Interactive story telling: Jon’s Old House

Jon Katz, famous author of many books about animals and architect of the inspirational Bedlam Farm, suggested another interactive story-telling project yesterday, on the OBGF  forum. Unfortunately, I missed it until this morning here.

I really enjoy these targeted short writing projects. They appeal to me because so many people are immediately thinking on so many different levels about what could possibly be going on in the story. You can almost hear the brains whirring as creative folk dust off their wits and begin to use their imaginations. The potentiality for each response is waiting to be documented and that’s just about the most exciting time – what is going to pour forth? what stories will be told? How many different viewpoints will be revealed?

In this case, he published a picture, a photograph of an old house. No details of location or time period were disclosed. There was just the image: I’m reproducing it here and hope that Jon doesn’t mind!

Jon Katz' original stimulus for the story
Jon Katz’ original stimulus for the story

I read all one hundred and fifty-two responses that came before mine. There were indeed some startlingly evocative and imaginative replies which gave me pause to consider what I was going to write before I clicked the ‘send’ button.

And then, as sometimes happens with technology, having written my carefully thought-through response to virtually the penultimate sentence, somehow it was all lost. I even lost the original posting with the one hundred and fifty two stories that I was interacting with. it can be very frustrating sometimes, knowing that it’s there, somewhere, but for now is simply irrevocably hidden from your eyes.

So, instead, I re-wrote the story I was starting to tell and I’m sharing it here, so that at least it has an audience. I took the original image and had a little play around with it – altering the sky, changing the perspective on the house so that the viewpoint is lower down, closer to that of a child’s view and making the conifers crowd into and over the house’s roof more intently. I intensified the colours a little too, to give it a more powerful quality. And then the start of this story created itself for me…

My altered version of Jon's image...
My altered version of Jon’s image…

Martha Mae was bustling around the dark kitchen, baking the morning bread for the family before they arose with the sun to farm the day. She couldn’t remember a time when this wasn’t the start of her own day – yes, she could recall before the children were born and she had made smaller batches of corn bread for just the two of them and of course, the birth of most of the thirteen babies had interrupted the baking ritual momentarily – but for six days each week for the past seventeen years Martha Mae had baked her bread. Sundays were the exception, as heaven knows she could not be working on the Sabbath. She usually made extra on Saturdays, to be sure that no-one went hungry on the sacred day, as well as to have something to offer the Pastor when he would visit shortly after Church.

Her thoughts wandered whilst she kneaded and pounded the firm dough. What were they going to do about their fourth son? He was a small, pensive child whose physical stature belied his ten full years; he would sit in the front yard staring at the house so intently that everyone wondered what he was plotting for the inhabitants. Sometimes, he would sit there for hours on end no matter the weather, although just yesterday she’d had the devil’s job trying to persuade him to come inside before the rains came.

‘Samuel, come on in boy, there’s a big storm a-brewin’ and you’ll catch your death o’ cold if you sit out there on that lawn much longer!’ she had admonished him, gently. It never went well if she shouted at him or seemed too brusque with him, for he could be as stubborn as old Henry, Grandpappy’s favourite mule. She’d smiled sweetly at him to encourage a positive response, but it was a wasted effort.

‘No, thanks. I’m fine here. I’m just looking at the house’s eyes. They’re sleepy today.’ Sam continued to watch the house from his grassy vantage point.

It seemed darker today, brooding almost. The day lillies bobbed around agitatedly in the breeze, waving this way and that, like ruffled feathers. The tall conifer that often protected the kitchen end of the house seemed to be mollycoddling the building even more than usual. It was leaning in closer, as if revealing a secret to the children’s bedroom windows, telling them there was nothing to fear, no darkness that would bring the ghastly spectres or the terrifying monsters that Sam knew only too well. Even the grass seemed to have greened up, in anticipation of the next round of monstrous phenomena that he was ready for, this time.

He’d watched. And waited. For a long time.

He was ready.


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