Tag Archives: writing

PNG Literary Competition Achieves Record Entries.

The Papua New Guinea Literary Competition The Crocodile Prize received the highest number of entries ever, this year.  On closing last night the Crocodile Prize fetched a total 826 entries from 132 writers & illustrators.

Poetry 355; Essay 196; Story 129; Children 52; Heritage 48; Illustration 21; Tourism Arts Culture 15; Book of the Year 10.

These numbers may not sound very much for writers in other countries, but for any Papua New Guinean writer, it is a very heart-warming news, especially coming from a literary culture that almost became extinct. In the early 70s, leading up to the country’s independence, passion for art, culture and heritage including the literary pursuits and publishing of works written by PNG writers were at their peak. It is not quite clear why the interests have fallen so much after independence. That culture may have been used because we were proud of our identity and we wanted independence so much or perhaps the general growth of consumerism and the wider issues of social, economic and political changes have contributed to this new – lack of passion of culture. I remember growing up with radio stories written by PNG writers, attending and being part of stage plays – written by PNG writers. Poetry, stories, essays as well as other forms of literary work were promoted and supported by the national government.

The lack of passion in the arts and the literary support to me is quite surprising and sad; our culture is based on oral history and story-telling.

As a PNG writer, a practicing artist and an arts curator, it seems very clear to me, that the PNG government’s priority is elsewhere and not the least in the arts. But to not even support the literary aspect and especially in developing educational content that is relevant to our children and educational for our people is wrong. We cannot just tell stories and pass them on – now we can write them down and keep for many years.

It is not how much minerals we export and logs we sell, but the natural beauty, our rich art, culture, languages and stories that set PNG apart, and gives us our unique identity.  The literary scene dwindled to almost non-existent, although that could have been easily combined with and taught through the education system. There are not many avenues and support nor funding where PNG writers could train or share their work, and even to sell. Most workshops, training and activities relating to creative writing or any literary work have been Aid funded or Privately sponsored in the past four decades. Now this is how things have started to change for the PNG literary scene.

The Crocodile Prize was established in 2010 by Phil Fitzpatrick and Keith Jackson, (both Australians) worked for many years in Papua New Guinea; Fitzpatrick as a patrol officer, Jackson as a broadcaster and journalist.

The Prize evolved from the popular PNG Attitude blog, which has a policy of encouraging and publishing Papua New Guinean contributors.

The concept of a national literary competition was triggered by Fitzpatrick’s concern that creative writing in Papua New Guinea had fallen upon hard times, and that this was a cultural constraint needing to be addressed.

The first awards were presented in 2011, a year of determining whether or not a project of this kind could be managed successfully given geographical, financial and the constraints of a voluntary organisation.

Using PNG Attitude as a vehicle for publicity and initial publication, Fitzpatrick and Jackson soon discovered an enthusiastic and rapidly emerging body of Papua New Guinean writers.

They were assisted greatly in the early stages by material and financial support provided by the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby and later by a range of sponsors, most of them PNG-based.

This backing made it possible for a range of associated activities to be instituted in addition to the Prize, including an awards ceremony, the publication of an annual anthology and the initiation of writers’ forums.

After the first awards in September 2011, it was agreed the Prize should become a permanent part of the literary landscape of PNG. Now under the management of the Crocodile Prize Organisation, COG, 2015 will mark its fifth year of operations.

PHIL FITZPATRICK on 2015 Competition

Thus ends another year of the Crocodile Prize literary contest.

IT’S not every day that you get to influence the revival of literature in a whole country, unintentionally or otherwise.

I must admit to some surprise that it has happened at all. What started as a humble writing competition seems to have bloomed beyond all expectations.

There is a sense of pride in what has happened but, strangely, it’s not personal. Rather it is a sense of pride in the achievements of the writers involved.

At a personal level it has been more of a humbling experience. There is also a sense of awe and enrichment.

The enrichment comes from reading the works submitted to the competition and the sheer learning experience involved.

I think, despite nearly fifty years travelling back and forth to the country, I’ve really only learned to understand Papua New Guinea in the last few years of the Crocodile Prize.

There is also a tinge of anger involved, mostly through the fact that an uninterested government and lackadaisical education system could let such a promising and rich cultural emergence in the 1970s wilt on the vine and become moribund.

