Dirty Laundry #8: Writing Process

This piece was mainly written – and typed – on a train. It came from feeling that the woman sitting next to me was looking at the photos I was viewing on my iphone, and that she was reading over my shoulder as I was writing in my notebook. I blogged about writing on trains over at The Peripatetic Studio, including how access to wi-fi when travelling first class allowed me to post the story online whilst on the move.

I started writing in response to the photos for Dirty Laundry #8 in my notebook on a train from Leeds to Newcastle at the end of January. As usual I was initially viewing the photos on a small iPhone screen, and I was under the impression that the figure in the photos was female. I think because of the rounded shape of their hips in the third photo. I also recognised the slippers as a pair I bought Samantha for Christmas a couple of years ago. The idea of using a dream-sequence-segue was present from the start, but in my initial idea Eloise wakes up in a dream in the situation shown on the photos.

When I came to typing the story up onto the computer, I brought up the images to have them present as I was transcribing: I’d saved writing the part ‘in’ the photos until I could see them on a larger screen and use the details. Just as well, because as soon as they came up on the laptop I realised it was a comatose bloke, and I didn’t want to gender-switch Eloise and make her a man because, well, she was a girl. She just was. She didn’t want to be re-written. So the ending came from there: a juxtaposition of intent and retraction.  It marks a switch back to keeping the original turn-around-within-a-fortnight plan of story responding to image that was part of the initial timescale of the project.

Something I’d had a really clear idea about using was the idea of the BBQ that’s (in my head) implicit in the photos. When Eloise turned out not o be the figure in the photos, that’s something which slid away as the plot had to change. If we introduce an editing stage at the end of the project, the BBQ is coming back in, possibly cannibalistically…


In Eloise’s dream she is racketing though a city on a high-speed underground train. The carriage is lit with neon and nothing seems to have an edge; the chairs blend into the floor as if they have started to melt. The man sitting next to her, dressed in a dark suit and necktie with his hair slicked back close to his scalp, is reading a pornographic dictionary on a Kindle. Eloise is trying to read over his shoulder without drawing attention. She can feel her erection stirring and moves to drape her jacket over her lap but suddenly she is naked. Now she is touching herself, tugging away while the commuter crowd stares over her shoulders blankly and the man to her left keeps scrolling down list after list of turgid metaphors.

Eloise’s dream shifts. Now she is standing knee-deep in a clear, blue lake. She raises one leg and the water clings to her like an electric charge, pulling her down to her hands and knees. Now she is staring at her own face reflected underneath in the deep blue like the moon, all silvery and round and distant. The insistence of the water is pulling her down, down, down. Eloise opens her mouth to drink it in, but her reflection stays tight-lipped. When Eloise tries to breathe she cannot keep the air in her lungs; she’s leaking. The clear blue water begins to ripple and Eloise realises she is drowning in the air and tries to breathe the water instead. Her reflection shakes its tight-lipped face at her and won’t let her break the surface tension, just leaves her rocking on her knees, watches as stars begin dancing in front of her eyes. Eloise cannot close her eyes. Eloise cannot.
Eloise wakes up into another dream. She is curled on a gritty, concrete surface. She rolls over and tastes the grit with her hands, licking it up with her fingers until her palms are choking, cloyed. Everything is dark. She can feel blood trickling out of her ears and down her neck, out her nose and the sides of her mouth. Eloise struggles to wake out of this.

She does. This dream is different. It is different only because this time the pain is a small thing; aches rather than stab wounds. Eloise tries to move her legs and can’t but then the pins and needles start and she can uncurl from the wicker chair and she has ten fingers and ten toes, although her feet are slightly purplish and her mouth tastes of the excrement of a long night. It is dark and she is outside in a not-unfamiliar space. Cradled in her arms is a lamp shade on a heavy, bushed steel base. The plug dangles in the air from the side of the wicker chair. When she moves her legs again she can see the pattern of the wicker seat branded into her skin; red and white lines that barely fade when she rubs them.

Eloise is cold. Her arms and legs are bare. She is dressed in short and a T-shirt that don’t feel familiar. She stands, still cradling the lamp, and tries to draw this outdoor space into perspective. There is a noise behind her and Eloise turns and swings the lamp.

Even when the sun is almost fully up, he still hasn’t moved. He just lies there, next to the discarded lamp, on Eloise’s balcony. He is wearing her dressing gown. Eloise started to walk inside, then knew she would never have the courage to come back out again so she fished from the doorway into the sitting room and found one of her slippers. Like a reverse Cinderella, she knelt and fitted it for him. She knows she should call an ambulance, but she is hoping that if she waits then, soon, one of them will wake up.