Writing


I haven’t been able to write anything for a few weeks now due to illness but one morning, feeling rather better, I was suddenly motivated to write my previous post and, surprisingly, a short story for this morning’s writers’ club virtual meeting. The prompt was various objects chosen at random by members

Carol’s favourite coffee pot

Carol carefully lifted her favourite coffee pot from the cupboard and set it on the kitchen counter. It was her favourite for two reasons: it was a gift from Graeme; it was English bone china with a restrained but beautiful design with roses, which reminded her of childhood summer holidays with her grandmother, who always served coffee to ‘important’ visitors from a similar pot but that was Bavarian porcelain, also decorated with a restrained design of roses.

Why she chose to serve herself from her favourite coffee pot this morning she didn’t know. She always made coffee in a cafétiere then poured it directly from that when on her own. This time she must pour the coffee from the cafétiere into the pre-warmed coffee pot, then from that into a cup, also English bone china from the same set as the coffee pot.

Four minutes later the coffee in the cafétiere was brewed. Carol filled the coffee pot with hot water, waited a moment then poured out the water before carefully transferring coffee from cafétiere to coffee pot. 

It was now three months since Graeme told her he was leaving her after 7 years of marriage. He moved out the following day. She had not heard a word from him since then. Initial confusion was quickly followed by depression, which remained despite counselling and medical intervention. In fact it was now worse than it had ever been.

Carol lifted the coffee pot and began to pour coffee into the cup, her hand trembling as she did so. She didn’t remember her fingers opening but saw the coffee pot was on the tiled kitchen floor, in a dozen or more pieces though the lid had miraculously remained whole, all surrounded by a pool of freshly brewed coffee. 

Carol felt herself sinking to the floor till she lay, like an embryo, legs tucked up and her long hair trailing through the pool of coffee. Close to her eye she could make out a triangular shard of coffee pot. She picked it up and after a minute staring at it she plunged the sharpest point of the shard into her wrist.

She watched fascinated as the pool of blood grew larger, pushing aside the coffee, till all she could see was an ocean of red.

As her eyes closed she felt elation, picturing the evening on which Graeme had lovingly presented her with the coffee pot, carefully wrapped in paper decorated with dozens of tiny red hearts.

As the dream faded, she felt such happiness as she had not felt for the past three months.

She let herself slip gladly into the darkness.

This Saturday we are ‘celebrating’ the 5th birthday of our writers’ club, Writers on the Wharfe (now ‘virtual’ of course). Formation of the club was life-changing for me although for most of my working life I was writing for a living. It’s a good time I think to reflect on my ‘writing’ journey.

I’d rarely tried to write fiction or a ‘poem’ before the club (other than haiku and those were usually linked to a photograph in what I called ‘picture haiku’). I can think of only a couple of very short stories.

Restricted forms

Those who’ve been following me for a while will know that when I try to write I often prefer a tightly restricted format, like an English sonnet, an acrostic, haiku or even, with prose, writing to an exact length, eg 100 words or even 25 words, or some self-imposed restriction like in my recent post when I tried to ‘make’ a character in 20 sentences or less.

I cannot force myself to sit down and write, though that was never a problem as a journalist. So, although in the writers’ club we are usually given a theme about which to write for the next meeting I now rarely follow this.

I gave up attempting haiku when I decided good haiku were not possible except probably in Japanese, as I explained here. But my real journey into ‘restricted poems’ began after an hour with ‘eyup poet’ Matt Abbot on a barge in Leeds on the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

The décima

A portrait of Vincente Espinel

Vicente Espinel

So, I was excited to discover a new-to-me restricted form, the décima. It was created in Spain in the 16th century by Vicente Espinel, born in Ronda in 1550. Like haiku, it was often used in a ‘conversation’ between two poets, one answering the other’s décima with another décima. However, like haiku, the décima was created for a different language and a different culture so those written in English can never be quite right.

Even more exciting was the discovery that, set to music, there are competitions in Puerto Rica where the décimas are composed ‘on the spot’ to a given theme. How they are able to do that is just amazing. However, just as rhyming poetry is easier in Romanian because of the grammar, the décima is possibly a bit easier in Spanish as two written syllables are sometimes voiced as one. On the other hand, the interchangeability of eg,‘don’t’ and ‘do not’ in English can make achieving the syllable count easier.