That aside, one of the ironies I really enjoy is the fact that the revival has only now been possible because of the advent of digital technologies that were supposed to see the demise and eventual extinction of books. Such are the shaky prognostications of the doomsayers.

The key factors in the Papua New Guinean revival have been the Internet and the availability of digital publishing and print-on-demand technologies.

These have underpinned the Crocodile Prize, firstly by providing a writers’ outlet in the form of PNG Attitude and secondly in offering a cheap way to publish the best in an annual anthology and then to go even further in publishing stand-alone individual books by Papua New Guineans.

The future of literature in Papua New Guinea is starting to look rosy but we need to remind ourselves that it is still extremely fragile.

The disastrous complacency of the 2013 competition organisers reminds us of what could still happen.

2014-15 has been a watershed year and there’s light at the end of the tunnel but sustainability is still a long way off and we aren’t there yet by any stretch of the imagination.

The winners of this year’s Crocodile Prize will be announced early September. The awards event will be held in Kundiawa on Saturday 19 September

Keith Jackson & Friends: PNG Attitude

Princess is a Mother Again

Princess, facing the camera leads her daughters into our yard for breakfast.

Good news. Princess, our home-raised wild duck who lost all her family members, returned with eight ducklings. More on her story in tomorrow’s post.


The Eye of the Storm – Short Story

Picture by Barbara W. Beacham

Mondays Finish the Story is a flash fiction challenge by Barbara W. Beacham. Here is my story for this week’s prompt in the first sentence below and in reference to the above picture. 

The Eye of the Storm ©JK Leahy short stories

Zeus was not having a good day and he made sure everyone knew it. Mack was a mess as soon as Zeus got going.

“Get me a cleaver…”

“Nooooo! Pleease! Oh god – I’m sorry!” Mack sobbed and gurgled as I ran to boss’s collection for a blade. I almost dropped it; my legs could barely keep up.

As Zeus’ knuckles tightened to white around the knife handle, I desperately avoided his predatory gaze, leering at me through the lightning bolt tattoo across his right eye.

“Now, get out” he growled. I didn’t linger.

Mack had hidden Zeus’s package as well as the money. He lied. I warned him that Zeus would not buy it. The kid messed up.

I wondered why you’d risk losing some fingers for a few bucks, and then I heard a chop. Mack’s screams battered the walls of the warehouse, and the echoes shook my bones. I guess you never quite get used to working for a psychopath.

(149 words)

The Carménère Moment – Short Story

The Carménère Moment©JLeahy Short Story 

Picture by Barbara W, Beacham

Mondays Finish the Story with Barbara W.Beacham

“The only residents remaining in the small town of Miners Hill are spirits.” Uncle Joseph said.

A tear rolled down his wrinkled tired face. The Eastern Belt explosion left several hundred dead last week. The town was evacuated. I watched another tear form and my eyes salted.

“My first thoughts were Josepha, Maria, and Antonia”.

“Where were you?”

“We sat for dinner. I went down to get a bottle of wine from the cellar – only minutes away”, he covered his face with bloody bandaged hands and wept.

My 50-year-old uncle cried as I rubbed his shoulders.

“I…I heard a single explosion, it sounded so far away. I thought it was the daily blasting at mine site. I should have come up. Antonio wanted a Carménère to celebrate Maria’s first communion. I couldn’t read the labels…suddenly I heard the crumbling, screams upstairs and everything went black”.

“Don’t cry, please uncle. They are with God now”, I whispered, as I cried with him.

(150 words)


A voyage through hell: An asylum seeker’s epic journey

A voyage through hell: One asylum seeker’s epic journey from Eritrea to a new life in Europe.


Zekarias Kebraeb was 17 when he fled Eritrea to escape conscription. Now he has written an extraordinary book describing his epic journey to Europe. In this extract, featured in the Independent on Saturday, December 6th, he describes the most perilous episode of all.

After illegally crossing the border to Sudan, Zekarias Kebraeb stayed in Khartoum for six months. He then crossed the Sahara Desert to Libya, a two-week journey, without food, on which he nearly died of thirst. Finally reaching Tripoli, he and two friends he had made on the journey – Awed and Aki – found a people smuggler to help them to cross the Mediterranean during the night. In the passage below, he relives the desperate crossing, day by day…

8 October 2002

The rain gets lighter as we clamber down to the shore, though the wind whistles around our ears and tears at the sparse foliage that clings to the rocks. We can hear the sound of our panting and the roar of the sea. The pale moonlight is reflected on the waves; there’s an elongated shape, a dark protrusion, on the shore – a rowing boat, lying upside down on the stones.

