Creative Writing Masterclass: Marcel Proust

In a nutshell, this is a masterclass on how to write something original against very nearly insurmountable odds. It is based on a few short passages from Albertine disparue, the sixth part of Proust’s great seven-volume novel, À la recherche du temps perdu. Part of the story takes place in Venice, a hugely overwritten city. Proust needs to find a striking and original way of revealing its beauty and mystery. How does he do it? ‘My mother had brought me for a few weeks to Venice and — as there may be beauty in the most precious as well as in the humblest things — I was receiving there impressions analogous to those which I had felt so often in the past at Combray, but transposed into a wholly different and far richer key.’ So far, so good. This has already caught our attention, because we now know that the Narrator is going to make a somewhat unlikely comparison between Venice and Combray, the sleepy little country village of his childhood. Proust knows that a straightforward comparison of two such different places could well turn out absurd if not banal, so he embarks on a simple, but unexpected and highly effective, meditation on light and shadow. “Like at Combray with the worthy folk of the Rue de l’Oiseau, so in this strange town also, the inhabitants did indeed emerge from houses drawn up in line, side by side, along the principal street. But the part played there by houses that cast a patch of shade before them was in Venice entrusted to palaces of porphyry and jasper. Over one arched door was the head of a bearded God, projecting from its alignment, like the knocker on a door at Combray. Here it had the effect of darkening with its shadow not the brownness of the soil, as at Combray, but the splendid blue of the water. On the piazza, the shadow that would have been cast at Combray by the linen-draper’s awning and the barber’s pole, was cast here by the filigree silhouette of a Renaissance façade, that scattered a myriad tiny blue flowers upon the desert of sunscorched flagstones. When the sun was hot we were obliged, in Venice as at Combray, to pull down the blinds between ourselves and the Canal, but here they hung behind the quatrefoils and foliage of Gothic windows.” Having established this memorable vision of dry land, and put Combray to one side, Proust then sets himself the challenge of describing a gondola ride, an experience done to death by any number of authors. He begins unremarkably enough, plunging into the familiar Venetian labyrinth. “My gondola followed the course of the small canals. Like the mysterious hand of a Genie leading me through the maze of this oriental city, they seemed, as I advanced, to be carving a road for me through the heart of a crowded quarter which they clove asunder…” At this point something further is required, though the oriental Genie is certainly a brilliant touch. Again, as in the Combray passage, Proust brings light and shadow into play, this time meditating on their powerful transformational qualities. All of a sudden the city is seen as a natural, organic object rather than an assembly of buildings. “As we returned up the Grand Canal in our gondola, we watched the double line of palaces between which we passed reflect the light and angle of the sun upon their rosy surfaces, and alter with them, seeming not so much private habitations and historic buildings as a chain of marble cliffs at the foot of which people go out in the evening in a boat to watch the sunset. In this way, the mansions arranged along either bank of the canal made one think of objects of nature, but of a nature which seemed to have created its works with a human imagination.” So that is how, with a certain amount of careful thought, one can present a challenging and overdone subject in a dazzling new light.


I teach Creative Writing. Click here to see more Creative Writing Masterclass posts and/or email me if you would like to take lessons: scholartext@gmail.com.

Creative Writing Masterclass: Saki (H. H. Munro)

The British author H. H. Munro, whose pen-name was Saki, was an expert craftsman of the extremely short short story. This is a genre well worth mastering, as it is now once again becoming fashionable – largely because our attention spans are much shorter than they used to be thanks to the instant gratification widely available online. Munro often took a single, very simple, idea and developed it into something highly sophisticated within a remarkably small wordcount. This story, ‘Filboid Studge’, is about a young artist called Mark Spaley whose artwork transforms a disgusting breakfast cereal into a bestseller. One might say that within the space of only 1035 words, Munro creates a plausible and absorbing picture of the human condition that a great many aspiring writers of full-length novels are hard put to achieve in hundreds of pages. At any rate, setting oneself a 1000-word limit for a short story is a very good creative writing exercise.

“I want to marry your daughter,” said Mark Spayley with faltering eagerness. “I am only an artist with an income of two hundred a year, and she is the daughter of an enormously wealthy man, so I suppose you will think my offer a piece of presumption.”