In an attempt to make the occasion ‘special’ I’ve attempted to write two on the theme ‘birthday’, one by my alter ego answering that from ‘me’.


Birthday

I’m celebrating a birthday
A truly golden day for me
My start in fiction as you’ll see
A few false ‘haiku’ on the way
Even ‘tankas’ kept boredom at bay
But then came someone, she’s crazy
A sylphlike figure far from lazy.
Dark tales left, came a writers’ club
First coffee shop then kind of pub.
Ruxandra is now boss; rules are hazy.

Alter ego’s response

Well, I’m grumpy tyke it seems
Even hazy rules bring rebel
A milder revolt than Bebel,
I often don’t follow the themes
I tend just to follow my dreams
I’ve done it today yet again
Not today’s ‘Isolated Brain’,
The set theme for why I don’t know.
Having considered I said “NO!”
Adopting ‘Birthday’ kept me sane.


If you haven’t worked it out from my efforts, the décima is a poem of ten lines each with eight syllables, the rhyming plan being ABBAACCDDC.

There’s more info on:
https://dversepoets.com/2016/04/21/form-for-allmeeting-the-bar-decima/
from which I took most of my information. There’s also an example of a competition with sung décima in Puerto Rica.

More information about formation of the writers’ club at:

https://wp.me/pkm0h-NI

I’m finding little to dislike about the confinement to our flat for 12 weeks, maybe more. Admittedly, we are lucky: our lovely young neighbours are shopping for us; our sitting room window overlooks the village park, now with white and pink cherry blossom in full bloom, and our bedroom and kitchen windows look over Yorkshire’s Wharfe Valley; the dawn chorus sounds like we live in a forest, no polluting sound from motor vehicles nor aircraft from the local airport early in the morning; and the air from the open window is noticeably cleaner.

However, yesterday there seemed to be considerably more traffic on the main road on the other side of the park, which is worrying. In normal times there was far less traffic on a Friday.

Writing

Important for me, I’m able to write far more: more frequent blog posts which have brought more followers (I don’t actively seek more followers but it’s good to know my ramblings are appreciated); more short stories and ‘poems’; more emails and handwritten letters to distant family and friends; more chats on so called ‘social media’ – I use only one other than WordPress: Messenger.

Messenger video chat has also allowed ‘meetings’ of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, to continue. The latest ‘challenge’, for the ‘meeting’ on Saturday (25th), I misunderstood and rapidly wrote the bit of ‘flash fiction’ below to meet the challenge, (which included answering some set questions about a character within the story and including “something strange”) but adding my own challenge: to answer all the questions in 20 sentences or less. When I found I had misunderstood the challenge it did not appeal to me so I’ve left my story as it is.

As a matter of interest, my first office for a business of my own (other than a table in an Italian restaurant in Soho, opposite Ronnie Scott’s, a few years earlier than the story is set) was in the King’s Road. It would be far too costly now, as would a garden flat home for a nurse!

Photo of World's End pub in King's Road (see story below

World’s End pub, King’s Road, Chelsea, London, modern times (see story below). First recorded mid-17th century. Photo by Ewan Munro.


Miranda

Miranda was looking forward to her twenty third birthday treat. 

Examining herself in the mirror while brushing her shoulder length, auburn, wavy hair, she was grateful for her shapely legs, perfectly displayed by her extra short mini skirt, in accord with today’s fashion, and perfectly in proportion to her height of a little over five feet. She also looked with approval at her gossamer fine white cotton blouse, showing to advantage her boyish breasts. She never wore a bra’. Like many young women at this time she often didn’t wear panties either.

She closed the outside door of her garden flat in London’s King’s Road, Chelsea, excited by thoughts of where her boyfriend Peter might take her (she was taking time off from both her job as a nurse and ‘moonlighting’ as a night club hostess) and guessed it might be one of the Irish pubs in the East End as he knew, with her Dublin upbringing, she would enjoy that, especially as she was born on this day, St Patrick’s Day.

As she waited outside the World’s End pub, close to her home, she turned over in her mind whether tonight was the occasion to tell Peter her real name. He had never asked her in the six months since they first met.

She snuggled into his arms. “I love you,” she whispered in his ear. “You never asked me, but how would you like to know my real name? I think you’ve guessed it’s not Miranda.”

