On Thursday 16th June, I attended a writing workshop organised by the brilliant SouthWestFest and run by writer/poet/kindred nature spirit Lucy Furlong. It was at Morpeth Arms, a pub that faces M16 across the river and used to be the watering hole of the prison guards of Millbank Penitentiary – one of the places that prisoners destined for transportation to Australia were held.
Given that I’ve spent the last twelve years of my live writing strictly fantasy, sci fi and a fair bit of nature, the workshop was wonderfully refreshing, even though (or because?) the subject matter was bleak and dark. The pub is meant to be haunted by the ghosts of both prisoners and guards that never escaped Millbank.
So here’s what I produced on the night – a haiku, a longer poem, and an only-slightly longer story.
N.B. New Holland is the name Australia used to go by in Europe.
Stole bread and got caught
Hell waits over the oceans
Warmer than this cell
There is no escape.
They say everyone moves on
to New Holland or justice or the grave,
but I know better.
They brought me in at night
and I’ve only ever seen
my cell, the courtyard, the chapel
I don’t know how,
he knows the shape of all this place,
drew it in the grime
turned to paste after the rain.
Before the guards saw,
it burned on my brain:
a flower, with five petals,
Waiting for the moment to
Snap me up whole.
We’re born in the light. We know nothing else. Even in the deepest night, under the thickest cloud, there is light.
There is no light now but the little flame, perched nervously on its wick, the candle already low, so low, inside the lantern on the floor.
They have not replaced the candle on purpose.
From behind the bars I watch the wax melt away. I make my breaths slow and shallow, so afraid am I of blowing the flame out.
But it is shrinking now anyway. Halo fading. Searing yellow deepening to furnace orange, to a red ember and then–