I’ve never seen a boat like this before. It looks like a coffin. But it can’t be our boat – it’s far too small. The others have seen the boat too and run up to it. “What’s this?” they all ask at once. “What are we supposed to do with it? We might as well swim.”

“Shut your mouths,” growls one of the smugglers and waves a torch over the boat, revealing gaps in the black tar paint. “Just how dumb are you?”

“This boat will take you to the big boat out there on the water!” calls Jasin, the Libyan colonel who organised our passage, and points out to sea with his right arm. Perhaps 200 metres offshore, a fishing vessel is bobbing in the water, circled by nocturnal seagulls.

Feverishly, my gaze sweeps back and forth between the fishing boat and the rowing boat on the shore. I feel queasy – now it’s getting serious. White foam washes over my feet, the wind ruffles my hair and Awed is standing next to me with hunched shoulders. She has wrapped a blue scarf around her head and crossed her arms firmly over her chest.

She must be freezing. She isn’t looking at me but out across the water.

“When will we get to Italy?” she asks suddenly.

“I don’t know, tomorrow evening, maybe,” I reply. I’m agitated and extremely impatient. A few of us go to lift up the boat and turn it over. It’s heavy, saturated with water and stinks of seaweed and rot. And while the waves keep surging forward relentlessly, we push the boat into the water. It’s cold! I stumble back abruptly.

“Women and children first,” yells Jasin.

The boat rocks and sways as the first few people clasp each other’s hands and get in. When it’s full, two strong men take the oars and row out towards the big boat. Aki, Awed and I are on the last boatload to the fishing vessel. The loading process has taken more than two hours; it must be after midnight. I stagger and have to hold on to something. I grab the railings and land hard against the side of the boat. That’s what happens when you lose the ground beneath your feet.

A long way from home: Zekarias Kebraeb has just a few photos of his life in Eritrea (Phil Moore)

9 October 2002

Ragged, dark grey clouds rage across the night sky. Stars appear and then disappear again. Banks of fog drift over the water and seagulls fly up screeching when our captain fires up the engine, which splutters and dies down, causing him to rage. The captain is gaunt, with a piercing gaze. Wearing boots, he has a violent temper; and before we’ve even departed, he’s already lashing out kicks to left and right. People duck out-of-the-way and soon so much water has sloshed on board that we’re completely soaked through.

The boat isn’t big – perhaps seven metres long. Painted blue and white, its sides rise maybe half a metre above the water. There’s a mast and a shelter for the helmsman. I sit on the planks right up against the stern with my friends. Our legs are pulled right in and we’re pressed in, bodies against bodies, almost as tight as on the pick-up truck in the desert. We sit back-to-back so we can hold each other tight, wheeze together, freeze together. Because it’s cold, icy cold.

The engine starts and the boat sets out on the open sea, into the night. The wind lashes water in my face. I look back to where the narrow, rocky shoreline is growing smaller and smaller. From now on, everything will be different: new and wonderful. I’ve overcome borders, hunger and thirst, the fear of death and the shame of being nothing – all that’s behind me. If it weren’t so strange, I would laugh. But there’s a new border in this place where solid ground gives way to water, probably the most daunting of my whole journey. I can’t walk or fly over the sea, and if I fall out of the boat, I’ll have exactly 120 seconds before I drown… I’ve never been this close to the paradise at the other end of the world, but I’ve never been so far away either.

Worried about patrol boats, our captain has turned off the navigation lights. He steers with a compass, heading unwaveringly north. Sleeping is out of the question – it’s too wet. The sky and sea are opaque and black, and we lose all sense of time. I don’t know if we’ve been travelling for two hours or four hours.

The boat is tossed back and forth and I sink into a trance-like state. I recite numbers in my head like litanies: those thrown overboard, drowned, killed by thirst, battered to death or lost. Since 1988, 14,921 immigrants have lost their lives crossing the sea to Europe.

I cling on tightly with my whole body. My freedom is the only thing I have left to live for. I cross my arms over my chest. Or is it fear that shackles me and wraps me up like a parcel? I can’t think any more – only hear, see, smell, feel. I listen to the storm and hear the captain. “Bail out!” he roars. He struggles to bring the boat about, steering across the waves. Mechanically, we start to tip and pour buckets of water over the railings, even though more water keeps sloshing in moments later to replace it.