Duncan Dullamy, the great company inflator, showed no outward sign of displeasure. As a matter of fact, he was secretly relieved at the prospect of finding even a two-hundred-a-year husband for his daughter Leonore. A crisis was rapidly rushing upon him, from which he knew he would emerge with neither money nor credit; all his recent ventures had fallen flat, and flattest of all had gone the wonderful new breakfast food, Pipenta, on the advertisement of which he had sunk such huge sums. It could scarcely be called a drug in the market; people bought drugs, but no one bought Pipenta.

“Would you marry Leonore if she were a poor man’s daughter?” asked the man of phantom wealth.

“Yes,” said Mark, wisely avoiding the error of over-protestation. And to his astonishment Leonore’s father not only gave his consent, but suggested a fairly early date for the wedding.

“I wish I could show my gratitude in some way,” said Mark with genuine emotion. “I’m afraid it’s rather like the mouse proposing to help the lion.”

“Get people to buy that beastly muck,” said Dullamy, nodding savagely at a poster of the despised Pipenta, “and you’ll have done more than any of my agents have been able to accomplish.”

“It wants a better name,” said Mark reflectively, “and something distinctive in the poster line. Anyway, I’ll have a shot at it.”

Three weeks later the world was advised of the coming of a new breakfast food, heralded under the resounding name of “Filboid Studge.” Spayley put forth no pictures of massive babies springing up with fungus-like rapidity under its forcing influence, or of representatives of the leading nations of the world scrambling with fatuous eagerness for its possession. One huge sombre poster depicted the Damned in Hell suffering a new torment from their inability to get at the Filboid Studge which elegant young fiends held in transparent bowls just beyond their reach. The scene was rendered even more gruesome by a subtle suggestion of the features of leading men and women of the day in the portrayal of the Lost Souls; prominent individuals of both political parties, Society hostesses, well-known dramatic authors and novelists, and distinguished aeroplanists were dimly recognizable in that doomed throng; noted lights of the musical-comedy stage flickered wanly in the shades of the Inferno, smiling still from force of habit, but with the fearsome smiling rage of baffled effort. The poster bore no fulsome allusions to the merits of the new breakfast food, but a single grim statement ran in bold letters along its base: “They cannot buy it now.”

Spayley had grasped the fact that people will do things from a sense of duty which they would never attempt as a pleasure. There are thousands of respectable middle-class men who, if you found them unexpectedly in a Turkish bath, would explain in all sincerity that a doctor had ordered them to take Turkish baths; if you told them in return that you went there because you liked it, they would stare in pained wonder at the frivolity of your motive. In the same way, whenever a massacre of Armenians is reported from Asia Minor, every one assumes that it has been carried out “under orders” from somewhere or another, no one seems to think that there are people who might LIKE to kill their neighbours now and then.

And so it was with the new breakfast food. No one would have eaten Filboid Studge as a pleasure, but the grim austerity of its advertisement drove housewives in shoals to the grocers’ shops to clamour for an immediate supply. In small kitchens solemn pig-tailed daughters helped depressed mothers to perform the primitive ritual of its preparation. On the breakfast-tables of cheerless parlours it was partaken of in silence. Once the womenfolk discovered that it was thoroughly unpalatable, their zeal in forcing it on their households knew no bounds. “You haven’t eaten your Filboid Studge!” would be screamed at the appetiteless clerk as he hurried weariedly from the breakfast-table, and his evening meal would be prefaced by a warmed-up mess which would be explained as “your Filboid Studge that you didn’t eat this morning.”

Those strange fanatics who ostentatiously mortify themselves, inwardly and outwardly, with health biscuits and health garments, battened aggressively on the new food. Earnest, spectacled young men devoured it on the steps of the National Liberal Club. A bishop who did not believe in a future state preached against the poster, and a peer’s daughter died from eating too much of the compound. A further advertisement was obtained when an infantry regiment mutinied and shot its officers rather than eat the nauseous mess; fortunately, Lord Birrell of Blatherstone, who was War Minister at the moment, saved the situation by his happy epigram, that “Discipline to be effective must be optional.”