I’d love that; I think it’s probably something exotically Irish,” Peter replied.

Bláthnaid, she whispered in her best Irish brogue. My father delighted in calling me that and telling me the legend linked to it. It means ‘little flower’.”

And so you are, though I’d love to hear the legend later,” Peter said softly, pulling away just enough to look lovingly into her large soft brown eyes. Now, let’s go birthday girl.”


Bláthnaid is pronounced approximately as ‘blaw-nid’.

The legend is important in both Ulster and what is now the Republic of Ireland, Eire, folklore.

Second video chat meeting via Messenger of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, 11 April 2020. The theme set was ‘messages’. This was my contribution, a short story.

Eight club members on Messenger video chat this morning

Top row, l to r: Sussi, John, James, me.
Bottom row, l to r: Ruxandra, Luc, Jo, Martin


Messages

Did you say something?” Robert looked up from his book towards his wife about two and a half metres away. They had stretched the measuring roll between them several times to be sure, he feeding it out slowly till she could reach it and pull it in. Two metres sixty seven centimetres precisely.

I didn’t say anything,” Simona replied. “But I was just thinking how much I love you.”

Are you sure you didn’t say it?” Robert asked. “I heard it clearly.”

I’m sure. But we know, don’t we, that we often don’t need to speak? Just think about it, how many times we either begin to answer a question before it is said, certainly before the voiced question is completed.”

I suppose it’s love,” Robert said thoughtfully.

Simona paused a moment, thinking, before replying, “Not only that. Don’t you find it sometimes happens with friends, even those thousands of miles away.”

“That’s true,” Robert replied, “that happens too, but more rarely. But it’s strange how many times I begin to think about a distant friend and almost immediately there’s a ping from my iPad announcing the arrival of a message. It’s not always from the friend I’ve just been thinking about but often it is.”

So does that mean you’re beginning to believe in telepathy? You always denied it before.” Simona sounded surprised.

I’m not sure, but it now seems to me more likely than not.”

Didn’t the Smithsonian Institute say in it’s magazine about five years ago that telepathy was ‘within reach’?”

Robert was dismissive. “That was a disappointing story, especially as it was from a renowned scientific institution. My view is that it was rubbish, the experiment supposedly ‘proving’ telepathy was possible involved computers, morse code and heaven knows what other physical technology. What we are talking about involves no such technology at all, just thoughts, or parts of thoughts, passing from one person to another with no physical intervention.”

Simona looked searchingly at Robert: “That’s interesting. So you really think it’s got something to do with love?”

Robert thought for a while before answering. “It depends what you mean by love. I’d say I love some of my friends, even some of the friends who I’ve met only through blog posts, but it’s not the same as when I say I love you. It has some of the same characteristics but not all. So I’d say it has something to do with love, in both senses, but not entirely.”

Didn’t you tell me once that when you were at university studying physics you did some experiments on telepathy, the results showing it existed being statistically out of the range of chance?”

I did, but I was young then and was impressed by a lot of so-called paranormal happenings, fired up by Dennis Wheatley’s books. I later saw all the flaws in the methodology and came to the conclusion that it meant nothing.”

But now you say that the existence of telepathy is more likely than not?”

I do. I’m much older, hopefully wiser, so now I have personal experiences which I can’t ignore.”

Do you think it’s something we’ve mostly lost,” Simona asked, “or something we’re just beginning to learn?”

Oh, I think it’s an ability we have largely lost. Animals seem to have it more than we do, which suggests to me that it’s something we mostly lost as we evolved to become more human.”

Both Simona and Robert fell silent, thinking.

The silence was broken by Simona: “Sorry I wasn’t paying attention. What did you say?”

Robert looked up surprised. “Nothing,” he said, “I didn’t say a word.”


Fake news

I am pretty disgusted with the British Press and tv, even the BBC. Even Laura Kuenssberg, usually so good and with a salary of around £ quarter of a million, seems to have descended to the level of the BBC presenters, even to that of the Daily Mail. And I’m surprised that The Guardian, usually so reliable, seems to have been unable to prevent a lowering of standards.

I now know even more surely why I buy no newspapers.

I listen carefully each day to the UK Government’s daily Press conference; at best some of the journalists do not seem to be listening, at worst just seeking sensation rather than truth. Some of the questions are idiotic.

