Writing


Today was the fortnightly meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. As usual, two weeks ago we were set a theme to which to write something: gardens/gardening or the like.

I chose to write a short story in a genre I have not tackled before. I called it:

The gardener

His speciality was potatoes. Every day he was out there, first digging deep trenches which he half filled with horse manure brought in enormous black plastic bags on his wheelbarrow. Then he shovelled the soil he had removed on top, forming long straight rows from within a foot of the back of his house to the end of his garden. It was not unusual for him to be out there digging and shovelling long after dark. Later, I understand when depended on what varieties of potatoes he was planting, he dibbed holes in those long rows, dropped in a potato then shovelled a little soil on top.

Our garden was mostly lawn but I sometimes had a brief chat with him over the fence when I was cutting it. Joe wasn’t very talkative, but not unfriendly. I did ask him about the potatoes. He told me he grew so many to get some superb ones for the village show. Evidently his potatoes always won their class.

Once or twice he gave me some unusual ones, pink and odd shapes, but really tasty.

His wife Rose was not happy about it. We often heard them arguing on the other side of the garden fence which divided our two properties. “Why can’t we have some flowers like next door?” she’d ask, “just a few outside the house.”

I’m not good with flowers,” was his surly reply.

Over the two years we had been there the arguments had become more and more acrimonious. Rose had a habit of extending her finger, emphasising each complaining sentence with a jab in Joe’s chest. The arguments became so loud that we could hear them when they continued in the house. Then they stopped. “She’s left me for a bloke who grows championship dahlias,” he told me in one of our chats over the fence. I wasn‘t surprised, she’d surely had enough of potatoes.

He must have been taken into hospital when we were out as the first I knew of it was when I saw a woman I’d never seen before looking down the potato rows. A new girlfriend I thought. “Do you like potatoes?” I asked as a way of making her acquaintance. “Not especially and I prefer to buy them at the supermarket. I suppose they’ll rot now Joe’s not around.”

What, has he left too?” I asked.

Oh, you didn’t know? He had a heart attack last week and died in hospital. I’m his sister and am just here to clear things up. Look, if you want some potatoes just come and dig some up. Take as many as you like. The side gate’s open and there’s a garden fork outside the back door which I suppose Joe used.”

I don’t mind a bit of digging and the thought of those tasty little pink potatoes had me round there the next fine day with a large bag. Sure enough, the first fork lifted a clod filled with those ugly but tasty little morsels – fur apples I think they are called.

Seeing one, long and slender covered in soil left behind I bent down to pick it up. It didn’t come up easy. There must be a big bunch of them down there I said to myself, giving it another pull. It still wouldn’t come free. Grasping it tightly between thumb and first finger of both hands and giving a mighty wrench at last it was free, with something between a squelch and a dull crack.

The detached finger, a bloody bone projecting from the rotting flesh, was silent now, but just as angry as it pointed at my small haul of potatoes.

§

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A photo of the repro Dansette in the shop window

The ‘Dansette’ in the shop window

I set out this morning with the intention of resuming work on my ‘long short story’, yesterday having been taken up largely by ‘chores’. On the two or three hundred paces from where I can park the car to my ‘early morning’ haunt, Wetherspoon, I pass a few shops and was stopped by a ‘Dansette’ in the window of one of them, straight – it seemed – from the era of my story.

USBs and flip flops (bistable switches)

Of course it was not (though you can still buy the genuine article in Leeds market – I’ve often been tempted), the disguise pulled off by “allows you to record all your vinyl to a USB stick”. A USB stick has typically millions of little electronic switches, flip flops we used to call them; I remember being proud of making just one, the size of my little finger nail, at the request of my then director of research who asked for it to be “as small as you can possibly make it”. That was less than ten years before the time of my story, when I did own a model of this portable record player.

Picture of an original Dansette

The real thing

The Dansette features in my story; in some ways it is a principal character.

Now if the offer recently from my dear friend Iulia (teacher of English, poet, writer and blogger in Bucharest) to read a draft of my story when I’ve knocked it more into shape were not enough motivation to work on it (it is), then that ‘Dansette’ should set me off.

Way back at the beginning of September our writers’ club was, as usual, given a theme to write on: ‘After four failed marriages, the world’s tallest woman …”; there was more which I won’t bother you with. The theme didn’t do anything for me so I didn’t write anything. Yesterday I had an urge to write a short story about a tall lady. It’s raw, pretty much unedited.

