examining her face for anything I could take from her expression to help me realise her back-story. I know quite a bit about Indian culture – I watch Indian films, listen to the country’s music, know some Hindi, and have learned about dress, religion, food and the like. After having been surprised to find this woman I was now surprised that I’d never thought of it before.

The opening sentence came instantly, even as I tried to suppress it (because I knew that to start writing the story in my head would mean I would have to get up and start jotting it down) and the first two paragraphs were completed quickly.

Now I’m at the tricky stage, the point where the story has to move beyond that initial picture in my head. The character suggests I take her outside, it’s too crowded in the coffee shop, but I’m wondering what would happen if she stayed in there as there are so many people waiting around that she could interact with.

The character’s case was too strong. I let her go outside. And of course now she’s turned round to face me, awaiting my commands; she didn’t tell me she hadn’t thought about what she wanted to do once she was outside. So we’re both wondering, me with my fingers poised over the keyboard and her leaning casually against a bollard on the pavement, looking bored.

They often say listen to your characters and they will guide you. Perhaps my character is more rebellious than I thought she was and I should give her the reins… or does there come a time when the writer should take control, perhaps when their character isn’t who they intimated they were?…

2nd July 2008 (A Tale Of A First Kiss)

On this day, two years ago, I kissed my best friend. We had become really close; there was a big similarity between us, and in the few ways we weren’t similar there was him instilling more confidence in me and me helping him become the person he wanted to be.

Going round to sleep over on the first night he would be in his new house was a bad idea, everything considered. I knew it was. He had a girlfriend, long distance, but the tension between us was incredible and I knew that I couldn’t not have gone. I would have just kept on wondering “what if…”

We laid on the bed, speaking sporadically, discussing our situation. He wanted to kiss me – the desire to was in his eyes whenever we were messing around and found ourselves close, and he’d confirmed it to me each time after we’d parted ways for the day. He wanted to kiss me, but I wouldn’t let him. His then current relationship was coming to it’s end and had been pretty much over for months but still it didn’t seem right. But I wanted to kiss him, wanted it so badly, and felt regret for the time previous when he’d come so close and I’d pushed him away. I’d never been kissed before, and the idea that in honouring this – broken – relationship of his I would lose this chance, ate away at me.

We carried on discussing. It was far more formal than any of our previous sticky situations; we were laid beside each other but the desperation to touch was kept in control.

Can he kiss me?
I already said.
He had to make the decision between her and me, and I just knew he’d choose her, even then, so there was no point in taking our situation further.

Silence. He sat up on his elbows. Silence. “Do you trust me?” he asked. “Yes,” I muttered, “I’ve never said I didn’t”.

Everything was in slow motion. He moved down towards me and my head was reeling. Oh my god he’s going to kiss me, oh my god he’s going to kiss me and I can’t stop it this time, I can’t. An age seemed to pass while I realised the enormity of this moment, how this friendship was about to change, how I was about to change.

His lips brushed against mine twice. I made no move in reply, staying, as I had done, laid on my side. He laid back down and asked if he could have a response to the peck on the cheek he’d given me a few weeks ago now – it had been in friendship, he’d said, it didn’t mean anything, but I knew him well. I lent over and kissed him quickly, I felt like a child, I could do no more.

He gave me the most incredible smile, one I’ve seen only twice to this day, and I read his eyes – happy, ecstatic even, cheeky, and no doubt fully aware that really, this was wrong, we should have waited a little longer. He sat up and hovered above me. This was it.

Things got a bit awry after that. There were cuddles, no sex, but afterwards came upset. Yet even through that and still now I look back on that most perfect of moments and remember my first kiss and that evening with affection. In the ways it truly mattered it was perfect and I only wish I could repeat it again and again.

An Extract From My Work In Progress (Because I’ve No Ideas For Today)

Olivia’s mother, Annie, peeked her head out from behind the wooden wall that separated the dining area from the kitchen. “Bacon and eggs, love?” she asked, wiping her wrist across her forehead in a feeble attempt to dispel the heat from her face. She was a tall woman with pale skin and a head of short curly hair that bounded around her cheeks at the slightest sign of movement. Her cream apron, her only one though she called it her favourite, was tied around her waist with a small neat bow settled on her back, the multitude of mini crimson carnations running in a line along the trimming. It reminded Olivia of the Congo dancing line her mother had got them to join at the barn dance during a holiday at a French resort as that’s where she’d bought it. Annie had on a pair of stone-dried jeans and a white shirt and the entire ensemble made her look very much like someone who’d just arrived from the 1940’s and was trying to fit in.

“Please”, said Olivia, taking the seat across from her father. Sam was reading The Daily Telegraph and sipping on a cup of Earl Grey. He usually drank Twinnings’ English Breakfast but Annie had blitzed the kitchen the afternoon before and found the box of Earl Grey hidden behind the greaseproof paper above the fan oven. That they’d also found the greaseproof paper there was testament itself to the fact that Annie’s baking left much to be desired and Sam had installed it in the utensils draw to remind her of how nice shop-bought cakes were with their intact edges.

It was the works. Three rashers of bacon overlapping two perfect sunny-side-up eggs next to which was a generous helping of tomatoes and mushrooms. Hash browns huddled on the edge of the plate together with the baked beans that were skimming the rim. Side plates each harbouring four slices of bread that were skulking under the weight of the butter. When Annie made a fry-up you knew she wouldn’t plan lunch. It wasn’t required.