Helen of Troy – by Emma Tringham

It’s not easy being me. Really, it’s not. I am cursed by the tales of my beauty, and I can tell you, that is more of a myth than any of it!

People were always shocked when they saw me. The expectation is stellar, but I wasn’t much of a star. I’m actually quite dumpy and plain. I like my cakes and honey too much, and my skin is a nightmare – blighted with angry, red blemishes. My hair has never grown properly, that long, golden mane that you see in the paintings is something I can only dream about. I have thin, lank, muddy-brown tendrils that limp across my face and down towards my shoulders. You may well wonder, therefore, how I earned this amazing reputation; “…the face that launched a thousand ships.” Well, it’s all really about power and possessions, patriarchy and potency, and I was just pawn in a long, drawn-out game.

I never loved Menelaus, that’s for sure. It was an arranged marriage on my sixteenth birthday…. just a chance for the king’s coffers to feel the new weight of my father’s gold. I was passed from my father to my husband like a rotten piece of meat. They were both scornful of my looks, but hey, needs must. He just locked me up in a lonely tower and forgot about me.

When Paris came to find me he already had his head full of romantic notions. I think it was Aphrodite who did it. He adored her so much that he wasn’t willing to look a gift horse in the mouth. He snatched up his present, throwing a veil over my pock-marked face and carried me back to Troy. I think he just did it for the kudos really. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes. Menelaus didn’t want to admit that he had an ugly wife and obviously Paris didn’t want to either.

And the bloody thing started a whole war! One which went on for years. And where was I? I was tucked up in another tower, away from prying eyes so that my legendary beauty could be further exaggerated.

None of this made me feel happy. I just felt like a fake. And when that wooden horse was brought in through the city gates I knew better. I knew that, sometimes, you have to look a gift horse in the mouth. But, of course, no one listened to me.

And now I am immortalised in Homer’s epic poem, celebrated in great works of art, but I just feel cheated, a failure. In the modern world, maybe, I could have fought my way through, found a niche for a plain woman with a powerful mind. I am a great myth but in truth I was nothing but a toy. I was a plaything for those men. Well at least they didn’t actually play with me – I was just to be fought over. Lucky really, I’m hardly attracted to posturing macho types.

Perhaps, on a Greek island somewhere, I could have lived out a different romance. And happily faded into obscurity.


Redemption – by Martina Ralso

So this guy is a lawyer. A very good lawyer. He earns quite a lot of money doing what he loves. Which is to keep his clients free of jail or fines, using his clever mind. He loves being intelligent, he loves to show that he is cleverer than anyone else, to find the small detail that no one else has noticed and to surprise the entire court. The judge will have to surrender his client free of any charge. He finds a small bureaucratic mistake, a tiny, unspoken doubt to plant a seed that will grow in the jury’s mine. He loves that part of his job, to play the clever guy. He treats the cases as games, not as real people’s life affairs. He goes home at the end of the day (or beginning of the night) and goes back to his life as one closing a book after reading a chapter, something that is not connected to reality, something that is in another sphere of reality.

He has, of course, learnt how to do this; how to detach himself from the cruelty of what he has to witness every day. At the beginning of his career he would suffer endless sleepless nights, thinking what to do or how he would like to break a case, to betray his client, to show that indeed they did murder that person, and to show that his client is guilty! He wanted then to run, shutting the door on them. But he had to pay his bills. He loved the sea-view apartment he was living in, he loved his new car, he loved the gym, he loved the luxury hotels he enjoyed at the weekends, he loved to pay for his friends’ drinks and he definitely loved to be promoted and to get more money in his pay-check. So, being a believer as he was, and in an to attempt to redeem himself of his guilt, he considered that God was showing him the way to get those people off. To free them from their legal punishment was what God really wanted. And so he was free to be rich and play as an instrument of ‘God’ as much as he wanted.

Reconciliation – by Emma Tringham

She didn’t want to forget her heritage. It was important to her. And of course anyone could see it in her face; in the colour of her skin; her wide cat-like eyes; her strong Navajo nose; her long, thick, black hair. She did tie that hair up, most of the time. When it was swinging in a ponytail or neatly in a bun at the back of her head, she looked less indigenous , and with her jeans, heels and sleek tops she looked just like any other immigrant American. In fact some people treated her badly because they assumed she was an immigrant! With her warm, brown skin and dark eyes they thought she was Hispanic, Mexican. And you know how some white Americans feel about Mexicans! They want to hide them behind a huge wall of hate.