Filboid Studge had become a household word, but Dullamy wisely realized that it was not necessarily the last word in breakfast dietary; its supremacy would be challenged as soon as some yet more unpalatable food should be put on the market. There might even be a reaction in favour of something tasty and appetizing, and the Puritan austerity of the moment might be banished from domestic cookery. At an opportune moment, therefore, he sold out his interests in the article which had brought him in colossal wealth at a critical juncture, and placed his financial reputation beyond the reach of cavil. As for Leonore, who was now an heiress on a far greater scale than ever before, he naturally found her something a vast deal higher in the husband market than a two-hundred-a-year poster designer.

Mark Spayley, the brainmouse who had helped the financial lion with such untoward effect, was left to curse the day he produced the wonder-working poster.

“After all,” said Clovis, meeting him shortly afterwards at his club, “you have this doubtful consolation, that ’tis not in mortals to countermand success.”

I teach Creative Writing. Click here to see more Creative Writing Masterclass posts and/or email me if you would like to take lessons: scholartext@gmail.com.

Creative Writing Masterclass: John Milton

John Milton is best known for his great epic poem, Paradise Lost, which tells the story of the temptation of Eve and the subsequent expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. He also wrote many political works. The passage below is from Areopatigica, named after the Areopagus, a rocky outcrop of the Acropolis, traditionally used as an open-air courtroom in ancient Athens. Here Milton warns of the dangers of censoring books. These paragraphs are well worth remembering and are still referred to today by those who argue in favour of free speech. If you’re ever asked to write an essay about the importance of reading, it’s always good to be able to mention Milton’s description of a book as “the precious life-blood of a master spirit”. What is impressive about this passage is the way in which Milton “personifies” books. In other words, he presents them as being like human beings: books too can be unjustly persecuted or “killed”. I have put in bold type all the words that speak of life, death, killing, persecution and preservation.

I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how books demean themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors. For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon’s teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book. Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. ‘Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great loss; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the loss of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole nations fare the worse.

We should be wary therefore what persecution we raise against the living labours of public men, how we spill that seasoned life of man, preserved and stored up in books; since we see a kind of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdom, and if it extend to the whole impression, a kind of massacre; whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elemental life, but strikes at that ethereal and fifth essence, the breath of reason itself, slays an immortality rather than a life. But lest I should be condemned of introducing license, while I oppose licensing, I refuse not the pains to be so much historical, as will serve to show what hath been done by ancient and famous commonwealths against this disorder, till the very time that this project of licensing crept out of the Inquisition, was catched up by our prelates, and hath caught some of our presbyters.

I teach Creative Writing. Click here to see more Creative Writing Masterclass posts and/or email me if you would like to take lessons: scholartext@gmail.com.

Creative Writing Masterclass: Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was an Irish playwright and author best known for his great comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest. He also wrote prose fiction. The passage below is from The Canterville Ghost, Wilde’s entertaining story about a ghost who faces a serious problem. The American family who have bought his ancestral home, that he’s haunted for centuries, are simply not frightened of him. Wilde’s idea is simple, and well worth remembering if you’re stuck trying to think of an idea for a story: you take a generally accepted belief, in this case that people are frightened of ghosts, then turn it upside down by creating an exception to the rule. So, for example, you might take a simple proposition like “All children hate spinach”, then write a story about a boy whose love for spinach drives his parents and friends mad with frustration. Or you could challenge the belief that roses are red, white or pink by writing a story about a blue rose.

The storm raged fiercely all that night, but nothing of particular note occurred. The next morning, however, when they came down to breakfast, they found the terrible stain of blood once again on the floor. “I don’t think it can be the fault of the Paragon Detergent,” said Washington, “for I have tried it with everything. It must be the ghost.” He accordingly rubbed out the stain a second time, but the second morning it appeared again. The third morning also it was there, though the library had been locked up at night by Mr. Otis himself, and the key carried up-stairs. The whole family were now quite interested; Mr. Otis began to suspect that he had been too dogmatic in his denial of
the existence of ghosts, Mrs. Otis expressed her intention of joining the Psychical Society, and Washington prepared a long letter to Messrs. Myers and Podmore on the subject of the Permanence of Sanguineous Stains when connected with Crime. That night all doubts about the objective existence of phantasmata were removed for ever.


