The Naked Ladies Writing Group part 10

Ashleigh looked down at her salad and her stomach lurched. This flu, or whatever it was, was lasting way too long to ignore. As soon as she got off shift, she decided, she would talk to one of the doctors.

She drank her orange juice and threw the empty bottle into the recycling bin. At least she could enjoy juice. This thought brought up a whisper of a memory, but she couldn’t quite catch it. Probably nothing, she thought, and walked back into the hospital.

Her work completely engrossed every thought for the next few hours, and she pushed past the nausea.

She was pleased to see Lin Lee come on shift and waited until changeover was complete before she went to talk to her friend who was an excellent doctor. But Lin didn’t know what to make of her symptoms either.

“Have you done a pregnancy test?” Lin said, eyebrows raised.

“What? No!” Ashleigh said.

“Do it,” Lin said. “I’ll get you one.”

Ashleigh stood in the hallway, silent, taking shallow breaths. It wasn’t that. She told herself, and she’d do the test to show Lin she was wrong and they could move on to other, better possibilities.

Lin came back with the test and pushed Ashleigh in the direction of the toilet. Ashleigh reluctantly shut herself in the stall and unwrapped the test. Her mind was blank as she peed on the stick and waited for the result.

She’d had glandular fever eight years ago, this was just a relapse or a flu that the relapse was piggybacking on. Not pregnant, not pregnant, not pregnant.

The pee crept up the stick and two pink lines appeared, changing Ashleigh’s life forever.

She grabbed her phone out of her pocket and started to call Ryan. Then she cancelled the call. This was best dealt with in person. Dealt with. That was how she felt about this situation, it was something that somehow had to be dealt with.

She stood up and pulled her knickers up without remembering to wipe herself. She didn’t notice the wetness. She didn’t flush. She washed her hands and walked out into the hallway, looking for Lin.

Lin could tell the result by looking at Ashleigh’s pale face. She jogged down to her and took her hand, directing her to a chair. Ashleigh sat down plop and almost dropped the phone and the test.

“I’ll call Ryan,” Lin said, taking Ashleigh’s phone.

“No!” Ashleigh said. “I’m going home now. He’s picking me up in ten minutes. I’m fine.”

“Like hell you are,” Lin said. “I’ll just tell them I’m walking you down. Wait here a minute for me.”

The walk from the ward to the carpark was shorter than Ashleigh remembered it being. Maybe it was the shame, regret and fear boiling around in her gut that brought her faster to the moment she was dreading.

There he was, driving up early, waving to her, and she was about to explode his world, upend his universe.

“Good luck,” Lin said as Ashleigh opened the passenger door and got into the car. She waved to Ryan and went back to the ward. She’d have loved to have been a fly in that car about now.

“Hey gorgeous,” Ryan said. “What’s that? Someone’s pregnancy test? Now you really are bringing your work home.”

Ashleigh said nothing. She stared through the windscreen at nothing. She felt absolutely nothing.

“Babe,” Ryan said. “What’s up?”

She turned to look at him. She felt like this was a last look somehow, the last time she’d look at him before she told him the news they had both never wanted, never anticipated. Ever.

He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, a nervous habit of his. He drove them through the city traffic, to their home. He held her hand as they walked to the door and he let them inside.

“Now, what’s up?”

Ashleigh looked at him, took a breath and held up the test.

“This is mine,” she said. Simple as that. “Ours.”

“What?” He said, putting his keys in the pretty ceramic dish on the table beside the front door. They’d bought the dish on one of their adventures overseas.

“Baby,” Ashleigh said, simply. “Ours.”

Ryan looked into her eyes without saying a word. The puppy had heard them come in the door, and she was whining to be let out of the laundry where she stayed while they were at work.

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What I Learned About Writing by Watching Ever After

What I Learned About Writing When I Watched the Movie Ever After

I’m a sucker for a Cinderella story, and it doesn’t take Freud to work out that this stems from my own difficult childhood.