___________ § __________

The Girl in Block 18

Elenor, aloof yet smiling as I passed her small office at one end of the lab. I fell in love with her almost from the minute I first set foot in that section.

It was the section to which I had been posted after completing the obligatory three months training in each of the sections devoted to mechanical, electrical and glassblowing work. The first section in which I would be doing real work; its staff worked on developing applications for semiconductors, particularly radar. Even without Elenor I would have been excited by that posting.

Elenor’s office, the section secretary’s office, had windows giving a view down the lab and thus giving me a view of her tapping away on her typewriter whenever I diverted my gaze from the oscilloscope, the Avo multimeter or the soldering iron. I frequently burnt my fingers.

Her slender figure curved over the typewriter, she being four or five inches taller than my not inconsiderable five feet eleven and a half inches. She was also two years older than my seventeen years, a fact elicited from the all-male team around me. I also learned she was “cold”, having refused all invitations to have a date from each of the several quite attractive young males – mid twenties to mid thirties – in the department, all graduate physicists.

She was, I was assured, “odd” as she had never had a boyfriend, as far as anyone knew.

Several times a day she would walk down the lab to deliver some document to one of the staff members and I was quite unable to prevent my eyes following her, there and back. As she passed me, before I could lower my eyes in confusion, she would look directly into them and smile.

It was perhaps in my third week in the section I was asked to deliver a bundle of papers to her. The words tumbled out, partly gibberish as I said something about the documents then, to my amazement, I looked directly into her eyes and heard myself saying “You’re very beautiful.”

She said nothing but, as I rushed out, I just caught her smile.

It took me a week to summon courage to enter her office again, a week in which she walked past me several times a day as usual, never saying a word but always meeting my gaze with a smile.

Meanwhile I had asked some ‘disinterested’ questions of the colleagues around me and discovered she was passionate about ballet.

I became more courageous, entering that office at least a couple times a week over the coming weeks. Early on I broached the subject of ballet, saying I’d heard that she liked it and telling her of my visits to all the best known classical ballets with my grandmother. She told me she had had ballet lessons for years with the aspiration to become a ballerina; then she was told she had become too tall and, disappointed, stopped the lessons.

I was due to be in that section for six months before moving to another. For four months I cut out smoking, ate little, economised on everything possible and put as much of my weekly wage as I could in a money box.

Four months later, with what I thought was sufficient in the money box, I entered that office and, visibly trembling, I asked her if she would like go to Covent Garden with me. I was truly amazed when she immediately said she would love to.

I was awkward on the tedious train journey to London, never having been in her company for more than a few minutes. In the opera house I felt more at home though I’d never been in it before. I almost forgot about Elenor once Swan Lake got underway, until I felt her hand find mine. Her passion for the dancing and the music was transmitted by frequent tightenings of her grip. We chatted animatedly during the interval, or was it intervals, and I easily took her hand after each act. She never withdrew it.

I remember little about the meal we had in a good French restaurant close by, other than we chatted easily about almost anything; none of the awkwardness of the train trip down.

The last train back was almost deserted and we were alone in the compartment. Within minutes she was asleep with her head on my shoulder. She woke just once on the two hour journey, when I gently kissed her on the forehead. She opened her eyes, smiled, kissed me gently but firmly on the lips and was immediately asleep again until we reached our destination.

I walked her home; this time the kiss was an affectionate one on the cheek, again the smile.

Monday came and the walks up and down, my eyes following her, resumed, with occasional short visits to her office in which sometimes we had a brief chat. Always the smile.

The following week, six months up, I was assigned to another section, maybe fifteen minutes walk to Block 18 where Elenor had her office, through the jumble of huts making up the central research laboratories of one of Britain’s largest engineering companies. I never made the walk.

Sixty years later, I often think about what might have followed had I done so.

§

Double espresso and flames

Back in the wonderful Keighley library again; similar sequence to yesterday, coffee in Wetherspoon, quick diversion into the shopping area for some ‘chores’ then back to this great building, built in 1902 as a Carnegie library. This morning it was buzzing with a group of primary school children. I just love that.

First job, with a helpful librarian, Amy, trying to track down a comment from John Galsworthy mentioned by my blogger friend Iulia in response to my post about Sunday. We couldn’t find it so back to Iulia. Later note: Iulia came up with the answer and although the book is not in this library it is in another so will be sent to my village library – fabulous library system we have here in the UK though a combination of Government and Local Authorities are doing their best to destroy it. Volunteers have taken over many, including that in my village, to ‘save’ them.

