We had some Spanish students staying with us in September and their description of where they lived reminded me of our visit to Almeria, supposedly the driest place in Europe. I wrote this flashfiction after that trip.

What Remains

By this time, the river that had become a memory, then a story, then a myth, had become a dream. The rich alluvial earth on the valley floor, patterned by jagged lines of deep crimson and dull jade, was so different from the light sand of the higher slopes. It was enticing to the villagers fed up with scraping a vegetable patch out of scrapes of the desert. It took only the application of water for the deep soil below them to yield crops of tomatoes, courgettes, asparagus, peppers. Enough to eat and sell as well. At first allotments were tentatively staked out, but soon there were huts for the Summer, then houses and, why not? A hotel in its majestic flowering gardens, perfumed by wild rosemary and eucalyptus.

For the tourists were coming. More than the lone back packer who had strayed there in search of the real. At first they came in cars, then coaches, until an airport was built not far down the coast and another hotel was needed in the bed of the river that had become a memory, a story, a myth and then a dream.

There was a Fiesta each year when folk would dress up as all kinds of watery animals and mythological creatures. A River Princess was chosen to wear a beautifully embroidered cloak of every tone of blue and green. Why? the tourists asked, this is the driest, the hottest corner of the continent. It's the tradition, explained their guides. Our ancestors did this to ensure our two days of annual rainfall. Ahh, said the tourists.

It was Frederico who first noticed the difference. The keeper of the town's solar power plant, he welcomed the visitors there every day of the week except Sunday and Monday. He proudly showed them the explanatory DVD, the model of the control room and, his greatest joy, the demonstration area. Here the sun's energy, concentrated by mirrors, lit up coloured lights, span sparkling wheels and heated water to boiling point. Ahh, breathed Frederico's little gaggle of guests and he smiled his generous smile.

Then the thunder storms came. "It's not normal," Frederico said to an English couple who had turned up for a tour. "This weather, it's not normal." With the heavy hail, the demonstrations could not be done, Frederico shook his head dolefully. He offered to show them the DVD, but only a few minutes in, a bolt of lightening connected with something electrical and the screen went blank. "It's not possible today," Frederico said, his brown eyes behind his round glasses as shiny as the paths he carefully tended outside. "You come back tomorrow and I show you everything for free. Today it's not possible."

The couple left laughing. Frederico could not see the joke. This was the fifth day this year when it had not been possible and it was not the rainy month yet. He talked about his worries to his wife, his lovely Almaria and she spoke about it to her mother, Cacendra, who was also the Mayor. And being the Mayor, she cared deeply about the town, knowing it built its reputation on being, above all, hot and dry. She was also the owner of the oldest, most expensive of the two hotels. She shook her head and said to her daughter that she must not encourage Frederico in repeating his nonsense.

Frederico took little notice of his mother-in-law. A trait which Almaria viewed as fearlessness, and it had been this which had eventually endeared him to her despite his portly shape and the mop-like tangle of dark curls on his head. He continued to voice his concerns to anyone who would listen and some even took him seriously. If there was more rain, there would be less visitors, perhaps some of the more precarious roads would slide or houses would slip. Should something be done? The Mayor listened and nodded. She paid for experts to be consulted, some said one thing, others another. She encouraged her electors to recycle and use more efficient light bulbs. But, after all, they were the only town on the continent to be solar powered. What else could they do? There were times when she heartily wished Frederico would talk less or that her daughter had instead accepted the local businessman who had tried to woo her. No-one thought of the river that had become a memory, a story, a myth, and now not even a dream.

So three years passed. The corner of the continent with 363 days of sunshine counted seven, then ten, then fifteen days of rain. And the river came back.

At first only a trickle beneath the houses, insinuating itself into cracks, widening fissures, gathering the faint whiff of sewerage as it went. A stream appeared in some people's back gardens, the hotels' lawns were soggy even when left un-watered. It was welcomed, this unassuming, playful dewiness amongst all this dryness. Miniature water-wheels and pottery frogs fishing were added to flowerbeds and the tourists took all the more photos.

There was a flood, once, out of season, shifting mud, trees, cars and the less stable buildings at such a speed, everyone was afraid, for a while. Then the sky cleared and the debris was tidied up, carpets replaced, the smell neutralised and the visitors welcomed back.

So it was one day Frederico begged and begged Almaria not to help at her mother's hotel and his wife found it easier to defy her husband than her mother. And it was that day the river which had become a memory, a story, a myth, a dream, became a river once more, then a torrent, then an unstoppable wall of water spewing before it a slurried mass of roots, tangled metal, broken concrete and unidentifiable carcasses.


I've recently had an article accepted by Therapy Today and I've just sent off another to be considered by Groupwork Journal. Both are what I consider to be creative non-fiction with the mildest hint of poetry. Now, though, I feel like being more playful, less audience oriented. Taking up again the Minotaur's Mother poem and beginning to illustrate it - though it is still unfinished - with collage.

It is a step forward that I am writing this blog in the evening. It's hard not to give into the temptation of lying comatose on the sofa, but these darkness hours are surely also made for creativity?
I wanted to write a Haiku
about Blackpool
but it turned into a rhyming stanza


What is creative writing? asks a student. He means, as opposed to any other kind of writing, and behind his query is a concern that his might not be creative enough.

It's not an easy question to answer. It is certainly not to do with subject matter, you can write creatively about a computer chip and equally un-creatively about a sunset. It has more to do with how the writing is constructed; whether there is attention to rhythm, word sounds, sentence or paragraph length, whether there is descriptive detail, emotional appeal.

But there is something additional to this. Something visceral, which comes from the core of the writer and speaks to the core of the reader. An authenticity, an honesty to the writing voice.

Now that is more difficult to define and explain, as it is so much more noticeable when it is absent.


My first week "back" so to speak, with all my courses and workshops up and running. I'm teaching two evenings a week this academic year, so that's a bit of a challenge as I am more of a lark than an owl. I have to remember to conserve a bit of energy for the night time.

One of the modules I'm teaching is looking at the creative process and how it differs for each person. I recall when I was in my twenties I would work a full day and then come home and spend hours on my novel (still be in bed by 10pm, of course!) I couldn't do that now. It feels like my creative brain begins to switch off about three in the afternoon. Perhaps it's just that I've got out of the habit and I could go back to it.

As a starting point for the module we had a go at characterising our creativity: lots of images of water and growing or living things, lots of energy - frenetic, dangerous, joyful, frustrating. We'd read WS Graham's "A Note to the Difficult One", a poem to his inspiration. And I realised my creativity isn't difficult, it's just a bit shy sometimes, needs nurturing. I had a strong image of something I'd seen on a recent TV documentary, a tiny oak sprig being protected by a plastic tube to allow it to grow.

A note to the timid one.
Sprout, unfurl, grow,
you won't be crushed,
I will protect you
from predatory teeth and careless hoof.
You do not trust me to stand up for you,
you are afraid I will not be strong enough to defend you.
Expectations have sharp edges.