Ever After is a classic Cinderella story set in France some hundreds of years ago. Drew Barrymore is fantastic as Cinderella and Angelica Houston is great as the step-monster.

For the first half of the movie I didn’t recognise Dougray Scott as the prince, he is just such a perfect spoiled royal.

The movie was more than just entertaining for me, it taught me about writing. The main characters are as they should be, but the minor characters really flesh out the story, taking it from simple to extraordinary.

The character of Leonardo DaVinci first seems a distraction in the story, and a hindrance to the prince, but ends up being a crucial part of the tale and he is nicely woven in by the detail that Cinderellas childhood buddy is an amateur artist.

This taught me that clever associations can add to a story as long as they carry things along.

Jacqueline De Ghent, the younger step-sister, is written as the lesser daughter, the imperfect and to her mother not at all useful extra child. In the story she acts as our bridge between Danielle, Cinderella, and her mother and sister.

Gradually Jacqueline becomes more and more outspoken about her unhappy life and in the end sides with our heroine.

This character taught me about writing a gradual shift of allegiance and why it might begin. At first, the character doing their best to fit in, all the way through to rejecting the very thing they thought they wanted so much.

Fictional characters are a lot like us in that think they know who they are and what they want. When a character gradually realises that they need to pursue a different course, we can relate to that.

As a reader, or a writer, we want what we want from characters and when they surprise us it’s a gift.

When we watch a movie or read a book, we see from the outside looking in at the lives of the characters and we recognise parts of ourselves in each one.

The Baroness Rodmilla De Ghent, the step mother, doesn’t change at all throughout the story, and that works well. She knows what she wants, which is to have the regal life she feels she deserves, and she is ruthless in her attempts to push her elder daughter forward to achieve her desire.

This taught me the importance of sometimes creating a character incapable of shifting from one single-minded attitude.

There’s one scene where Cinderella and her step mother are alone and the step mother speaks about her upbringing by a mother who sounds a little unhinged.

The one small fact that the step mother shares is enough to make you think that there was a good reason why she turned out unbalanced herself. From this one scene I learned the power of a single detail.

The character of Gustave is Cinderellas friend from childhood. He is a simple character; friend and amateur artist, but the story-tellers use him to show what Cinderella is thinking through conversations.

This taught me to use seemingly insignificant characters to show rather than tell what is going on for the main character. This is a really important part of writing. Finding ways to show, not tell, is part of the business of good writing.

I love this movie so much,and being able to learn from it is the icing on the cake.

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a creative day.

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Write your life, know yourself,


Character Development: Ashleigh

Ashleigh Julia Maiden was the third of five children born to a mother who went from simply not coping to being almost bedridden with depression.

Wendy, Ashleigh’s eldest sibling, did her best to run the house while their father worked fourteen hour days away from the home.

When Ashleigh was ten, her mother made her first suicide attempt, swallowing a lot of pills.

Ashleigh learned one thing that stayed with her her entire life; never have babies. Never, ever have babies because they only break you, make you miserable, keep you down.

Ashleigh met Ryan Austen on their first day at university, they were both studying to be registered nurses. Ryan asked her out the second time they took the same lecture.

They went out for a Chinese meal, and got on like a house on fire.

Ryan was the eldest of four boys and they swapped stories about growing up in a big family.

On their first date, Ashleigh had blurted out that she would never want to have children. Not ever. Ryan had laughed and said me either. They had fallen in love quickly.

When they went out, if they saw couples with kids, they’d share a secret smile. Crying babies had them reaching out for one another’s hands.

Ashleigh used to joke that she was born without the ability to get clucky, without a biological clock.

Their siblings, meantime, produced nieces and nephews at a fast rate. Ashleigh enjoyed playing the favourite Aunty. She loved and spoiled those kids. She hosted girly sleepovers and she and Ryan took the kids camping. They did it all on their own terms.

She acted as birth partner for one of her brothers wives and the experience, as incredible as it was, only confirmed her and Ryans choice.

Ashleigh got a plum job as a critical care nurse in a big city private hospital. Ryan went into Aged Care, working in a nursing home in the suburbs.

