Shea Evans, a twenty-year-old Newcastle local, has sent in a satirical story on the origin of writing as invented by a Cro-Magnon man, who’s surrounded by a tribe that just doesn’t see his vision. Shea has lived in Newcastle for much of his life, leaving only briefly to travel Australia, Ireland and Vietnam and undertake a nine-month escapade with a travelling circus. He has been writing stories since age five.
With fifteen years of experience putting words onto a page and many years of travel stories under his belt, Shea has some input for people who want to start writing or want to write more.
What inspired you to write this story?
Shea: This story came from wondering about how revolutionary thinkers have often had their thoughts rejected and their ideas mocked, and wondering what the first instance of this would have looked like. I thought it would be interesting to put a forward-thinking caveman into a tribe of backward brutes and see what happened!
How long have you been writing?
S: I've been writing since primary school. I started with the Silent Writing in the Morning part of the day and wrote a serial that involved all our teachers as members of a deadly assassins’ guild. Each teacher killed with weapons relating to what they taught: the sport teacher garrotted her enemies with a skipping rope, there were sharpened rulers, and there were pencil blow guns. Most of the teachers thought this was quite funny, and I would be sent around to different classes to give them that morning's update.
Any tips you’ve learned that might help beginners?
S: My tips for somebody trying to write would be to A) do it every day. Set aside some time, at least half an hour, and make it happen. Just write as much as you can and don't worry if you don't like what you come up with; you can only improve. And B) read as much as you can, get a healthy variety of authors and styles into your diet, and just enjoy what makes good writing.
Top 3 writers who influence your work?
S: The top three writers who influence me the most? That's going to be hard to narrow down! At the moment, I would say Hemingway. I've just finished The Old Man and The Sea and think it may be in the top five books I've ever read. I'm also a big fan of Joseph Heller and Catch-22, and Stephen King is probably the other author who has influenced me the most. There are plenty more, but there's three.
What is your favourite aspect of the story?
S: My favourite aspect of this story is probably the humour that arises from the main character clashing with his fellow tribesmen. He wants them to see his point of view so badly that it drives him crazy.
- - - - - - - - - STORY TIME - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"I think I want to write something." Said Thak.
"You want to what?" Asked Mog.
"Write something." Replied Thak.
"What do you mean 'write something'"?
Thak shifted uncomfortably on their shared log, sighing as he turned to look at his female. She was not an impressive member of the tribe, but she was his. Theirs was not a relationship based on romance, but one of convenience born from the fact that Mog was the slowest runner of her tribe's age-appropriate women. Thak looked into her muddy eyes for a few moments, then finally he said:
"I'm not really sure."
Mog was, as usual when it came to her partner's chatter, completely at a loss. She blinked at him, disturbed and confused. Her silence prompted Thak to continue.
"Well, it's like this. You know when we talk, when we open our mouths and communicate?"
"Yes.. I do." She said slowly, as if properly considering this miracle for the first time.
"Okay, and you know when we put red mud onto the cave wall and draw pictures?"
Thak was getting excited now, he was about to arrive at the climax of his idea.
"Okay so I want to- now here's where it gets tricky, Mog. I want to sort of combine those two ideas together...I want to draw speaking. Does that make sense? I call this 'writing'."
Mog's reaction was a few more disturbed blinks. Then she asked:
Now Thak was the confused one.
"I'm not sure. I feel like I need to and that we'll all be better off for it though, that it could be extremely useful someday."
"And how would that be useful exactly?"
Thak sighed and shook his head. Sometimes he wished he'd never captured Mog from the people over the mountain, she just wasn't quite the visionary he was.
"Imagine for a second that the deer vanished from our valley."
Mog tried and found that she could not.
"And we needed to go to the tribe across the river for help-"
"Ha! Impossible, they would never help. They would eat us."
"Well, that's true, but imagine for a second that they wouldn't. How would you remember the message?"
"Easy, I'd do it in the way of my people. I'd find a long branch and carve into it pictures of us dead from hunger, then a picture of them giving us food and bringing us back to life. Next I'd take the branch to them and present it to the oldest member of the tribe, for they may remember similar things having happened in the past and know what to do."
She gave her mate a smug look.
"Really, Thak, you overcomplicate things."
"It is true that this would work, it is a tried and tested method and I thank your people for inventing it. But think. Wouldn't it be quicker to tear off a piece of bark, draw words on it, and ask for help that way? You'd save a lot of time not having to find a nice branch to carve on and a nice rock to carve with. Don't you think this would be better?"