Well patronised

This one seems well patronised, a steady stream of visitors to use the computers, or just the free WiFi using their own, to read the newspapers or borrow and return books. There are many displays on a variety of subjects which would merit a happy hour’s browsing. There’s even a designated ‘cafe’ area with a drinks machine and another with ‘snacks’. There are also printing and copying facilities. I haven’t been upstairs yet; maybe a subject for another day.

My Latvian blogger friend Ilze has demanded some photos of Wetherspoon so I may well make this interesting building the subject of a post before this week is out.

Wrong impressions from principal thoroughfare

I haven’t really been in ‘the town’ of Keighley (by the way, for non-English readers this is pronounced ‘keeth-li” – crazy!) since I was at school here though I’ve passed by the centre many times on the way to somewhere else. Going along a principal thoroughfare, North Street, on which this library stands (picture in yesterday’s post), the once majestic, now largely run down or plastered with inappropriate signs buildings, mostly now banks, give an entirely wrong impression of the town – rather depressing. Venture a few paces to the covered shopping malls and it feels a happy, lively place. These bright covered areas are so much more appealing than the architectural nightmare of the ‘new’ shopping mall in Bradford city. The people also appear ‘alive’; not so in Bradford where they usually appear downtrodden and miserable. The Keighley ‘mall’ does of course, suffer from the same disadvantage as that in Bradford, almost completely flooded with major chain stores which offer nothing for me.

Memories

It’s good to see that the majority of shops under the glass canopy in another major thoroughfare, Cavendish Street, are in business but what a pity they have been allowed to put up the most atrocious selection of signs; only one in sympathy with this magnificent terrace dating, I would guess, from about 1900. Above the canopy the past grandeur is obvious. This terrace has fond memories for me; my grandmother occasionally came to the town and took me into a little upstairs cafe for tea after school. We always ate the same thing – mushrooms on toast.

Right at the bottom of the street is another building full of memories for me. The Victoria hotel was run by the parents of a schoolmate so I was often there after school. It has been derelict for many years, a sad sight, but it looks as though it might be going to be restored. I hope.

Red sun

Red sun (bleached out here) with an even more intensely red halo, in a strangely coloured sky

Nothing to do with Keighley but I must mention the red sun which broke through a strangely coloured sky yesterday. The picture, taken with the iPad, cannot do it justice but it does give me an opportunity to mention a great poem which captured the essence of this strange sight. It was written and posted by a blogger who calls herself ‘the cheeseseller’s wife’; she assures us she is.

Ilkley Literature Festival logoLast evening our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe was ‘performing’ in the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ with the title Every leaf tells a story. I had intended to read my first attempt at a ‘fairy tale’, inspired by one of the two delightful daughters of one of our members. We each were allotted 4 minutes. When I offered to stand down having ‘done the fringe’ last year, to give newer members a bit longer, that wasn’t accepted. So when my fairy tale turned out too long I thought I’d read part of it. I could not get that short enough while retaining the sense so I did, as John Cleese famously said in Monty Python, “something completely different” – a short presentation about tanka. What I did is below, followed by the full fairy story. For the second fairy tale, already written, inspired by the younger of the two sisters (who took second place in the club’s ‘Young Writer Competition’ last year), you’ll have to wait till sometime in December.

My three-and-a-half minute ‘fringe’ presentation

I sometimes write haiku; last year I read some in our fringe presentation. Less often I write tanka. Both are short Japanese poems. Tanka: tan – short; ka – poem, or song. Tanka are rather like sonnets in that both have a strict structure and in each the first part might suggest a dilemma, the second proposing a resolution. Autumn – nature – is an ideal subject for all three forms. Love is another.

In the sonnet it is the ninth line which signals this change of mood. In the tanka, the English version of which has five lines of five, seven, five, seven, seven voice sounds, or syllables, 31 in all. Ideally the first three lines should stand alone, as should the final three lines. So in the tanka it is the third line which is the pivotal line.

I had a dilemma this evening: our club membership has grown so much over the past year that each participant has only four minutes. My autumn fairy story, one of two fairy tales, inspired by one of two young ladies, sisters, in the audience this evening, is too long for today. That’s the dilemma. Solution, present a tanka and publish my first fairy story on my blog tomorrow where the first young lady can read it as she cannot hear it this evening as I originally intended.

The second story, inspired by her younger sister, I intend to read at our Christmas presentation in Ilkley Library.