Or is it a technique pioneered by David Frost? Ask the same question to which they know there is no satisfactory answer, over and over again, and the person questioned will begin to look incompetent. I remember well him trying that ruse in an interview with Tony Benn (who at one time I was interviewing from time to time in his role as Minister responsible for Technology) and Enoch Powell, from opposite ends of the political spectrum and both with ‘extreme views’ but both super intelligent. Frost ended up looking the idiot.

So sadly it’s not only the ‘fake news’ on social media spreading misunderstanding.

Members of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, were disappointed when it became clear that we could not meet for the next scheduled meeting in the village library on 28 February.

Screen shot of the six club members in the video chat

Our first video chat. Trying to do a screen shot I obscured most of the picture of me but it’s a matter of learning on the job!

Our founder and leader, Ruxandra, who gives up nothing without a fight, suggested we try using a video chat group meeting on Messenger. We did and after a few small hiccups it worked perfectly. Six members took part, reading their contribution on the set theme of Addiction. Apart from the nonsense poem I posted here earlier (already circulated to club members) I wrote a kind of blog post.

It’s tongue in cheek, but not entirely!


Addiction

My village has an addiction: dogs.

I don’t understand this addiction.

It is certainly an addiction; the more ugly the dogs are the more of them there seem to be.

I’m not sure whether the owners come to look like their dogs or the dogs come to look like their owners. Some biological chemistry seems to be working to ensure that the more ugly the dog, or the owner, the more this is true.

For myself, not only do I not have this addiction but I dislike most dogs. I dislike their stupidity, their slavish adherence to what their human master dictates.

Distorted, expensive results of the pedigree system have become the penis symbols of today.

Do the owners, particularly men, realise how ridiculous they look strutting with their expensive acquisition or behaving like a sergeant major on the parade ground barking orders at their poor, distorted (sometimes abused, by cutting tail, ears and heaven knows what else) purchase.

The distortions of nature are either indulged by their human owners so they behave badly most, if not all, of the time. If well behaved they are either so anxious to please, rewarded perhaps by a tidbit, they do precisely as they are told, or cowed by the instant displeasure of their owner.

Cats

Let’s compare with cats.

Totally self-sufficient, if fed they will eat but never lose their hunting instinct. If not fed they will find a mouse, bird, anything small which moves and will eat it. If fed, they will do the same to hone their hunting skills.

Of course the felines also suffer from human intervention, pedigree breeding, to produce ridiculous examples of their kind but even they, if not imprisoned and cosseted, will revert to the wild.

Cats will be affectionate if they feel like it, ignore you if they do not.

Some dogs are excepted

I do have some exceptions to my dislike of dogs.

First are the guide dogs for the blind, mostly labradors and, as an extension of that I quite like most labradors and other soft-mouthed types, like spaniels.

Other exceptions to my dislike are wild dogs – foxes, wolves, dingos and the like – for similar reasons that I like cats.

But my dislike of domesticated dogs reaches its summit with small, pretty examples which insist on disturbing an otherwise pleasant audio environment with frequent, if not constant, yapping.

I yearn for a rifle to pick them off one by one until tranquility is restored.


I know some of the ugly distorted dogs are ‘rescue dogs’; of course I approve of this. Having brought them into the world as living creatures, we should certainly look after them.

Petronela (my wife for those who don’t know) and I have confined ourselves to our flat for at least two weeks, until we know whether she, as a teacher, picked up the virus at school.

Our writers’ club has become virtual but the theme given for the next  meeting on 28 March is ‘addiction’. Here’s what I sent to club members.


Here’s something ridiculous to amuse you, I hope, while I think of a more sensible response to Ruxandra’s theme of ‘addiction’ for the now virtual meeting on 28 March.

It seems some people still don’t accept as fiction
That anything less than total restriction
Will wave a welcome valediction
To the current widespread affliction.

It’s also a widely believed nonfiction
That any eventual bronchoconstriction
Will be banished by a benediction,
Having resulted from some malediction.

I also have a firm conviction
Even something of a little prediction
That even if my throat condition is no longer in my jurisdiction,
It will not, in future, affect my diction.

I say that because my throat already has a little constriction,
Caused some months ago by the eviction
Of a giant tube not shortened by magnetostriction,
Not by any kind of vasoconstriction.