They had their perfect life. Nothing could spoil it. Except maybe an unplanned pregnancy.

Character Development: Sofia – Trigger Warning

NOTE: I’m giving a trigger warning here, because Sofia has a past that contains trauma which may trigger some people.

Sofia Faith Barton was born into a cult where her parents were enthusiastic about keeping all the rules.

Being a girl, she and her sister suffered under many more of these rules than their brothers. Don’t cut your hair, don’t wear make-up, don’t wear shorts or jeans, only skirts or dresses, no pierced ears, no boyfriends unless they were found by the family, the cult.

She was taught from a young age that women were responsible for men’s arousal. If a woman was raped, she probably asked for it. If a woman was touched at work, she definitely asked for it somehow.

When Sophia got her first job at fifteeen, in a small local cafe, the owner would pinch her bottom each time he walked behind her, which he made sure to do often. Sofia dreaded this, but she didn’t outwardly react, knowing with certainty that this was her fault. After a while, he moved on to holding her hips and pushing himself close to her as he passed behind her. This made Sofia physically sick, and she began to take days off, preferring the unhappy company of her mother to the shame she felt at work.

She finally broke down and quit, and although she was surrounded by family, she felt utterly alone. She had no friends and she could never tell her family what had happened  at work, because she knew that they would blame her and probably punish her, and she hadn’t said a word at work, for fear of being ridiculed and shamed.

She told the family that she didn’t know what was wrong with her, she just wasn’t coping. Her father yelled at her for quitting a perfectly good job without consulting him. He soon found a job for her with a friend of his who owned a bookshop.

At first, it seemed as though this would be better than the cafe. At first, the owner of the bookshop didn’t lay a hand on Sofia. But then, a regular delivery man, Adam, became very friendly with Sofia, telling her little jokes. Each visit to the shop, he made a point of getting close to Sofia, and one day he touched her on the forearm, and she felt immediately stressed. She knew she’d done something wrong for this man to touch her.

A touch to the arm turned into a hug when he arrived, a hug when he left, then the seemingly inevitable bottom pinching. Not to be outdone, the shop owner caught onto this and started pinching Sofia as well.

The senior shop assistant was a sour older woman who would frown and sneer at Sofia whenever the men were around. Sofia knew that the woman knew that she was a slut, one of her fathers words for women of loose morals.

Sofia, still in her teens, knew exactly what she was by now. She was a slut, a loose woman, one of those filthy dirty teases her father had been talking about for years. She was deathly afraid she’d be raped next.

Sofia liked the saying that you might as well be hanged for a sheep, as a lamb, and so she made a decision to stop trying to be modest, and dressed as she wanted. She was less careful how she spoke to her parents, and searched for someone to marry, in the hopes she could escape the cult.

A friend of the family had a son, older than Sofia, and not completely ugly. He, Simon, was an accountant in his fathers firm and had liked Sofia since she turned sixteen.

Sofia and Simon sat together at cult functions and family gatherings for six months and then Simon proposed. Sofia quit her job the same day, and the cult approved. A married lady should look after the home, so Sofia ought to be following her mother around, learning how to be a good, virtuous wife.

They married less than a year later and moved into the flat that Simon owned, in the city. Immediately, Sofia spoke to her husband about keeping away from the families, and she was shocked to learn that he agreed completely. He, like she, had no interest in cult life, let alone the families. Simon had his own story of abuse, his by an elder in the cult.

Simons abuse impacted his self worth, to the point that he could barely make a decision in his life. He suffered with untreatable impotence and blamed Sofia entirely.

He told her that he found other women attractive, and they gave him the right feelings, the ones his wife should have given him.

Simon found a new job in a bigger accounts firm, and started hanging around with a few guys from work. They went out evenings, and took weekends away together. Simon always came home so much happier, so Sofia didn’t mind.