So they’d mutter under their breath about dirty hombres – criminals! Or they’d think that she was some kind of woman of loose morals, a prostitute even. Men would assume that she was poor and desperate, to be used and discarded.

It was difficult when she was growing up, hard for her to see how to fit in at high school. Her parents told her about her amazing ancestors but she just wanted to be like everyone else. She even wished her skin was paler, her hair thin and light so that it could be fixed into curls or bleached blonde. But of course her hair was too dark and too strong to be anything but a sleek, black waterfall running down her back.

She also didn’t want friends to visit her home. She was ashamed of what they might see: the thick quilts hanging on the walls, the dream-catchers, the soft, supple leather and the heavy swathes of feathers. She didn’t want her father to start telling his stories – the epic adventures of courageous braves and dark-eyed squaws. As a child she had loved to imagine the tee pees and the totem poles, the hot fires and the chieftains, but as she grew older she realised that no one else at school knew about these things, and she was embarrassed, ashamed, scared to stand out.

But now things had begun to change. As she grew up she realised it was good to be different, to have your own culture, your own ways. It was something to be proud of. And it was ridiculous how people saw her as an immigrant when it’s the one thing her people weren’t – oppressed, yes, but also indigenous, the original inhabitants, the real Americans!

So when her father wanted to take her photo, create a portrait of her, she was proud to wear the heavy jewellery, proud to stand tall, adorned with the thick feathers. This was her heritage, her past, the inheritance of her family, and it gave meaning to her life. She was reconciled to that.

Shadows – by Martina Ralso

Shadows in the mind

Shadows in the sea

Deep and dark like mussels in the night

To see, to check they are there, you need to dive

Dive deep inside your mind

Outside it’s bright like the sun in a park

Inside there might be the shadow of a doubt

That stops you from being free, from being you

From showing your soul

Shadows are figures of light, as you need the light to show the shadows

Shadows are not darkness. Shadows are the proof there is indeed light

Light at the end of the tunnel

Or light over our heads

Light inside our hearts that shows the world ahead.

Shadows – by Emma Tringham

I like to hide in the shadows sometimes, especially when I’m feeling low. I don’t want people to look at me, to judge me, that’s it – I’m so scared of being judged. In the shadows you can hide, you can lurk, you can avoid the glare of public scrutiny. And there is something almost exciting about a shadowy life, or being a shady character. If you don’t have to worry about what people think of you then you can behave any way you choose, as long as you avoid the sunlight, creep around in the shade.

You can find a darkened pub on a sunny day and congregate with other shabby, shadowy figures. You can enjoy the smell of warm beer, the security of a dark corner. And you can plot evil deeds!

If you’re that way inclined…

But I don’t think I am really. I only want to hide when I’m sad. And the closed curtains, the darkness, the safety of the duvet, they only prolong the sadness. It is much better, if you can, to get up, to get outside, feel the sunshine on your face.

And I do love the sunshine. I’ve decided to chase it more often. To seek it out and bask in it. To enjoy its warmth and energy.

And I don’t really want to get involved in dark deeds. I prefer things upfront, honest, brightly lit.

So I guess I’m not a person to hide in the shadows. Well, only occasionally. But soon I’ll be out again, to search for the light.

Work – by Emma Tringham

I’m scared of work

It’s a phantom that haunts me

I’ve driven it from my mind

It was hard, overwhelming, so stressful

Overshadowed by others’ expectations

I hated it

And I miss it… terribly

I miss the excitement

The challenge

The chance to collaborate and create

I miss the friendship

The sense of identity

I miss the moral high ground

Who am I now, without it?

I don’t know what to say at parties

I don’t know who to be

But I know that there is more to life

Than mounting tension

And exhaustion

I don’t have to dance to their tune any more

I need to recreate myself

Find a new purpose

A new team

A new challenge

That’s my vocation

Writing about a famous painting – Emma Tringham


They surrounded her, the many shades of their brown skin melting into the background. She was paler, higher caste, the centre of everyone’s attention.

