I’ve just completed an assignment in a Screenwriting Master Class with Aaron Sorkin. Aaron teaches, “A character is born from the INTENTION and OBSTACLE—they want something, and something stands in their way of getting it.” How they overcome those obstacles, or what TACTICS they use, define the character.
The ASSIGNMENT: Write a scene where one character is asking another for money. The other character WON’T give them the money.
When it comes to giving money to others in need, I’m a soft touch. Here’s my take on the assignment. What would your take be? I’d love to read it. Please share.
Author/Editor Robert Fear runs annual travel writing competitions. One is for Travel Stories (500-1000 words) and the other for Travel Highlights (50-100 words). He publishes the best of these in a book each year.
The Travel Highlights competition (50-100 words) has just finished and is open to a public vote until the end of November 2017. I wrote one about riding a tank through the Israeli desert. Not an easy ride and not an easy task to tell the story in 50-100 words. Hope you enjoy it! Please read through the highlights and vote for your favorites. You can vote for five entries daily. Thanks for your support!
It is a great pleasure to welcome back Susan Joyce with this terrific entry for the 2017 Travel Highlights Competition. Here is her intro to a very special highlight:
As a young American female, I never hitchhiked and never dreamed I might one day need to do just that. While living in the Negev Desert of Israel one scorching hot summer day, I watched the last bus to my village disappear into the distance. I had missed my ride home. Uncertain what to do, I stood at the bus stop on the main highway on the outskirts of Beer-Sheva, Israel and hoped a vehicle, any vehicle, would stop and give me a ride.
When I heard traffic approach, I held up my thumb and begged God to hear my plea.
A Wild Tank Ride Across the Negev Desert!
Beersheba to Arad. Israel, Summer 1971
Missed last bus home.
No taxis or passing cars.
29 miles, 47 kilometers.
Tank barrels toward me, rattles to a stop.
Driver motions. “Climb aboard!
Car stops, offers ride. “Tanks take forever.”
Confused, I wave them on.
An hour later, I hear a raucous scream overhead
“Bomber,” driver yells.
“God!” I gasp.
“Friend!” Driver waves skyward, pats tank. “Soviet from Six Day War.”
Minutes later, second bomber buzzes tank.
Driver again waves.
Friendly fire? Feel faint.
After three hours, we arrive.
Wilted vegetables, melted ice cream.
Shaken, I thank him.
Wild ride! Shabbat Shalom!
In my lifetime, I’ve been lucky to visit off-the-grid places where I’ve experience nature at its finest; far away from the madness and clutter of everyday life. Spaces where I found solitude and experienced a powerful oneness with nature and slept like a baby.
As a child, I often fell asleep on a flat, hot rock in the middle of the Arizona desert waiting for a spaceship to rescue me. I felt certain they had left me in the wrong place with the wrong family.
As a young woman, I made a childhood dream come true when I followed Heidi’s footsteps on a trek through the Swiss Alps. That night I slept in a picturesque chalet, nestled high in the hills above Hergiswil, Switzerland with a stunning view of mountains and lakes. An eiderdown quilt kept me cozy and warm.
I once napped atop the ancient rock fortress of Masada, Israel, after a rugged dawn hike to the top of the plateau. A most delicious rest.
While crossing the Indian Ocean, in monsoon season, much to my surprise sleeps were deep with lots of telling dreams.
I knew I had experienced the most unusual places to sleep in remote locations until July of 2016 when my husband and I toured Peru’s Sacred Valley with a group of other tourists.
Our bus stopped alongside the Urubamba River, near a railroad track, and our guide suggested we get out and look at a structure across the river. He pointed skyward to a strange shape stuck to the pristine mountain side.
“What is it?” I asked.
He said it was a “sky lodge” attached to the sheer rock face—one of three transparent sleep capsules suspended above Peru’s Sacred Valley of Cuzco. Each capsule measured 24 feet long, and 8 feet in height and width, equipped with four beds, a dining area, and a private bathroom with a big window view across the Peruvian landscape. Solar panels powered Interior lighting.
I borrowed a pair of strong binoculars and inspected the strange sight. The pods looked like space ships stuck to the cliffs.
“How do guests get there?” I asked.