Sofia had done some online courses, learning marketing and website design. Simon had helped her to set up a business, and she’d done well. People liked working with her, they found her kind, smart and trustworthy, so word of mouth led to more business than she could handle on her own. She’d employed her first person, Louisa, a woman of course, and together they’d grown the business even more.

When Sofia was twenty five, Simon told her they needed to get a divorce. She wasn’t shocked. When her parents came to the flat howling with rage and disappointment, Sofia told them that Simon was gay and he deserved to have his own happy life. She’d thought her father was going to die on the spot.

They had demanded she come home, so they could all pray over her. Sofia had laughed and reassured them that she had a plan for her life and it didn’t involve any prayer.

Simon had done well in his job, and had played the stock market successfully for a few years. They had lived pretty simply, and had a good amount of money saved, between them, which they split equally.

Sofia looked for an apartment in a city suburb near the beach and found a one bedroom fixer-upper she could afford. Dark wallpaper peeling from the walls, bright orange benchtops in the kitchen, Sofia loved it. She installed air conditioning as a priority, and set up her desk in the living area, looking out through the other buildings for a glance at the blue ocean.

Working hard and renovating the apartment took up all of Sofias time. When it was time to sell and find the next bargain, she was able to move that little bit closer to the beach. Her new disaster of an apartment was on the second from top floor of a solid brick building, and gave her glimpses of actual sand and waves. She felt very grateful, and pleased with herself.

She now had two bedrooms, and after she’d moved in, she set to work on the bigger bedroom, turning it into a nice, spacious office with room for her and Louisa, and a client or two.

She renovated from the front door to the office, and to the guest bathroom, so that clients wouldn’t have to be confronted by the old shag pile carpet and lime green walls.

Sofia’s real success had come from her YouTube channel where she offered business advice, tips and tricks and courses for women. Her long black hair, green eyes and elfin features, the way she spoke clearly and yet without pretension, her happy smile due mostly to her independent life working with only the nicest women.

She wrote a book that had sold well across the world. Then she’d written a book about her life growing up in a cult and it had done even better.

She was prospering, having fun, and yet something was missing. She shrank from the thought that it was a man. Yet, she did feel ready for a relationship. As she’d always done, Sofia thought long and hard about this dilemma.

Character Development: Ruby

Ruby Leanne Bell was born in the back seat of a rusting, yellow 1977 Ford Escort. The carload of teenagers was on its way back from a night of clubbing, and Ruby’s mum had to shimmy out of her jeans right there by the side of the road. The driver was the only one clear-headed enough to offer to help, but Leanne Bell didn’t want her best friends boyfriend putting his hands up there.

Ruby came into the world loud and pink. Leanne wrapped her in the pale green cardigan she’d brought with her. Everyone piled back into the Escort for the drive to the nearest hospital.

Leanne and Ruby lived in a group house, with Leanne’s twelve closest friends. Ruby grew up ruling the roost, spoiled and indulged. She was extroverted and dominating, and anyone who challenged her was soon removed from the home for one infraction or another.

Ruby hated school and had to be bribed to attend. By year five she’d realised that all the other kids were a complete waste of time. She preferred the company of adults, especially the ones who were easy to manipulate.

She aced every test, every subject. She read books a stack at a time and she never found a topic that didn’t interest her.

In high school, she finally saw the point of making friends, although she went after the timid, easily led people, male and female, first. Creating a large group who sat together at lunch and went on outings after school, Ruby led with an iron fist. Nobody was allowed to get ahead of her. Few tried. Everyone had to put Ruby first.

Ruby got a job at a local law firm, doing all the unskilled grunt work for anyone who put their hand up. She was confident that this would look great on her resume later.

Graduating dux of her high school and receiving offers from her top three university choices was no surprise to Ruby. It was what she expected. A huge party at her home with mum and the regular crowd, along with her high school group, made Ruby realise she needed to make a clean break with this old life if she was to concentrate on achieving everything she wanted. The law degree crowd wouldn’t want to mix with a houseful of wanna-be hippies.

Her high school group was easy to avoid, Ruby simply bought a new mobile and didn’t give the new number to anyone. She threw the old phone in the Parramatta River.