My mother, I think to myself, would interpret a storm like this as a punishment from God. But why – what did we do wrong?

Aki, Awed and I hold hands again. I can’t imagine us surviving this hell. What is drowning like? Slow or quick? How long does it take until your lungs fill with water? Does it hurt? I hold on tight.

There’s nothing to see except water and mist – no horizon, we’re trapped in a cloud of fog. A continuous grey desert stretching out endlessly – it’s a miracle, but we’re alive. Laid out like sardines, slumped over and against each other, with nothing to eat or drink.

Hunger gnaws uneasily in my stomach. It’s an almost liberating feeling, but only for an instant: I’m alive. Even though my eyes are stinging from salt water, even though my skin is wrinkled and swollen, I’m alive. I try to stand up but don’t manage it, crumpling like an empty sack. Aki and Awed pull each other up, sway and also collapse back down. We hear snatches of barked orders telling us to stay sat down, got it? “Anyone who dares to stand up will be thrown overboard!”

There’s nothing to eat. My friends look for bread in their bags but don’t find anything except damp crumbs. I run my tongue along my salty lips, open my mouth and try to catch raindrops on my outstretched tongue. Salty. I form the water into a thick mixture with my spittle. It’s disgusting – I feel sick. Before I can make it to the railings, a pool of purplish-brown vomit spews on to the planks in front of me, mixing with green brine and seeping between us in trickles. I’m not the only one: almost everyone threw up during the night, either silently or retching noisily. The wind even flung some people’s sour vomit back in their faces. We’re in nature’s hands and can no more escape our filth than we can escape the sea.

The fog has vanished. The sea is endless, there’s nothing but water in the heavens and on the earth. No time, no space – everything flows and undulates. The white foam on the crest of the waves is the only thing our gaze can fix on, for one brief moment at a time. Our fellow refugees pull copies of the Bible and the Koran out of plastic bags and read them silently. Suddenly, a woman throws her Bible to me.

“Read it!” she calls. It doesn’t sound like a request. With numb fingers, I flick through the pages, looking, while drops of water soften the thin pages. “Go on, go on!” she shouts. “What should I read, exactly?” I try to smile. “I’m not a priest, you know.” I can barely feel my body and I’m supposed to read to console the others – as though that will help. I don’t want to, but I begin anyway.

“Saint Paul’s voyage to Rome.” Fitting. “A storm at sea and a shipwreck in the Mediterranean near the island of Malta.” My voice is a sigh against the storm. I shout until I go hoarse, vying with the seagulls who are shrieking as they circle the masts. The unnatural rattle of the engine sets the rhythm as I continue reading: “… After long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs…” The wind flings the words back in my face.


Turning Pages: Is criticism of creative-writing courses justified?

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Part-time writer: Samuel Beckett

I found this article by Jane Sullivan interesting because the argument she has discussed is the same used for other creative professions. Are institutions ‘killing’ the creative mind?  How so I ask? And if creativity (in writing) cannot be nurtured through mentoring, writers’ grants nor creative writing workshops – what are we suppose to do?..Quit? 

Having said that, aren’t we (bloggers) all lucky that we could write stories here on WordPress for free in our own genres, languages etc and build our own readership without worrying about whether someone reads the stories or not? 

Turning Pages: Is criticism of creative-writing courses justified?

There’s a scene in the Simon Pegg TV sitcom Spaced when a writer is kicked off the dole and has to get a job washing dishes. She complains to the manager: “But this isn’t me. I’m a writer.” The manager replies: “Oh, everyone who works here is a writer, dear.”

They used to make that joke about actors. Now it’s writers. Not that it’s new, exactly. Writers have always taken pride in listing menial and bizarre jobs on their book cover bios, and have taken comfort in the thought they were following in the footsteps of Hemingway and Beckett. A full-time writer is still quite a rare beast, and is usually a writer of books for children, or of books in a highly commercial genre.

So why is a Nobel Prize for Literature judge, no less, complaining about the rather meagre and intermittent help writers can get from institutions? You’d think Horace Engdahl would be totally in favour of writers’ grants and creative-writing programs to nurture talent and to supplement what are usually very modest incomes.