Even so, there was no interdiction
Nor any kind of dereliction.
(So far I couldn’t fit in depiction,
Not even a bit of crucifiction.)

It’s just some nonsense, even a contradiction,
But I can end up with a bit of metafiction:

You guessed it, words and true rhymes are my addiction!

The Library

They were surprised to find a library in the castle. They had almost not come in; the entry fee of 40RON (about £8) for the two of them would usually have put them off but it had begun to rain heavily and the car was quite a walk away so they made an exception even though it was near to closing time.

There did not seem to be the usual supervisor in each room and when Smaranda saw a lot of books on shelves in a distant darkened room she hurried towards them. Libraries, particularly old libraries, had a special fascination for her as a history teacher.

I don’t think you should go in there,” Michael, her English boyfriend, cautioned. “That red rope across the doorway obviously means we’re not supposed to go in there. Anyway, it’s too dark to see much.”

I’ve got that little torch on my keyring so I just want to see what books they’ve got. They all look super old. I’m going in.”

Michael reluctantly followed.

It doesn’t look as though any of the books have been moved for years,” said Smaranda. “I can hardly see any of the titles,” she added, wiping a finger along one row of volumes.

Hey, there’s one here called Wallachia,” she called. “Oh, another has the word Vrăjitoariei on the spine, and here’s one titled Strigoi.”

I don’t know any of those words,” answered Michael.

Oh, it’s really exciting. Wallachia is the southern region which joined with Transylvania and Moldavia to become Romania. Vrăjitoariei is witchcraft and strigoi are spirits which can transform themselves into horrible animals. I’ve never seen a Romanian book on witchcraft or strigoi before, though of course we studied the history of Wallachia at university so I’ve seen plenty of books on that.”

I’m surprised you haven’t heard of vrăjitoariei before; you’re always complaining about how superstitious we Romanians are. As for strigoi, I thought you knew Latin pretty well: striga – evil spirit. Pretty much the same in Romanian, strigă. Strigoi is plural though sometimes used as singular too.”

Smaranda pulled out the volume titled Vrăjitoariei and was enveloped in a cloud of dust. When she was able to catch her breath she opened the book at a random page and called out excitedly, “This chapter seems to be full of vrăji – spells – mostly to cure all manner of ailments.”

She continued to leaf through the pages. “Good heavens, there’s a spell here to stop Jews killing new-born babies! What’s that about?”

“I think you should put that book back right now and we should leave. We’re not supposed to be in here anyway.” Michael sounded worried.

Smaranda ignored him and continued to turn the pages. ”Oh, there’s a spell here to summon a strigă. It says it’s only to be used on the eve of St. Andrew’s day or the eve of St. George’s day. Isn’t that odd? It’s St. Andrew’s day tomorrow I think, thirtieth of the November, isn’t it?”

I don’t know, St. George’s day is in April but I can’t remember the day.”

Shame on you, he’s your patron saint! Anyway, I’m going to try this one, the spell I mean.”

I think you should just put the book back; anyway, you shouldn’t mess about with such things, though of course I don’t believe a word of it.”

Oh, it says the spell needs a fire so that’s no good.” Smaranda sounded crestfallen, then suddenly shouted excitedly, “You’ve got a lighter, maybe that will do. Let me have it please.” Michael reluctantly  handed it over.

I don’t know whether I can get this right. It’s very old Romanian language: it reminds me of trying to read Ion Creangă’s ‘Childhood Memories’ but it seems even older.

I gave up with that having not understood a thing,” Michael said sullenly; he was proud that he’d mastered reading and speaking modern Romanian, though he still had difficulty writing it.

Smaranda clicked the lighter and with the flame in front of her began to chant some words, reading from the book.

Michael understood not a word.

§

He saw it first.

A pale light behind Smaranda which began to swirl around, as though stirred by an invisible spoon, until it began to take on a recognisable form, vaguely human but as it became more recognisable, hideously distorted, limbs sticking out in unnatural directions and a face like a foam latex mask pulled in all directions around a mouth open in what seemed to be a scream, though inside just black, as though it had no end.

A wild eerie shriek behind her made Smaranda turn around, just in time to see the horrible form solidify into an owl. She had time to recognise a barn owl, often wrongly known as a screech owl because of its call, before the bird flew onto her shoulder.