He explained. Lodgers must first climb 400 feet up the cliff face—a rough climb, with 400 iron rungs and a steel cable fixed to the rock to help climbers navigate the toughest parts to reach the sleeping pods.
“For the intrepid adventurers,” a fellow tourist remarked.
I could imagine the spectacular views over the cliffs of the mystical valley and the Urubamba River flowing below. To watch stars explode across the night sky would also be awesome.
But I couldn’t imagine the nerve-racking climb, much less a good sleep while dangling from the side of a sheer cliff. What about the roaring winds? I wondered when a strong gust of wind blew past. “And just how does one get down?” I asked.
“Zip-lines, seven hair-raising zip-lines,” a fellow tourist (in the know) chimed in.
For foolish thrill seekers. I shuddered, shook my head no, crossed my heart for the thrill seekers, and crossed the sky lodge adventure off my bucket list. No dangling sleep necessary.
Excerpt from Susan Joyce’s book in progress Journeys—Short Travel Stories from around the world.
In memory of our sweet Gita! She arrived as a pup at our casa in Mexico and was delighted to have a home. Always kind and happy, especially when she heard the words FOOD or WALK. We miss her but are comforted knowing she is now pain free and flying high. She lives on— in our hearts forever!
My husband, Doug, and I flew from Lima, Peru (sea level) to Cusco, Peru (Elevation: 11,152′) on July 12th, 2016 with a group to visit ancient sites in Peru and Bolivia.
The plane landed, doors opened, and oxygen got sucked from my lungs. I gasped for air. My vision blurred. Dizzy, I clutched seat backs and handrails to exit the plane. Doug extended his arm for support but he also struggled to breathe in the thin mountain air.
I knew altitude sickness could affect people and that it can be dangerous; even lead to death. Since I had hiked high mountains without problems, I figured I was low risk. The risk is low if one increases altitude in a gradual way. The risk is high if one climbs over 1,600 feet per day. And we climbed to an elevation of 11,152 in one hour and twenty minutes.
A world traveler, I didn’t expect complications but took high altitude pills for four days before. Just in case. The pills can cause minor side effects; tingling fingers, a strange taste. Better than dead.
A bus took us to our hotel in the historic district of Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incan Empire. We checked in at the desk and climbed the staircase to our second-floor room. My eyes teared non-stop and my left eye throbbed in pain. I clung to the banister for guidance. Not far, I thought struggling to catch my breath with each step. When we entered our room, we collapsed on the large firm bed. Exhausted, I assured myself I had mild altitude sickness (AMS). I’d be fine once I acclimated to the high altitude.
We met our group in the lobby later and discussed our various symptoms. Some travelers had headaches, others earaches, one a bloody nose. Lucky me; a throbbing eye. No blood.
Our local guide pointed to small bowls filled with coca leaves in the dining room and suggested we chew the leaves. He explained how coca is an essential part of life in the Andes. A South American plant, coca grows wild in the humid foothills a
We joined others in a welcome ceremony to connect our souls with Mother Earth and spirit guides. Inca tradition. In the meditation, I imagined my eyes healed; with bright vision again.
When the ceremony ended, we received gifts and our guide explained the spiritual meaning of each Incan symbol. I chose a dark wooden cross on a leather cord. He said it was the “Chakana” (Tree of Life) and provided protection. Incas used the “Chakana” to decide everything important in life. Doug selected one from light wood which represented purification.
After the ceremony, we walked along the old stone streets of the historic capital of the Inca Empire (13th-16th century). I wiped my teary eyes and stepped with caution as I listened to the ancient history of the region and the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. The Spanish destroyed most of the Inca structures and built new ones on top of the old.
Our guide explained the evidence of great builders before the Inca and pointed to the megalithic walls at the base. The stones on top of the granite were typical Inca rectangular shapes which resembled polygons. Adobe mud, used as mortar covered the rough stones and held them in place. The Spanish built walls of straw, adobe mud, and painted the rough surface. Spanish walls looked sloppy by comparison.
I touched the smooth massive boulders at the bottom; the ancient walls. They varied in size and shape, yet joined, edge to edge in a perfect fit, interlocked without visible gaps and without mortar to hold them in place. My fingertips danced across the even surfaces and the rounded corners of the gigantic megalithic boulders.