Here’s the tanka prompted by my dilemma:


autumn tale written
too long for this fringe reading
fairies won’t be timed
so settle for a tanka
blog sleeps   waiting for Mia

Here’s another written specifically for this evening’s theme:


colours leached from sky
clouds grumble grey   tinted rain
caught by leaves and fruit
apples flushed red invite bites
delight swaps from eyes to tongues

 

A haiku is like the first three lines of a tanka, just 17 syllables. But you have to squeeze the same rules into just three lines. Here’s an autumn one I wrote when I noticed the leaves were firmly on the trees when they were all down at the same time last year:


autumn comes tardy
nature’s paintbox still half closed
birds gorge on berries


Fairy tale – When Dreams and Leaves Dance. Title proposed by Linna, Nelle and Helmi in Latvia

Sitting before the open door on a warm autumn day, Mia carefully traced the outlines of the three fallen leaves she had collected, flushed with the russets and yellows of early autumn.

Removing the leaves from her drawing paper, she began carefully to draw the tracery of veins, thinking of the colours in her paintbox and how she might mix them to match the beautiful colours in the leaves, some dramatic, some subtle. One leaf, with strange curly edges, was a medley of green, yellow and russet; another, rather fat with a pointed tip, was bright yellow; the third, much slimmer, was still green and white from summer though the green was flushed with yellow.

A sudden draught of wind seemed to lift the leaves but, as the draught stilled, they remained upright and two of them began slowly to pirouette, the broad bases of the stems straining down till they resembled the foot of a ballet dancer ‘en pointe’. The third leaf settled with his broad stem base firmly on the table.

Mia watched entranced as the leaves began to dance together before the curly edged one took a mighty leap to the floor, seemed to beckon to the two on the table at which they floated down like feathers to join him. Seeming to acquire two legs in place of the single stem, the three leaves ran to the open door. As they reached it they turned and, curling their pointed ends repeatedly, were clearly urging Mia to join them. She climbed down from her chair and took a couple of paces towards the door. As she moved forward the leaves appeared to grow, the curly edged one becoming quite a bit taller than her, the slim one a little shorter and the more rotund one about the same height.

Mia looked back towards her chair and realised the leaves had not grown; she had become tiny. Trembling with fright, she was ready to run back into the house and even more frightened when the fatter one appeared to speak: “Don’t be frightened; you will grow again when you go back.”

But you’re trembling as much as me,” Mia protested.

Oh, don’t worry about that, I’m always doing it when there’s a little breeze. By the way, my name’s Aspen, though some people call me Quaking Aspen because I’m often trembling. Let me introduce you to my friends; the beautiful slim one is Willow and that mighty fellow is called Oak.”

Come on,” urged Aspen. “There are many more of us who’d love to meet you.”

Pulled by Aspen on one side, Willow on the other, Mia stopped as she saw a carpet of hundreds of leaves with scores of different colours. It was here she had picked up the three leaves she had been drawing earlier. But now there were even more colours, all shades of yellow, brown, red and green.

As she watched a little breeze stirred the leaves and soon they were all upright and pirouetting just like her new found friends had done on the table.

Come on, come on, come and join us,” several of them called.

I don’t think I can do that, pirouetting like that,” Mia answered.

Of course you can,” said Oak as he wrapped himself around her and began to spin her. Faster and faster she span till, lifting one foot off the ground and lifting the other till she was on her toes, she was surprised to realise she could pirouette just like the leaves. She was spun from Oak to one of the other leaves, then another, then another, until she was quite out of breath. “Oh, that was fun,” she gasped as she sat down among the dancing leaves, who one by one sat down too.

Let’s have a story,” called one. “Yes, yes,” many answered. “Who will start?” asked one with a different shape to Mia’s new friends, with five points like half a star.

She’s a really good story teller, her name’s Maple,” said Aspen to Mia, “but everyone can tell a story. There’s usually a big argument about whose story is best.”

Mia stood up. “Look, I’d love to hear your stories but I must go back or I’ll be missed and my mum will panic. Can I come another day to listen to your stories?”

Oh please do,” the sitting leaves chorused.

You’re right,” said Aspen, you will be missed and that will never do. Come on, lets go. Oak and Willow will come back with us and no-one will know unless you tell them about us. But they won’t believe you, so that’s alright.”

But first we want to give you something to remember us by, something which will help you with your art,“ said Aspen. “Look, it’s on the ground right in front of you. It’s for you but you must keep it a secret. Even if you tell about us you must never mention what our gift can do.”