She accepted that attention grudgingly. She had to sit under the light, her pale skin illuminated, whilst they sat in the shadows. They tended to her, but she was the one stripped to the waist – half naked, on show. She rounded her shoulders and dropped her head under the glare of their ministrations.

The darkest girl of all sat behind her, oiling and plaiting her hair. Another massaged ointment into her creamy skin, whilst still another began the painstaking work of applying the henna to her hands. She watched meekly as the intricate patterns took shape. How would she ever be good enough for this? How could she rise up and face the world so elaborately adorned?

Several other dark faces just watched her. They marvelled at the conscientious observance, but accepted it as merely the methodical adherence to a time-honoured tradition.

She felt expectation calling, the guests calling, the world calling, him calling. She’d never even seen his face, and he’d hardly see hers when she was finally ready and it with covered with the veil – a shroud to hide here, that was it: she was at once both hidden and revealed. Everyone would stare at her as she peered through the lace fretwork.

What would she see, standing up there, amongst the jewels and the flowers? Who and what would he be? She had no idea, she just knew he was her destiny.

And the dark faces around her gave no clue. They were mute in their submission, their cowed toil. She envied them and their dark skin. They would never have to face such expectation. They could creep away to their hovels and hide. She must face the glare of the light in her parents’ eyes.

Writing inspired by a famous painting – by John Barber

They’d wiped the blood from the pitch fork. An hour earlier it had been found up to its hilt in the back of the young man on top of the hay stack. How it got there they had no idea, who the young man was they had no idea either. He took it out slowly. He was clearly dead. The blood round each spike was dried a dark red. It had been some hours since his fatal wound. He placed his foot at the base of the young man’s spine and withdrew it. It didn’t ooze but there was an audible slurp as metal unstuck itself from his vital organs. Poor chap, they thought. What had he done to deserve this? They had been in the middle of hay making on their little farm, the pitchfork left at the bottom of the ladder, there was more to do tomorrow.

They left him there. The flies were already laying their eggs in the warm sun, by this afternoon the smell would be unbearable.

They were quiet people, they never troubled anyone, they had no contact with their neighbours. Why should they now? It wasn’t their problem. Who would find him? He clearly hadn’t been missed. The buzzards would finish him off. It might take a while but they wouldn’t need the straw ’til next winter.

They said little to each other, they both knew the score: keep quiet and live a simple life. When she went to join him he had started a new rick.

The Leap – by John Barber

It was a leap of faith, a leap into the unknown. He wasn’t a risk taker always cautious always careful.  He was Taurus, steady, dependable and reliable.

No matter how many times he had tried he just found it impossible to take that plunge into the unknown. He had never taken drugs, never smoked, never played chicken with his mates when he was younger, never had unprotected sex.

Even his mates found him boring, so did his girlfriends; but his mum and dad were proud, he had never got into trouble, never caused them angst, never gave them a moment to fret about.

This leap was one he had been tempted to take on many occasions but never quite managed it. If he didn’t take it now perhaps he never would. He deliberated, prevaricated, pontificated, looked around for inspiration, but no, it was his decision alone.  Only he could make this momentous leap. His heart was pounding, his mouth was dry. His mate Jim kept on at him, “Come on, yes or no? For god’s sake it’s not life threatening, you won’t come to any harm, your house isn’t at risk.”

I can’t decide.”

It’s always the same with you. I’m fed up with your caution, it’s so annoying.  Believe me, it will be alright.”

OK,” he said “…let’s go for it. The Chicken Vindaloo please.”

Writing about a famous painting – by Alana Florio

It was like a television, the static and fuzzy colours were battling for attention. Boats were riding around on the sky-scape waters. It began to look like the sky had fallen to the ground and created a pool of dreams within the busy cluster of people.

The contrasting lighting of the shade created an aura of mystery. The grass was bright and bold, full of life and spring. Beautifully coloured trees flourished, soaking up the bright haze of sunlight. Children were frolicking and dancing in the spotlight of sun while the parents kept perfect posture and watched like eagles to ensure their child wasn’t the first to fall into the glimmering shores.

Some people would name this place paradise; however I believe it was almost too perfect. It was as if they had reached the edge of the earth where the lands were all perfect and pleasant. It was as if the people were so unaware of the troubles outside of their fairy-tale dream.

But their fairy-tale lived on, the steam boats still chugged along the peaceful waters and the children still screamed and laughed; everything remained too perfect.