Doug pointed to a Puma figure and a snake in the granite shapes. Our guide showed us a condor figure higher on the Inca wall.
Next we visited the holiest site in Incan mythology; “The Coricancha.” I rested my eyes and listened to our guide tell us the history of the religious complex; the center of the Inca world. Built to honor the creator god, and Inti, the sun god, it housed shrines to the Moon, Venus, and other weather deities. The vast astronomical observatory had a device to calculate movement of the earth with ceremonies conducted round the clock.
When the Spanish conquered Cusco, they described the temple as “beautiful beyond belief.” Then they stripped its gold and treasures and sent them back to Spain. After demolishing the temple, they built a cathedral on the site. Earthquakes have destroyed the cathedral but the ancient temple foundation remains intact.
Next stop was the Cusco Museum of History. Tattered documents and ancient artifacts told the story of the various stages of development of all invaders who inhabited Peru.
A wooden bench, on the porch, beckoned me. It looked to be on the same floor level. But when I took a step, I stumbled and almost fell because I couldn’t judge the size or the distance of the step. My depth perception was gone.
We returned to the hotel for an early dinner, then to bed for a good night’s sleep. We tossed and turned for long hours, then realized coca is a strong stimulant. No rest for the weary. Chew and brew did us in.
But, when on a tour, the show goes on and we joined our group for another day of exploring more ancient sites.
Today I welcome Author, Interviewer, Musician, Screenwriter Graham Higson to my Why Create? interview series! Born in Huddersfield, England, Graham Higson spent his childhood in a country hamlet outside Halifax, attending The Clare Hall School before moving to Crossley & Porter School for sixth form work.
A seasoned professional writer for over 40 years, he holds a BSc (Honours) degree in technology (in which he managed to squeeze a course on writing for theatre), and an MA Professional Writing from University College Falmouth (in Cornwall), which specializes in media. For his last year, he chose to specialize in scriptwriting.
He enjoys swimming, reading, watching lots of screen drama, and searching for that elusive moment of self discovery. He’s also helping to republish the novels of British writer, Leo Walmsley.
Graham Higson hides in an outlying Pennine village. (The Pennines are a range of mountains in Northern England which separate North West England from Yorkshire and North East England.) Graham shares this blustery environment with his wife Margaret, a growing collection of books, and a workshop piled high with offcuts of oak. His two grown-up children are among his best friends.
A childhood fascination with television and radio turned into a teenage reality when he began interviewing celebrities for his school magazine. He said meeting them was like stepping through the television screen and getting to know the real people behind the public facades.
His eBook, “All Creatures Great and Famous” tells the story of meeting Gilbert O’Sullivan (my favorite) and many more. It can be purchased for just 99p on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B018PWSMY0
Susan Joyce: Was music a big part of your early life? Writing? Reading?
Graham Higson: When I was 2, I played records on my brother’s Dansette record player. My mother bought one record per week and my early years were shaped by such people as The Seekers, Guy Mitchell, Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, and The Beatles. As a teenager I would record songs from the radio and I still have all of my cassettes. Getting rid of such things is a bit like ditching your past, and I can never bring myself to do that because I need to have the items that remind me of people who are no longer around; I may never actually use them again, just so long as I know they are there.
At secondary school I liked Gilbert O’Sullivan’s quirky lyrics and range of styles. His was the first chart LP I ever bought. I liked it so much I went and bought his other album the following week. Ten months later I interviewed him after a live show-stopping performance.
As a child I read a lot, and was particularly taken with The Magician’s Nephew, C S Lewis’s prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the Narnia series. From an early age I could see that this story had it all: boy and girl protagonists, visiting other worlds, bad things happening, and moral implications. Good triumphs over evil, and love wins in the end; that’s just as it should be.
Susan Joyce: I love the story of you interviewing Gilbert O’Sullivan. You were only sixteen. That must have been awesome.
Graham Higson: Whenever I hear Get Down, I remember him performing it live at Batley Variety Club in 1974. My father drove me there to interview Gilbert and for over an hour we stood in the smoky night club atmosphere, watching his spectacular performance. Later that night I met the man himself (no pun intended – Himself was the title of his first album): 27 years old, outselling Rod Stewart and Elton John. What a memorable experience.