University was everything Ruby had expected. At last, an adult world to explore, no more children.

She joined the appropriate clubs and socialised with the right crowd. Her only problems were her temper, her tongue, and her high opinion of her own opinions. She argued with her professors, and not in the appropriate way. She called out in lectures and tutorials, disputing what was taught, the way it was taught. She yelled and called the tutors names. Some quit, others complained.

She was warned, suspended and eventually expelled.

She re-applied for admission and enough of the staff at the university came together against her that her readmission was never going to happen. She was so infuriated she refused to even consider applying to other uni’s. They didn’t deserve her, none of them. She phoned the law firm she’d been working at and quit over the phone.

On her way back to the flat she shared with three guys who were so afraid of her they paid most of the rent, she walked past a real estate agency with a sign in the window advertising a receptionist job.

Ruby lied her way into the position; she had decided to defer uni for a year, earn money and save up for her fees. She smiled and nodded like a champion. Promised dedication and attention to detail, kindness toward buyers, respect to rentals. She started the next day.

It turned out she loved real estate. She worked hard, was ruthless, studied real estate and made a lot of money.

Law would have been a waste of her time, she’d tell people, real estate was far more lucrative. It was just the kind of game Ruby liked; playing both sides against the middle and making a fortune doing it.

Character Development: Mia

NOTE: Here are my notes on my Mia character. I enjoyed exploring her world, and I quite like her. I hope you enjoy this peek into her life.

Mia Rose Martin was born in Melbourne, and lived her first five years in a high rise apartment with her parents, Glenn and Rosie and her older brother Max.

She was a quiet child and her dad always called her Mia mouse.

They moved out of the apartment and into the penthouse of a building her father partly owned.

Mia and Max loved the rooftop garden and they tended it faithfully, planting according to the seasons.

Her brother was her hero. He’d been born deaf and mildly intellectually disabled. He and Mia had their own way of communicating, beyond the sign language they used on a day-to-day basis.

Mia and Max were Irish twins, born a year apart. They were as close as kids could be.

When Mia had learned she was being sent to a different school to Max she’d cried for days. She didn’t want to try on her uniform, she didn’t want a new, pink lunchbox and drink bottle, she wanted to go on the bus with Max and his friends, to their school.

Any chance she got, she was at Max’s school, watching plays in the evening and cheering his team on at the after school soccer matches.

At her own school, Mia made friends easily and she was lucky to be a part of a big group of girls with similar temperaments who ended up going all the way through school together.

She’d met Ruby towards the end of high school, and Ruby had taken her on a trip off the rails for a while. Mia’s family had no idea what to make of her acting out. It all came to an end when Mia’s dad had had to pick her and Ruby up from the police station after they’d been arrested for shoplifting.

Max had told her she needed to get her act together, told her she wasn’t that kind of person. Mia always listened to Max. Even then, when she was trying on a whole different persona, trying to be the tough girl who didn’t care what people thought; what Max thought mattered.

Ruby had called her all kinds of names, but remained a friend. Ruby said Mia was selfish and everything had to be about what Mia wanted. Mia said nothing about that, she was glad to get back to her real friends, the ones who’d known her almost her whole life. The ones who were glad she was almost back to her old self by graduation.

After high school, Max got a job in a local plants nursery and he loved it.

Mia, graduating a year later, went to uni in Bathurst and did a teaching degree. Alone for the first time in her life, Mia made new friends. There wasn’t a lot to do on the weekends, so carloads of people would head for the city for a few days.

Mia met Jordan at one of these weekends and they started hanging out exclusively right away. Jordan was a born-again Christian who did his best to convert Mia and her crowd. It didn’t go down well, but there were some pretty full-on discussions had between the religious, the agnostics and the atheists.

Mia realised at this time that she was actually pagan. She never told Jordan this, though. He eventually met someone in his church that he liked better than Mia, and they broke up. Mia decided never to date a Christian again.