No sooner had it landed than Smaranda shrieked loudly herself as she felt a sharp pain in her neck. The owl spread its wings and flew around and around her head, shrieking continuously till the shriek turned into a scream, familiar to many Romanians as the cry of the fattened pig as its throat is cut to kill it for winter meat.

At the same time the owl began to take the form of a much distorted pig then alternate between pig and owl, each transformation being more horrendous than the previous one.

Finally it was the owl which settled on Smaranda’s shoulder again, sunk its beak in the bloody gash it had made previously, its breast pulsating like a fast beating heart. Smaranda became ever more pale before dissolving into a vague distorted form resembling the strigă which Michael had first seen.

Michael tried to grab Smaranda’s hand to pull her from the room but there was nothing of substance to hold on to.

One of the strigoi began to fly faster and faster around Michael’s head, alternating between the vague distorted form of the strigă and a pig, which soon settled into the form of a boar which sank its fangs into Michael’s chest.

§

The police forensics team, called in the next morning, were baffled. The male, with two deep incisions near to the heart, had clearly died from them almost instantly but there was no weapon.

Even more baffling was the body of the young female. She had obviously died from exsanguination but there was not a sign of blood on the library floor.

A lighter lay near her right hand and a book near her left.

The policeman examining the body called out “This book is open, she seems to have been reading it. It’s open at a chapter titled Vrăji. Anyone know what that means?”

No one did.


This is the first time I’ve tried this. Usually in the writers’ club we each read our own contribution. So here is me reading the above story. I’ll get better!


I don’t usually pick up on the theme often given as a writing prompt at our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, preferring to write about whatever comes into my head. This time the given theme of ‘libraries’ appealed. It gave me an opportunity to explore Romanian legends less well known than Dracula and vampires, which are more modern anyway.

You can blame another blogger and a writers’ club member for the above story. Ailish, whose first novel I sort of reviewed here and here, planted witches in my head; Jo – whose stories I always enjoy when read in the club, surprisingly even the horror stories as it’s not a genre I usually enjoy – has somehow got me trying to write ‘horror’.

Notes:

In the past there have been trials of ‘witches’ in Romania, similar to those in Aberdeen described by Ailish Sinclair in her novel The Mermaid and the Bear. Gypsies and Jews seem to have been particularly targetted in Romania.

True screech owls are confined to the Americas. Barn owls, plentiful in Europe, make a screeching sound rather than the ‘tewit tewoo’ usually associated with owls.

I really like the ancient Romanian female names so chose one for this story. The founder and ‘leader’ of our writers’ club has another, Ruxandra, so I never shorten it to ‘Ruxi’ as most club members do. Another I like a lot is Ilinca.

Our local Sainsbury’s supermarket has a charity book table. The idea is you take a book, make a donation (and perhaps return the book, as I intend to do). Having got myself in ‘reading mode’ recently, seeing the name Tom Clancy I picked up the thick paperback, ‘Command Authority’, as when I read his first, ‘The Hunt for Red October’, more than 30 years ago, I was gripped from cover to cover.

A half way ‘review’

I’m only a bit more than half way through this novel now (page 409 of 772) but I’ve decided to do another ‘half novel’ review, as I did in my post before the previous one. One reason is that I think I’ve learned an important lesson, maybe two lessons, for my own writing.

Another is that I’ve been bored by the majority of what I’ve read so far, so I may not finish it. However, the Tom Clancy I expected began on page 332 and may well have finished now, after keeping me gripped for 69 pages (but having skipped two chapters, 14 pages, as  I was certain they would add nothing to the story. I’d done this earlier too).

Lesson one – information overload

One of the things which made the majority of the book boring for me was the information overload: information which added nothing to the story. I think it is there only to demonstrate the author’s knowledge. I wonder if that came from Clancy’s collaborator on this novel: Mark Greaney.

I’ve come across this closer to home and it always makes me shut off.

Linked to this are the chapters I skipped, prefaced ‘30 years earlier’. I’m sure I missed nothing which added to the story.

One lesson learned.

The second lesson

The second lesson is do not waste words stating the obvious. There are so many instances of this that they became irritating.