Susan Joyce: What age were you when you did your fist interview?
Graham Higson: I was 15, a “fourth-former”, or “year 10” as it is now in the UK. I believe this is 9th Grade in the US.
Susan Joyce: Did you interview James Bond?
Graham Higson: No, I didn’t get to interview Sir Roger Moore face-to-face, though I put a question to him as a member of the audience, and when I was 15. I had a front row seat at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford when Timothy Dalton (who became Bond #4) was playing Romeo. So that’s two Bonds I’ve seen. Other entertainers? Let’s see… off the top of my head I can think of Shirley Eaton, the Bond girl in Goldfinger, David Soul (Starsky and Hutch), Alan Davies (who plays Jonathan Creek), Robert Beltran (Star Trek: Voyager), and others who are known mostly in the UK.
Susan Joyce: Do you still enjoy interviewing?
Graham Higson: Yes, I do enjoy meeting famous people and getting to know them. This why I’ve recently begun interviewing authors for eBook Showtime. We’re using Skype which, after all the technical things that can go wrong, and all the background chatting that goes on behind the scenes in preparation, by the time we have a working 15-20 minute show it feels as though we have known each other for years. I like to count my victims-sorry, I mean subjects as my friends. I only hope they feel the same about me. No one’s said otherwise… not yet they haven’t.
Susan Joyce: Do you play a musical instrument?
Graham Higson: I played the trumpet at school, but wanted to be a keyboard player, so in my teens I began playing the piano and organ. I learnt a great deal about technique by watching professional theater organists at weekly concerts in the 1980s and bought a massive theater console with full keyboards and pedal-board. It was almost too large for the house we lived in. Around 25 years later it began smoking one night, and it had to be scrapped. I’ve not played since. Now I’m left with a comb and paper–does that count as a musical instrument?
Susan Joyce: Of course it counts. I can remember being taught how to make a comb and paper instrument. Fun! I’ve since learned how to make my wine glass sing.
Graham Higson: I was joking about the comb and paper—I’ve not been able to find a comb for years. I can’t even find the hair to use it on. 😉
Susan Joyce: (laughs) When and how did music hit you big time? What music inspires you most? Do you have a favorite era? One you are still exploring?
Graham Higson: When Freddie Mercury died in 1991, I rather took to Queen; it started when the BBC screened a tribute documentary about Freddie and, at the very end, played the video of Days of Our Lives (the first time it had ever been seen on TV). In this, his last video performance, it was obvious he was terribly ill. At the end he looks straight at the camera and says, “I still love you.”
That was what did it for me. My interest in Queen was something my wife and children had been waiting for, so we went all-out and bought the whole collection of CDs and videos. In my mid-teens I had also taken a liking to the Carpenters–so you see my tastes in music are a right old mix. In answer to your question, this looks very 70s-based, doesn’t it, as that’s the decade when Queen started? But really I take whatever I like from wherever I find it.
I particularly like the inventiveness of the Queen videos. But if there’s one pop video that really makes me feel happy it’s Michael Bublé’s I Just Haven’t Met You Yet. It gets me every time. And no, I’m not a romantic. Well, I wasn’t the last time I checked.
I rather like television theme music; have done since the late-60s when I used to record them on 5-inch tapes using a hand-held microphone. Still got them too, and my dad’s tape recorder. Theme music has since become a multi-million dollar industry, and I like to think I was one of the first to recognize it as a serious commercial genre.
Susan Joyce: Is Leo Walmsley a writer you admired? Were you introduced to his work in school?
Graham Higson: My wife and I came across Leo Walmsley when we visited the rather picturesque village of Robin Hood’s Bay on England’s North Yorkshire coast in 1989. There was a commemorative plaque on the house where he lived as a boy, but it was 1995 before we bought one of his books, then when we returned home I just had to order the only other two books that were still in print at that time. It feels strange that in recent years I have re-edited and republished these very titles – and most of his other books too. They tend to be classed as “semi-autobiographical”, a term I don’t think he much liked, but which I would call fictionalized memoir, not unlike Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, the James Herriot vet books, and my own How Much For a Little Screw? Hmm, come to think of it there could’ve been some influence at work there.