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Nobel judge: Horace Endgdahl.

But no, he thinks they are impoverishing Western literature. Just before the Nobel team announced that the 2014 prize had gone to the French author Patrick Modiano, Engdahl told the French newspaper La Croix that “professionalisation” of the writer’s career is having a negative effect: “Even though I understand the temptation, I think it cuts writers off from society, and creates an unhealthy link with institutions.” He cited writers including Samuel Beckett, who had to work as taxi drivers, clerks, secretaries and waiters to make a living.

Engdahl’s comments were reported in The Guardian, which drew some miffed responses from writers (one of them mentioned the Spaced scene). They just don’t view their lives as he does.

Most writers still take the Beckett route, combining paid work with writing in their spare time, and most don’t get any other income until they are published. Grants are still few and far between, last for a few months at most, are always under threat of cutbacks, and the competition for them is intense.

There’s always someone ready to rail against literary grants as a waste of taxpayers’ money. Creative-writing programs are similarly under siege. Although they have grown at a huge rate, they are as vulnerable as any section of academia to cutbacks, and they regularly get attacked.

Writers and teachers themselves have joined the offensive. The British novelist Hanif Kureishi has denounced creative-writing courses as a waste of time, even though he teaches one himself, at Kingston University. He complained “99.9 per cent” of his students were not talented, and many of them couldn’t tell a story. Lucy Ellman has agreed with him, calling creative-writing courses “the biggest con-job in academia”.

It’s true most creative-writing students will not end up in full-time careers as published writers (though they might well end up working in the publishing industry). They may not have the talent; they may not have the right teachers; almost certainly they won’t have the fanatical determination that is necessary. But it’s a huge jump from there to assert that all courses are a waste of time, or a con-job, or part of a “professionalisation” that diminishes literature.

Writing is a vocation that attracts a huge number of beginners; very few stay the course. Those who stay need all the help they can get. And the charge that a bit of intermittent assistance from a creative-writing course or a grant will put them out of touch with society seems out of touch with reality.


October 25, 2014

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/turning-pages-is-criticism-of-creativewriting-courses-justified-20141016-1170v2.html#ixzz3HcN4yvV9

A journey to a thousand stories

Tami Is Research photos 056-2
I took this photo on Tami islands, Wanam Village(PNG) 2009 while on my field trip. I have been asked about this picture a lot so I wanted talk about it. This scene you see at low tide every morning.

I have made a mental goal to write 1000 stories on this blog. This may take me five to ten years. I have written almost 100 for this blog in less than a year – so I feel it is achievable. Some of the written stories have not been published yet. I also feel good about this goal because I am getting stories from my readers – thank you!


It had been suggested to me to blog a few years ago but I did not feel comfortable about it. I think it was because I had no idea about what to do. I made a dare to blog on Facebook with friends and family. I said, if I got over 2000 Friends, I would blog. This was only last year. I had over 1000 Friends then. Many people read and enjoyed stories and other information and pictures that I shared. Before long, I found myself reaching 2000 Friends on Facebook and I had to keep my word to blog.

At first it was scary to become a blogger. I wondered who would read my stories. I wondered what I would write about. I read other blogs and got more confused. Mind you, some were very interesting. I was not technology-savvy and I had not done my market-research on readers and even on content. There were many other anxieties associated with blogging. I had assumed my followers would come from Facebook and I could continue to churn out what I had posted on that platform. So, that thought gave me some confidence.

In January, I started blogging. I did bring over 2,800 or so followers from Facebook. It seemed too easy. In that same month, my personal relationship fell apart and I was emotional. It must have been through these emotions that I showed who I was in my writing. At that point, surprisingly I had an average of 100 readers per day. This may not be much for other “pro” bloggers here but I was really happy and grateful. I had 149 hit one day and that meant a lot.

In June 2014, I was bullied and threatened and blackmailed on Facebook. Tracing fake Facebook accounts must be a normal thing because no-one really cared about it. I wrote to Facebook and tried to follow up through various contact, support and links offered by Facebook. All these channels led to nothing – just the computer talking – no humans, no response nor help. The pages/links for Help Facebook maintains on their site must be standard requirement. I decided for my safety and peace of mind, I would leave Facebook. I did. I sought legal advice and got some help from caring friends and some really good people.

Why do I Blog?