It was as if Thak had suggested a way for her to walk on water. She'd never before considered this as being something that was possible, and her mind turned painfully.
"I think so...but how would you fit all the words on the bark?"
"Mog, my love, my sweet, you'd just cut out a big piece. Or draw the words on small."
Thak smiled. He could see that she was beginning to understand his vision, though it was hard for her to make the connections. He patted her on the head fondly, maybe she wasn't such a bad prize after all.
"Come, let's sit with the others and share with them my idea."
And with that they gathered the tribe.
There was confusion in the air when all members of the clan had assembled in the meeting cave. They had been pulled from their tribal duties by that nuisance, Thak, and told to wait in the cave for something important. One male, Grek, voiced his concerns.
"There are still berries to be gathered! Why are we here? If I do not return soon then the berries will have been eaten by ghosts!"
Another male, Krot, said "I agree that there are more important things to do, I myself need to get back to the stream and watch for fish. But, Grek, have you ever thought that it might be birds, not ghosts that eat your berries?"
"Preposterous! Birds eat worms!" Yelled Grek.
The debate raged until Thak had returned with the woodgatherers from the forest. When he had seated them he took the speaker's spot atop a large boulder in the centre of the cave. All around him on the floor sat his tribe, impatiently awaiting his address. He took a deep breath.
"I want to thank you all for agreeing to come here today. As you know we only gather around this rock to discuss matters that concern us all, so I apologise to the wives of the hunters who couldn't be here." He glanced over at a group of lone females who rolled their eyes.
"The reason I pulled you from your duties is this. I've had an idea that could possibly change all our lives and I wanted to share it with you." He paused for dramatic effect. Someone near the cave entrance shouted 'get on with it!'
"Yes, thank you. Well the idea basically involves taking two things we already know quite well, and joining them. Those things are drawing pictures with mud... and speaking." He went on to explain the scenario he had run through with Mog about requiring assistance in a time of famine.
A murmur ran through the tribe. Did he just suggest joining mud pictures and conversation? Many were confused, and even more took this as confirmation of the working theory that Thak was totally insane.
"Thak. Have you considered that this idea could be an impure spirit trapped in your brain to turn us against you? I suggest we make a hole in your head to let it out." Said Krot, ever the diplomat.
Thak was shocked.
"I'm serious, this could help us. We ought to take this step! Remember how you all said I was crazy when I thought of the net? And remember how good it turned out? There's so many fish now!"
There were murmurs of agreement.
"And I don't appreciate you wanting to make a hole in my head, Krot, especially since you're my brother-cousin. I was sure that you'd be interested in my idea."
"Yes, well..." Said Krot. "Carry on then."
Standing on top of speaker's rock, Thak surveyed the crowd. They were split about fifty-fifty, half seemed politely interested and the rest were gazing off listlessly. He was losing them and he knew it. It was time for something drastic. Jumping down from the boulder, he made his way through the seated throng and over to the far wall. All heads turned to follow the radical's path.
"Ha!" Exclaimed Grek, "You aren't on the rock anymore! I don't have to listen to you!"
"Yes." Said Thak, "How about you watch instead."
When he had reached the wall he bent down and brought up a bowl filled with red paste. Gently he dipped two fingers into the wet ochre and raised them in front of his limestone canvas. A red droplet fell from his fingertips, landing with a little puff on the dusty floor. The moment had arrived. His heart hammered.
"Okay everybody, here I go, I'm going to try and write now."
He felt their eyes burning into his back, the pressure was enormous. Doubt ripped through his body. Who was he to attempt such a revolution? He who was no-one. He could feel thousands of generations of ancestors standing in a line behind him, shaking their heads in confused disappointment. They hadn't needed this, why did he? Surely he could get along fine without it just as they had.
He banished them from his mind. They were wrong. This was right. A feeling this strong could not be ignored, it called to him as loudly as all his other instincts. This was his destiny.
He leapt into action, making mad, furious slashes on the jagged wall. He went up and down, zigging and zagging, this way and that until the stone appeared to bleed. The euphoria inside him was such that he did not notice he had cut himself viciously, and that the wall really was dripping with his blood. On and on he went, laughing like a madman until, heaving for breath and dripping with sweat, he stopped and turned around. The tribe was gone. All but Krot had left, and he looked terrified.
"What...what is this!?" He asked, shocked beyond belief. "It makes no sense!"
Thak smiled, crimson running freely from his finger.
"Not yet, but it will."