Other dislikes

I really disliked the appearance of diagrams showing layouts of, eg,  buildings. I believe that, for any worthwhile writer, words should be enough.

Another irritant for me is the long list of characters prefacing the novel.

Would Charles Dickens have needed such things? I don’t think so.

I finished the Costa first novel award book. Not an easy read.

In my previous post I said that the writing seemed to have become better and I was beginning to enjoy it. Then, suddenly, it was back to forcing myself to read. The similes began to jump out at me again.

(One of the advantages of reading a Kindle version – despite my love of real books – apart from taking no space in our small flat, is that some analysis is easy. The word ‘like’, the majority as part of a simile, occurs no fewer that 600 times. I’m surprised that none of the editors picked that up.)

The author seems to have had difficulty writing some chapters. Apart from the early chapters, the most obvious is when she introduces S&M. At the time I couldn’t see why it had been introduced but that becomes clear as you approach the end, though I’m still not convinced it was necessary.

Slavery

What I did like is that I learned quite a bit about slavery and that the ending was hidden well, at least from me. However, parts of the story were not believable for me, eg the court scenes.

Maybe my first novella/novel will not sound believable (if I ever finish it); though it’s fictional, most of it did happen, though not quite in the way I relate it.

Mermaid and bear

It was a relief to escape into my current reading, also a first novel, by a blogger I’ve followed for quite a while: Ailish Sinclair. I’ve got only about half way into it but already I can say that it has all the charm and magic of a good children’s story, wrapped up (so far) in an adult fairy tale.

I’ve always enjoyed her posts having learned a lot from them, which I why I bought her novel. Also the promise of some real history of witches, which I’ve yet to get to. Another draw was that she is/was a ballet dancer. I’ve been a lover of ballet since I was seven years old and some time ago I wrote a short story around a visit to Covent Garden and another visit there plays an important part in my unfinished novella/novel.

Ailish’s blog posts, especially about stone circles and castles, determined me to spend some of last summer in Aberdeenshire. It has been no surprise to find stone circles occurring in the book, momentous events happening within them (I don’t want to give too much away). Unfortunately, ill health prevented my visit. Maybe next summer.

A big surprise is that, halfway through the story I’ve been confronted with how I thought it would end. So I’m intrigued by where it will go now.

So, if you want a relaxing read, with all the ups and downs of a Catherine Cookson tale, this might be a book for you. But I’m only half way through so who knows what is in store.

Ailish’s novel is called The Mermaid and the Bear, published by GWL Publishing and available on Amazon and in some book shops.


Front cover of ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’.My current reading, The Confessions of Frannie Langton, winner of the Costa Book Award for a first novel, has suddenly improved. That is, the writing has improved or, perhaps better said, I am finding it easier to read.

Now on Chaper 29, I’m enjoying it. The writing flows and those interminable similes have mostly disappeared, though when the word ‘like’ does appear it resonates and irritates. Nevertheless, now enjoyable. It’s almost as though I’m reading a different author.

What brought about this change?

Although things did improve a little after the first five chapters, the big change occurred immediately after the author, Sara Collins, introduced the beginning of the lesbian relationship between Frannie and her ‘mistress’.

A lesson?

What really interests me is the lesson I might learn for attempting to finish my first novella/novel. Sara Collins said in the radio interview which introduced her to me (Scala Radio), that she disliked all the research she had to do into anti-slavery campaigns and London at that time. There was for sure a lot of research behind those first five chapters.

I said in a previous post that I was finding research tiresome. Is that affecting my writing? The words are not flowing as freely for me as I am used to.

A lesson: that the necessary research to ensure authenticity should not be allowed to ‘take over’ the main point of the story?

I’m beginning to understand why critics have rated the novel highly (including those from The Times and Guardian and, of course, why it might have merited the Costa award). I could, however, have done without the first few chapters which, had I not heard the radio interview, would have made me give up reading.


I said some time ago that I was changing the basis of my grumpytyke blog. From a general “view from Yorkshire, about anything” to concentrate on my writing, But not only of my writing, that of others too, be it from my reading of commercially published authors, self published authors, or unpublished works from people I know, including lessons learned from reading them. It will include an archive of my stories and ‘poems’ (this in still in progress). 

However, my previous favourite subjects – discrimination of any kind and food/cooking – in fact anything, might creep in from time to time.

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