For two months I was depressed and I did not blog. I also became suspicious of everyone and everything – even people I knew. It felt  safe to live in myself. The time away served its purpose. I felt better. There have been worse things that have happened and I could not let this one get me. I returned to blogging in August this year. I was again thrilled to see people were reading my stories – even when I was not writing. That motivated me more. Then, in September, I lost all the followers who came through Facebook. I asked WordPress for help. I blogged about it. No response came. And so I accepted that loss and kept writing.

Last week, I made a comment about the New look on WordPress. Duvall (from WordPress) responded to my comments this week. I was grateful. Duvall then identified and confirmed that the loss of my 2800+ followers was because of my disconnection with Facebook. I accepted that.

However, this got me thinking…if the social media is your main “audience” and it is not safe – then what is really the point of writing to an audience? That was the question I asked myself. Should I question everything I write about? Can you possibly write safely? As bloggers – you all probably have your own answers. For readers – all I can say is, it is really in your hands once the fingers leave the keyboard. You can choose not to read.

I have been offered SEO help almost weekly and I get tons of spam from various companies or individuals here – of course they have been cleverly stopped by WordPress and I appreciate that – but it makes you wonder, why? There are stories about trollers I read from other bloggers.. Is it all worth it? And who really does care?

About My Blog

Anyway, the point of this long “re-cap” about my blog is that after everything that happened to break my blogging-spirit I decided, to hell with everything, I will personally re-build my readers. Write more. Increase my followers. I will use everything I’ve got IN my stories. My son told me – “mum, you write about everything and anything that catches your attention”, he is right. The main purpose of this blog (Tribalmystic) is to ultimately promote my culture. But I also wanted to blog about everything that is related to me, what I believe in and what I think is right. I also share things that do not make headline news, but I personally think they are beautiful and interesting. If one person sees or read a post – that is worth it.

Tami Is Research photos 061
Flowers on Wanam Village, Tami Is, PNG. Tide coming in. J Leahy picture. 2009.

October Goal

My goal for October was to post one story every day. So far I have. I was thinking if I can keep this up, I could go for a goal to write 1000 stories. (I think I can). Since posting daily, my readership has now increased to an average of 50 per day and I had 103 one day this week. I had 20-30 in August. So, thank you to those who take the time to read my blog and comment or “like” and share.

Because of you/readers, all the hours of research and writing has been worthwhile. I will keep staying awake at night, thinking up new stories. Please email or let me know in the comments if there are any specific things you would like me to write about. And thank you Pauline Stegman for letting me know – you would like more re-cycled material stories.




WordPress I Need Tech – Help Please

Yesterday, Australian time (September 16th) I was looking at my blog, this one you are reading and I noticed that my number of followers dropped from some 3008 to 68. Minutes before that, I had tried to re-blog a post from a fellow blogger. I am not sure how I deleted the rest of my followers. Unless of course there was a mass exodus. These are the email followers I have gained since I started blogging early this year.  I was told recently by a reader that I did not have any SEO fields on my page to allow navigation. Thank you very much, I do not know what the heck that means, but I am actually enrolled in a course to teach myself on what to do.

I have to complain and please do not laugh…all these tech things you need to worry about. I just want to write.

I do want to apologise to the people that are not following anymore – this was not meant to be. I hope you can come back again and please if anyone out there knows what has happened – let me know how I can fix the problem. I am sure these 2940 followers are tucked under something on my blog. I just can’t see them with my amateur tech-eyes.


Short story

Sometimes, to write a short story, I need to write three to get one. I am never fully satisfied that I have written the one I like.

The good thing about this is that, I can develop and edit the ones I don’t really like and eventually they become a short story. It is just like creating artwork.

The short stories I like best are the ones I can write in 20 to 30 minutes and it flows effortlessly in the first draft.

A new short story is coming this week – that’s a deal.

Creative Writing

Thank you all for your comments and encouragement for my very first post yesterday. As promised here is one of my short stories. I belong to a Creative Writing workshop group at Kenmore School in the Western Suburbs of Brisbane City, QLD Australia. We meet once a week during school term to workshop our stories under the master story-teller and author Isabel D’ Avila Winter.  Here is a story I wrote under the category short-story fiction. It was based on events of a real situation but characters and scenes have been changed. I hope that it would be published later in my short story book. Please click on the highlighted link below to download or read the story.