Susan Joyce: I know you enjoy screen drama. Have you written any screen scripts? I’m taking a screen writing course and absolutely love this unique form of writing.
Graham Higson: I did a 2-part mini-series of Flither Lass (that later I turned into a novel), a little 1-hour fun romantic comedy called Good Cop, Bad Girl, and a 10-minute short set in a Victorian coal mine, The Trapper Boy. This year I mean to get back to screenwriting and get my screenplays seen by production companies. One of the issues, especially in the UK, is that a company can accept a script, set the writer on a course of re-working and editing, and even find a broadcaster, but then one of the executives can dump it for no apparent reason. As a TV writer you never know where you are, and if your story does go all the way, it can take years for it to be produced and eventually shown.
Susan Joyce: What inspired you to write your first book?
Graham Higson: Creating a supernatural story was my means of getting to sleep when I was in hospital in 1988 whilst having eye surgery. I’d always wanted to write fiction, and over the next three years did some in-depth research–and there was no internet back then, so it meant wearing out shoe leather–and the book became Quercus Necromancer, eventually re-titled Oak Seer.
Susan Joyce: What is the most important life lesson you have passed on to your children?
Graham Higson: I hope I have passed on the value of a close family. That means a lot to me. Susan Joyce: One last question. I love making something unique out of my thoughts and imagination. Why do you create? Graham Higson: I like making things out of raw materials-whether that’s a log store from a pile of lumber (such as I’ve been working on this past week), or a story from a bunch of disparate ideas. I also like painting pictures, which just about confirms it. Maybe I was always meant to make stuff. So whether it’s tangible or virtual, it still provides a great deal of satisfaction.
Susan Joyce: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and creative adventures! Good luck with all your projects!
Graham Higson: Thank you, Susan. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
You can see all of Graham Higson’s books on his website:
Do artists create works because they are producing objects for future generations to view? Do writers write to inspire and influence others? Or, is creative work conductive to our happiness? Our purpose? In my interview series with creative people, I hope to find answers as we explore the creative process and motives.
Today I welcome Author, Artist, Poet, Cook, and Traveller, Syd Blackwell to my Why Create? interview series!
Syd Blackwell is a native of Rossland, BC (Canada), a tranquil mountain town that was once a booming mining town. The peace of nature, and the remnants of history were instrumental in his formative years. He became a teacher and worked in schools and colleges for twenty-five years. These work years were interspersed with acting in amateur theatre, and planning set and sound work. Syd co-authored an historical atlas, wrote poems for a collection called Life Is A Poem, became a weekly newspaper columnist, featuring the local bridge club, created a newsletter for high school student recruitment, and wrote many published articles.
When Syd retired from teaching, he helped design a bed and breakfast inn and became the innkeeper of Wintergreen Inn in Revelstoke, BC.
I first met Syd and his wife, Gundy, when my husband and I visited Uruguay in 2009 to see if it would be a good country to move to from Mexico. As we pulled into their front drive, in Atlántida, Uruguay, I noticed a “hand-painted” sign on the gate. “Casa Inspiración.” I heard dogs bark, welcoming us, and thought, Ah, interesting people! That was eight years ago and we continue to marvel at the lives of these two curious and creative souls.>
Susan Joyce: Syd Blackwell, thanks for allowing me to quiz you regarding your life and various projects! How did you meet your wife Gundy? Why did you move to Uruguay?
Syd Blackwell: In 2002, I was an innkeeper. A woman bought a small B&B on the other side of Revelstoke. A couple of months later, she phoned to ask if she could meet me to ask some questions. I agreed. When she showed up at my inn, dressed in a black business suit, carrying a black attaché case, I hid my amusement. She had found it difficult so far, and sought experienced advice. Possibly my first suggestion was a more relaxed wardrobe. During the discussion, I learned she was single. Later, I suggested that she needed to know the area better to provide service to her guests. Then, I invited her to join me on my daily dog walk. And then things progressed.
