Visiting Time. Poems, essays and stories from behind the walls of HMP Shotts (2019) various authors.
I’m well-disposed to liking this book, as Pat McDaid will tell you. The judge said I was ‘an educated man’ but a ‘danger to society’.
I’d never been called educated before. I was pretty chuffed and my mind jumped to that Tobias Wolff short story when the guy laughs at the bank robbers with guns because they keep talking in clichés. Snobbish, I know. I admitted I was a danger because I kept losing my sobriety and finding my car keys.
The judge didn’t laugh.
Anyway, back to Visiting Time. I like many of the poems, written by Anon, whoever he is. They all seem to rhyme, which is so old fashioned. Outlawed by T.S. Eliot who measured his life in tea spoons.
Six Wishes by Anon.
He wishes things could be more peaceful.
He wishes he’d never done it.
He wishes he was going home to his family.
He wishes he’d stayed at school.
He wishes he had listened to his mother.
He wishes he could turn back time.
It’s an easy enough book to read. I took about an hour. Honesty comes from the heart. Aphorisms and humour, anon, anon.
As Alan Bennett remarked, ‘Reading can feel like a hand reaching out and taking yours’.
Writing can often feel like a slap on the wrist and not for the likes of us.
Think about diegesis and the difference between narrative and plot. The king is dead and the queen died too tells a story. The king is dead, and the queen died of grief, is the plot of a story. It’s got the bounceabilty of a longer narrative, such as, ‘The judge didn’t laugh.’
There are some plays and some songs, but mostly the stories here are simple narratives.
In a short-story by S, One man’s pain is another man’s laughter, for example, the narrator Stuart gets drunk and attends the wrong funeral. I’ve done that too, although my name isn’t Stuart and I wasn’t drunk, or at least I think I wasn’t drunk. Sit tight or bolt? Then like Stuart, you’ve got everybody lined up, the whole clan waiting to shake your hand, greeting. What do you do? Tell them you’re no’ really sorry. I never knew the man, or risk getting caught out in the lie? Aye.
rendezvous, another poem by Anon has a wee secret at its heart. It’s an in joke for the alkies. Only those in the know, nod and wink, know rendezvous is a pub on Dunbarton Road.
sittin in the hoose/bored oot ma heid/telly’s snide/might go back to my bed/then the dog starts to wimper n gee me that stare/get your arse in gear daddy or I’ll shite on the flair/…/arrive at the rendezvous lounge n bar/ plant our weary arses n order a jar.’
Perhaps my favourite story is a fairy-tale. I used to love fairy-tales and big books are just fair-tales too. This a knock-off of a story of auld Nick. You know how there is meant to be seven basic plots, well auld Nick squeezes his way into about three of them. Offhand, think Macbeth, story of the witches. Rabbie Burns, the Deil and Tam o’shanter. Walter Scott, Wandering Willie’s Tale. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Bottle Imp. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The list goes on. There’s a devil in all of us.
Old Nick and the Lottery Winner (inspired by a Mayan folk tale) by Anon follows Chekov’s dictum, a short-story should be a glance, with the Scottish believe there should be a bit of a smirk added.
Deal with the devil and you strike a bargain. It’s there in the title.
‘And that’s what he did. That night the clock struck twelve, the man arrived at the crossroads.’
The devil appears in the form of his long dead da. We know what the devil wants –your soul. The Edinburgh man wants a hundred-million pound Lottery rollover, which isn’t too much to ask.
Your plots set up, the deal is done, how to end it all in fewer than 1500 words and diddle the devil?