The day had been warm and sunny; and, in the cool of the evening, the whole family went out to drive. They did not return home till nine o’clock, when they had a light supper. The conversation in no way turned upon ghosts, so there were not even those primary conditions of receptive expectations which so often precede the presentation of psychical phenomena. The subjects discussed, as I have since learned from Mr. Otis, were merely such as form the ordinary conversation of cultured Americans of the better class, such as the immense superiority of Miss
Fanny Devonport over Sarah Bernhardt as an actress; the difficulty of obtaining green corn, buckwheat cakes, and hominy, even in the best English houses; the importance of Boston in the development of the world-soul; the advantages of the baggage-check system in railway travelling; and the sweetness of the New York accent as compared to the London drawl. No mention at all was made of the supernatural, nor was Sir Simon de Canterville alluded to in any way. At eleven o’clock the family retired, and by half-past all the lights were out. Some time after, Mr. Otis was awakened by a curious noise in the corridor, outside his room. It sounded like the clank of metal, and seemed to be coming nearer every moment. He got up at once, struck a match, and looked at the time. It was exactly one o’clock. He was quite calm, and felt his pulse, which was not at all feverish. The strange noise still continued, and with it he heard distinctly the sound of footsteps. He put on his slippers, took a small oblong phial out of his dressing-case, and opened the door. Right in front of him he saw, in the wan moonlight, an old man of terrible aspect. His eyes were as red burning coals; long grey hair fell over his shoulders in matted coils; his garments, which were of antique cut, were soiled and ragged, and from his wrists and ankles hung heavy manacles and rusty gyves.


“My dear sir,” said Mr. Otis, “I really must insist on your oiling those chains, and have brought you for that purpose a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator. It is said to be completely efficacious upon one application, and there are several testimonials to that effect on the wrapper from some of our most eminent native divines. I shall leave it here for you by the bedroom candles, and will be happy to supply you with more, should you require it.” With these words the United States Minister laid the bottle down on a marble table, and, closing his door, retired to rest.
For a moment the Canterville ghost stood quite motionless in natural indignation; then, dashing the bottle violently upon the polished floor, he fled down the corridor, uttering hollow groans, and emitting a ghastly green light. Just, however, as he reached the top of the great oak staircase, a door was flung open, two little white-robed figures appeared, and a large pillow whizzed past his head! There was evidently no time to be lost, so, hastily adopting the Fourth dimension of Space as a means of escape, he vanished through the wainscoting, and the house became quite quiet. On reaching a small secret chamber in the left wing, he leaned up against a moonbeam to recover
his breath, and began to try and realize his position.

Never, in a brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred years, had he been so grossly insulted. He thought of the Dowager Duchess, whom he had frightened into a fit as she stood before the glass in her lace and diamonds; of the four housemaids, who had gone into hysterics when he merely grinned at them through the curtains on one of the spare bedrooms; of the rector of the parish, whose candle he had blown out as he was coming late one night from the library, and who had been under the care of Sir William Gull ever since, a perfect martyr to nervous disorders; and of old Madame de Tremouillac, who, having wakened up one morning early and seen a skeleton seated in an armchair by the fire reading her diary, had been confined to her bed for six weeks with an attack of brain fever, and, on her recovery, had become reconciled to the Church, and broken off her connection with that notorious sceptic, Monsieur de Voltaire. He remembered the terrible night when the wicked Lord Canterville was found choking in his dressing-room, with the knave of diamonds half-way down his throat, and confessed, just before he died, that he had cheated Charles James Fox out of £50,000 at Crockford’s by means of that very card, and swore that the ghost had made him swallow it. All his great achievements came back to him again, from the butler who had shot himself in the pantry because he had seen a green hand tapping at the window-pane, to the beautiful Lady Stutfield, who was always obliged to wear a black velvet band round her throat to hide the mark of five fingers burnt upon her white skin, and who drowned herself at last in the carp-pond at the end of the King’s Walk. With the enthusiastic egotism of the true artist, he went over his most celebrated performances, and smiled bitterly to himself as he recalled to mind his last appearance as “Red Reuben, or the Strangled Babe,” his début as “Guant Gibeon, the Blood-sucker of Bexley Moor,” and the furore he had excited one lovely June evening by merely playing ninepins with his own bones upon the lawntennis ground. And after all this some wretched modern Americans were to come and offer him the Rising Sun Lubricator, and throw pillows at his head! It was quite unbearable. Besides, no ghost in history had ever been treated in this manner. Accordingly, he determined to have vengeance, and remained till daylight in an attitude of deep thought.