In 2006, we came to Uruguay on a two-week trip seeking a quicker medical solution than Canada could give for Gundy´s deteriorating hips. Before we came, we checked out online house listings between $40,000 and $65,000. One, seemed much better than others. We thought we might look, if we found time. Well, we found time to look at several houses, and the one we had seen, with three bedrooms, carport, closed barbecue area, swimming pool, and perimeter fence, for $45,000, was such a remarkable deal that we agreed to buy at once. Five hundred dollars from an ATM started the process. So, we found ourselves on the plane heading home with the realization we had, de facto, decided to sell our businesses and retire to Uruguay. Quite a surprise, really! Later, Gundy got her new hips.
Susan Joyce: You taught art and music. Do you play a musical instrument? Do you sing?
Syd Blackwell: I took piano lessons as a child, but was never very talented. I played French horn throughout high school, but never since. Even the shower shudders when I sing.
Susan Joyce: The shower shudders? Oh dear! What did you learn through teaching? Did it change you?
Syd Blackwell: The most daunting challenges become smaller when you take the first step. Teaching forever changed me. Although I left teaching, teaching never left me. In this century, reconnecting on the internet with dozens of former students, has been most enjoyable.
Susan Joyce: I’ve observed, through your written works and art that you always tell a story. Did teaching help you develop storytelling?
Syd Blackwell: I think teaching provided more stories. I have always felt a need to tell stories. For example, in junior high school, we were tasked with writing a story and then reading it aloud in front of the class. A horror for most. At my turn, I began my story of “the life of a penny”. I already knew it was longer than most had written, but when the first funny line appeared, and the class laughed, I improvised more than what was on the page. I got top marks for presentation and a few questions later from Mr. Buchanan, about all the missing bits from my written copy.
Susan Joyce: Quite impressed that you have visited nearly fifty countries over the years. Which is your favorite and why? Which is your least favorite and why?
Syd Blackwell: I could make a case for one country to answer both questions, but as I only visited two places in Indonesia, Bali and Jakarta, it would hardly be fair. Besides, the Bali I knew doesn’t exist any longer. My favourite country is Canada. It is so amazing and big and diverse, but, as I am Canadian, I will pick New Zealand, which has abundance and variety of natural beauty. My least favourite is also the smallest, the Vatican. I don´t think this is the place to discuss why.
Susan Joyce: In your travels, did you have any dangerous situations? Any scary moments?
Syd Blackwell: Quite a few of both. One dangerous encounter was in New Delhi. I was weak, recovering from hepatitis, and doing an evening walk in a narrow street near my lodgings. I was being pestered by persistent people trying to sell things. One kept grabbing at my shirt as I tried to ignore them. Hepatitis doesn’t help your patience, and after the second or third warning, I turned around and hit him in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground. Well that wasn’t the right thing to do, as an angry crowd instantly materialized, screaming, yelling, and threatening. I had my back against a wall and worked my way as quick as I could back to the corner and a busier street, where the crowd dispersed.
Of the many scary things, climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia was terrifying; I have acrophobia. I wrote a poem, Vertigo Australianus.
Susan Joyce: One fun thing I’ve learned is that you judged the annual Amsterdam Cannabis Cup. What year? How did this opportunity arise? Was it a fun assignment? Did you write about it?
Syd Blackwell: In 2001, I decided to celebrate my 55th birthday. On the internet, I found that the 13th Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, would nearly coincide with my November birthday. I invited my friend, Byron, who had helped at my inn, to join me. Soon, another friend, Phil, decided to come. We landed in Amsterdam on my birthday. The Cannabis Cup, involving judging marijuana and hashish samples from 22 different coffee houses, began two days later, and lasted four days. There was private bus transportation between coffee houses. There was also a trade show and nightly musical acts. Anyone who paid the $200 fee could become a judge. It was fantastic – as far as I can remember. I have told the story often, but not written it.
Susan Joyce: Why do you make art? Why do you write?
Syd Blackwell: I create because it makes me feel good. I am happy when others can also see and share in my pleasure.
Susan Joyce: Your walking sticks are awesome! What projects are you working on now?
Syd Blackwell: I already have too many Travel Stories and Travel Highlights for entry into Robert Fear´s newest contest, yet I just wrote another one today. Check out Red Shoes by Syd Blackwell.
No new mega-projects happening, like last year´s privately circulated Uruguay Days, a book of poems and photos.