In her final year of her degree, one of the girls in her crowd, Lindsay, asked Mia out on a date. Mia said yes. Lindsay was pagan, too, and a witch, and their relationship was beautiful magic, as Mia texted home to Max.

Her first teaching position was in south east Queensland, and so she’d said goodbye to Lindsay and moved her few boxes and bags north.

Teaching took her around Queensland and NSW until she’d settled in a city school where she could be close to Max.

It hadn’t taken Ruby long to find her again and they’d been friends since. Mia was surprised to find that Ruby hadn’t changed at all. She still had that drive to control and dominate. Mia understood her friend better than anyone else could, and she allowed Ruby the space to be herself. Mia felt it didn’t cost her anything to be kind.

Character Development: Alice

There’s a wild part in every woman’s heart.

Alice Summer Wright started her life in Katoomba, in The Blue Mountains, an area west of Sydney.

Her parents, Felicia and Felix, had been born on the same day as one another, the same year, the second of February 1975. They were both psychic mediums and shared a business in the family home.

They planned Alice’s birth around their shared birthday and yes, improbably, she was born on the second of February as well.

They all lived in one of the original homes in the area, an ancient, creaking house with an impressive herb and vegetable garden that wrapped the home in a blanket of green.

Alice grew up surrounded by mystical people; psychics, channellers, mediums, wiccans, pagans, witches and warlocks. None of it impressed her.

Alice’s younger brother, Edgar, named after Edgar Cayce, came into the world quietly and without a fuss, twenty years after Alice, and impossibly, also on the second of February.

Her parents didn’t believe in restricting children, controlling them or pulling them into line. They raised Alice accordingly, and she was a wild child who was thrown out of two preschools before she was three years old.

At school, Alice excelled in almost every subject. Her favourites were maths and science, which confused her parents who had been doing spell-work since she was conceived to try and produce their own special Indigo Child.

She ruled the playground from kindergarten through to year twelve, but she wasn’t hated for it. She led her minions in a matter-of-fact way, never asking more than she knew could be given.

She ate whatever she wanted from anyone’s lunch box and the other children were happy to share with her. She always found it a little odd that people followed her so easily, after all her parents hadn’t taught her a thing about being in charge of others.

She’d always been bigger than the other girls, and the further through school she went, the larger she grew. Her mother was always buying her new uniforms, the next size up.

Somehow, in spite of her size and what that usually meant in schools, all the freedom they’d given her had instilled in her an almost limitless self-confidence, and self-belief. Somehow, a life without boundaries had taught her how to be the one who set the rules.

It wasn’t until high school that someone told her that everyone was dead scared of her parents and their home. Everyone, from kids, to parents and teachers.

Rumours abounded of heathen rituals, candles and black magic, blood sacrifices, naked midnight dancing around a fire. Most of it was true.

She always thought Felicia and Felix were seen as harmless kooks. Apparently not. It made her laugh.

Moving to the city when she got into a Sydney university, Alice decided she’d go by Ali, it sounded more adult somehow. Her dad had sorted a job for her, in a pagan bookshop, and there was a tiny flat above where she could live for some exchange arrangement between her dad and the owner.

Uni was another world, and Ali threw herself into her studies, her job and a busy adult social life. She went through boyfriends and girlfriends quickly, none of them her true love.

That was until she met Lily at their uni graduation ceremony. They were both sitting there, unimpressed with the pomp, one person between them. Lily had pulled out a tube of the reddest lipstick Ali had ever seen, and applied it to her already perfect lips. She’d noticed Ali watching her and held out the lipstick to her. Ali had laughed and refused it.

After the ceremony was over, Ali found Lily and asked her out for drinks. They’d stuck like glue to one another ever since, turning the tiny apartment over the shop into a real little home for two.

Lily was already working in a very junior role at a publishing house, and was able to get Ali a job there as well. Give us time, they’d said to friends and family, and time along with hard work and talent had paid off for each of them.

Saving and penny-pinching had them able to make a deposit on an only slightly bigger apartment, needing improvements but their very own.

They called it their little nest.