I teach Creative Writing. Click here to see more Creative Writing Masterclass posts and/or email me if you would like to take lessons: scholartext@gmail.com.

Creative Writing Masterclass: John Irving

We all have examples of things we misunderstood in early childhood and it’s a good exercise to try recalling and describing one’s own personal examples. This passage is from The World According to Garp, a novel by John Irving, an American writer born in 1942. It describes how Garp’s young son, Walt, comically misunderstands the word ‘undertow’ (a strong underwater current) and creates his own rather frightening conception of what it is. It’s worth remembering as a perfect description of what happens when adults fail, as they often do, to explain things fully to children. At the end of the passage Irving takes the idea a stage further, when Walt’s amusing misunderstanding is transformed into an unsettling metaphor.

Duncan began talking about Walt and the undertow – a famous family story. For as far back as Duncan could remember, the Garps had gone every summer to Dog’s Head Harbor, New Hampshire, where the miles of beach in front of Jenny Fields’ estate were ravaged by a fearful undertow. When Walt was old enough to venture near the water, Duncan said to him – as Helen and Garp had, for years, said to Duncan – ‘Watch out for the undertow.’ Walt retreated, respectfully. And for three summers Walt was warned about the undertow. Duncan recalled all the phrases.

‘The undertow is bad today.’

‘The undertow is strong today.’

‘The undertow is wicked today.’ Wicked was a big word in New Hampshire – not just for the undertow.

And for years Walt reached out for it. From the first, when he asked what it could do to you, he had only been told that it could pull you out to sea. It could suck you under and drown you and drag you away.

It was Walt’s fourth summer at Dog’s Head Harbor, Duncan remembered, when Garp and Helen and Duncan observed Walt watching the sea. He stood ankle-deep in the foam from the surf and peered into the waves, without taking a step, for the longest time. The family went down to the water’s edge to have a word with him.

‘What are you doing, Walt?’ Helen asked.

‘What are you looking for, dummy?’ Duncan asked him.

‘I’m trying to see the Under Toad,’ Walt said.

‘The what?’ said Garp.

‘The Under Toad,’ Walt said. ‘I’m trying to see it. How big is it?”

And Garp and Helen and Duncan held their breath; they realized that all these years Walt had been dreading a giant toad, lurking offshore, waiting to suck him under and drag him out to sea. The terrible Under Toad. Garp tried to imagine it with him. Would it ever surface? Did it ever float? Or was it always down under, slimy and bloated and ever-watchful for ankles its coated tongue could snare? The vile Under Toad.

Between Helen and Garp, the Under Toad became their code phrase for anxiety. Long after the monster was clarified for Walt (‘Undertow, dummy, not Under Toad!’ Duncan had howled), Garp and Helen evoked the beast as a way of referring to their own sense of danger. When the traffic was heavy, when the road was icy – when depression had moved in overnight – they said to each other, ‘The Under Toad is strong today.’

‘Remember,’ Duncan asked on the plane, ‘how Walt asked if it was green or brown?’

Both Garp and Duncan laughed. But it was neither green nor brown, Garp thought. It was me. It was Helen. It was the color of bad weather. It was the size of an automobile.

I teach Creative Writing. Click here to see more Creative Writing Masterclass posts and/or email me if you would like to take lessons: scholartext@gmail.com.

Creative Writing Masterclass: O. Henry

O. Henry (real name, William Sydney Porter) was an American writer best known for his entertaining short stories about American life. Many, though not all of them, were set in New York and were usually about the poorer classes of society. A rather pompous journalist of the time had said that there were only “400 people who mattered”. Henry responded by saying there were 4 million people and that they each had an important story to tell. The following passage is an excerpt from from The Red Chief, a story set in Alabama rather than New York. Two desperate bandits kidnap the nine-year-old son of a wealthy Alabama landowner. They confidently expect to receive a large ransom, but it turns out the captive is so irritating that the father succeeds in making them pay him $250 dollars to take the boy off their hands. Henry has to establish in the reader’s mind how annoying the boy is – and he has to do it quickly and forcefully. How? In a brilliant piece of writing, he fixes on the way the boy talks, skipping from one tedious subject to the next, never giving his captors a moment’s rest. Thus, in one deceptively simple paragraph, we form a clear idea of the terrible problem they face.