The Price of a Small Change – JK.Leahy short story

“Any small change?”

Dit held out his right palm as he expectantly traced the bus queue at Kelvin Grove, Brisbane. It was Thursday, almost seven. For Late Night Shopping in the suburbs, not too many people were around. The wind was cold.

Visitors to the Royal Brisbane Hospital were leaving; visiting hours ended at 8pm.

“Excuse me, any small change?”, he asked the fifth person, a pale-faced peroxide blonde woman, in her fifties. Standing nearly as tall as him in a black three inch high heel and, wrapped warmly in a red coat, her heavily made-up face took a long stare at Dit’s ripped blue poly-cotton long-sleeve shirt. Clearly, Dit’s appearance did not fit. She scoffed and looked away.

Dit pressed forward without a flinch or loss of courage.

His left shirt pocket had ripped to its base and flew about like a kite in the wind. He was barefooted. His dirty blonde strands flapped in the same direction the wind took his pocket.

“Small change?” he asked the next three people. No-one gave him a thing. No-one said anything.

I could hear him coming towards my sister and I as the crust on his trouser hem swept the floor as he walked. I started to feel around for coins in my pockets, my bag and my purse, my eyes on him. Being a pensioner, I had only spent my last $20 for that week on a bus ticket and dropped the change somewhere in my bag. I had not planned for this situation. I could identify with this man’s desperation and I wanted to help.

In a few seconds, I could see his dirty brown denims sweep into view and two very dirty feet peeked at me. His toe nails, soiled, uncut and ugly. My eyes followed the awkwardly hung trouser legs up his thin frame to his face.

“Any lose coins”, he asked, standing tall and looking down at me with steel blue eyes.  Nothing could be piercing and clearer than those eyes, set in a ruffle of stringy long hair. The bus terminal overhanging casted a shadow over his face but I could see less than half a dozen teeth and a wide smile outlined by a scanty moustache.

I held up our lose change, both my sister’s and mine and he grabbed it, touching my hand. I pulled away.

“Hi, I’m Dit” he said as he pocketed our coins.

I smiled at him. He stood there, smiled back and then asked: “Don’t I know you?”

My sister stared at him, alarmed.

“No, I don’t think so”, I said.

“Oh… I KNOW YOU’, he insisted. “You helped me before”.

I was embarrassed that I could not remember. I hoped he did not think I pretended to not know him.

“Ah, maybe I did help you in the city or the Valley”, I said.

He flashed a big toothy grin and coughed. “Oh well, I better get going”.

“Alright, you take care now” I said and watched him disappear into the dimly lit street.

At that moment, Bus 333 arrived and everyone piled into it. My sister and I took the seats at the back door.  We had the view of the front but we could get off quickly to catch Bus 444 to Moggill at the city stop.

As the bus drew out,  a man in a long black coat ran and jumped on just before the bus door slammed shut. He carried something.

Stopping briefly to check the main road traffic, the driver eased Bus 333 onto the road and headed for Brisbane City.

Every passenger was sitting with their heads pointing down engrossed on their smart phones, tablets and other electronic devices. A woman in the seat near us read the paper. At the front of the bus, my eye caught that last passenger. He leaned against the metal post near the driver and there was something about his stance and his face was familiar but he was covered and his coat had a hood.

As I watched, the passenger approached the driver; we were only five minutes away from Adelaide Street Central Bus Terminal. The man leaned over and the bus driver suddenly stepped on his brakes two stops before the city and a few metres short of the next stop.

All the passengers’ eyes came up briefly and then they returned to their phones and what they were doing before. I felt something strange was about to happen.

I kept looking at the passenger. Then he stood stand up again. I saw him drop a piece of cloth revealing a gun, which he pointed at the driver. The driver slammed the brakes and everybody swayed forward and some even screamed. We had stopped in a quiet dark street.

Some passengers started crying and many tried to get up, but the stranger cocked the gun and said in a firm voice as he walked towards us: “Everyone, please stay where you are, do not move and do not try to scream, I have a loaded gun”. His voice was familiar.

The man stopped in front of my sister and me; I was shocked.

It was the same toothless smile I had only seen earlier this evening. “You two can leave”, he said, nodding his head towards the door.

Trembling and holding on to each other, we stepped down and just as we got out, he leaned over and said: “You take care now”.

The door slammed shut and Bus 333 drove away.