Yes sir, that boy seemed to be having the time of his life. The fun of camping out in a cave had made him forget that he was a captive himself. He immediately christened me Snake-eye, the Spy, and announced that, when his braves returned from the warpath, I was to be broiled at the stake at the rising of the sun. Then we had supper; and he filled his mouth full of bacon and bread and gravy, and began to talk. He made a during-dinner speech something like this:

“I like this fine. I never camped out before; but I had a pet ‘possum once, and I was nine last birthday. I hate to go to school. Rats ate up sixteen of Jimmy Talbot’s aunt’s speckled hen’s eggs. Are there any real Indians in these woods? I want some more gravy. Does the trees moving make the wind blow? We had five puppies. What makes your nose so red, Hank? My father has lots of money. Are the stars hot? I whipped Ed Walker twice, Saturday. I don’t like girls. You dassent catch toads unless with a string. Do oxen make any noise? Why are oranges round? Have you got beds to sleep on in this cave? Amos Murray has got six toes. A parrot can talk, but a monkey or a fish can’t. How many does it take to make twelve?”

Every few minutes he would remember that he was a pesky redskin, and pick up his stick rifle and tiptoe to the mouth of the cave to rubber for the scouts of the hated paleface. Now and then he would let out a war-whoop that made Old Hank the Trapper shiver. That boy had Bill terrorized from the start.

“Red Chief,” says I to the kid, “would you like to go home?”

“Aw, what for?” says he. “I don’t have any fun at home. I hate to go to school. I like to camp out. You won’t take me back home again, Snake-eye, will you?”

“Not right away,” says I. “We’ll stay here in the cave a while.”

“All right!” says he. “That’ll be fine. I never had such fun in all my life.”

I teach Creative Writing. Click here to see more Creative Writing Masterclass posts and/or email me if you would like to take lessons: scholartext@gmail.com.

Creative Writing Masterclass: Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac was a brilliant, colourful and badly behaved American writer. He belonged to what we now call the Beat Generation, a group of anti-establishment writers and artists including William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. In this passage Kerouac tackles the difficult challenge of describing musical performance, having gone to hear the blind jazz pianist George Shearing. It is an excellent piece of writing. Kerouac judiciously uses a sprinkling verbs and adverbs to recreate the sound and feel of the music, but he does not overdo it. Another thing to notice is how the pace gradually quickens. Kerouac achieves this by shortening his sentences and adding brief, spoken comments from the audience. When the performance is over, he gives us the memorable image of a horn sitting on the piano, a brilliant way of capturing the silence.


Dean and I went to see Shearing at Birdland in the midst of the long, mad weekend. The place was deserted, we were the first customers, ten o’clock. Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was a distinguished-looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a delicate English-summer’s-night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played as the bass-player leaned to him reverently and thrummed the beat. The drummer, Denzil Best, sat motionless except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed his hair back, his combed hair dissolved, he began to sweat. The music picked up. The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster, it seemed faster and faster, that’s all. Shearing began to play his chords; they rolled out of the piano in great rich showers, you’d think the man wouldn’t have time to line them up. They rolled and rolled like the sea. Folks yelled for him to ‘Go!’ Dean was sweating; the sweat poured down his collar. ‘There he is! That’s him! Old God! Old God Shearing Yes! Yes! Yes!’ And Shearing was conscious of the madman behind him, he could hear every one of Dean’s gasps and imprecations, he could sense it though he couldn’t see. ‘That’s right!’ Dean said. ‘Yes!’ Shearing smiled; he rocked. Shearing rose from the piano, dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. ‘God’s empty chair,’ he said. On the piano a horn sat; its golden shadow made a strange reflection along the desert caravan painted on the wall behind the drums. God was gone; it was the silence of his departure. It was a rainy night. It was the myth of the rainy night. Dean was popeyed with awe. The madness would lead nowhere. I didn’t know what was happening to me, and I suddenly realized it was only the tea we were smoking; Dean had bought some in New York. It made me think that everything was about to arrive – the moment when you know all and everything is decided forever.

I teach Creative Writing. Click here to see more Creative Writing Masterclass posts and/or email me if you would like to take lessons: scholartext@gmail.com.