Looking down Mia saw a tiny acorn, like no acorn she had seen before. It sparkled with dozens of ever changing colours.

Go on, pick it up. It’s for you. It will always tell you how to make the colour you want but remember, you must never tell anyone it can do that. If you do, it will lose its power and become an ordinary acorn.”

Now, let’s go back. Put us on the table, climb back on your chair and nobody will know you’ve been out.”

Joining ‘hands’ the four friends danced back to the door and as they went inside sure enough, Mia grew to her former size and climbed up onto her chair as the three leaves appeared on the table and lay down just as they had been before they began to dance.

Mia, Mia wake up. You’ll fall off that chair and hurt yourself.” Mum’s voice was a little worried. “Wow, I’m not surprised you’re so tired. Those paintings of the leaves you collected are really beautiful. I don’t know how you managed to make all those colours.”

The leaves took me to the woods and showed me how they get their autumn colours. They are called Oak, Aspen and Willow. And they can dance.”

Come on, you’ve been dreaming. Did you learn the names of the leaves at school or did you look for them on internet?”

No, they told me their names. They are so clever; you know, every leaf tells a story.”

Oh well, if you say so. But your painting is really beautiful. Now, come into the kitchen, it’s teatime. You’ve been dreaming for sure.”

Mia climbed down from the chair, taking a last glance at the three beautifully coloured drawings. Had she been dreaming? Opening her hand, the tiny acorn sparkled at her …

… and she smiled.

§

I haven’t yet got a title for this story. Can anyone suggest an enticing one?

My haiku which have been posted on this blog over the past five years or more have been collected together, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. They will be put on a page under the ‘haiku’ tab; until now that has had all the posts put in the ‘haiku’ category, which may not all have contained one, just ‘talked’ about them. It will hopefully make more sense. I’ll also put tanka there, few.

Five pictures of grumpytyke stages

Seven pictures of grumpytyke stagesFive pictures of grumpytyke stages

The first haiku below is not mine; it is probably my favourite, the one which first prompted me to try my hand at writing them. It was on a blog called ‘five reflections’; as far as I know it no longer exists. All I can do now is thank the author for many hours of pleasure he began, both reading others and attempting my own.
The pictures are a bit of fun with the 5-7-5 sequence which I posted soon after seeing that first haiku.
Each haiku has under it the title of the post and the date it appeared on my blog. The title is a link which will take you to the post. Very rarely do I post just a haiku; usually there’s some background. Some might not make much sense without it (eg ‘picture haiku), which probably means they are not very good haiku.
If you feel like wandering through them sometime I’d love to know which you like most (if you like any!) and why.


from the old locked box
photographs you left behind
my eyes become yours

Haiku – my eyes become yours
June 23, 2012

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from one year to three
from Shipley to Banbury
skiffle liberates

Picture haiku
June 23, 2012

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how does someone blind
who cannot see the sky’s blue
create this art work?

Inspiration from blogs and blindness – creativity in food, photography, haiku and writing

July 5, 2012

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take inspiration.
visit the God particle
on a pedal bike

The God particle and inspiration for a would-be creative writer
July 7, 2012

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celestial ships
from another universe
fantasy Yorkshire sky

Sky picture haiku
July 8, 2012

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my long fallen friend
hacked down from your majesty
rest awhile with me

Trees – picture haiku
July 9, 2012

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one destination
straight … curious meander
we wonder … and wait

Picture haiku – life
July 12, 2012

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imagine … differ
climb out of the commonplace
halt … think free … proceed

Haiku – three word prompt – no picture
July 15, 2012

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soul guide … hand taken
serene work on graceful curves
symbol stories writ

Picture haiku – an egg from Bucovina
July 20, 2012

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Earth to earth … to dust
twist … scream … turn … yet now return
games in the graveyard

grass is greener where?
bare footed … treading careless

leaving litter here

A pair felt in a graveyard
July 29, 2012

§

biscuits cut from sky
baking in the summer sun
heaven gives …  look up

Picture haiku – sky biscuits in Iasi, Romania
August 3, 2012

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chirruping crickets
all else mute they look to dawn
winter waits … restore

Haiku – no picture this time

August 9, 2012

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a deep thought minute
click to click is time enough
the wind raged … sea calmed

Picture haiku: time cures all
November 29, 2012

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madness frozen out
bones interred together … warmed
peace … buds in waiting

Picture haiku – Daily Prompt: Through the Window
January 29, 2013

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witches tread with care
beware our bouquet … spiky
healthy human food

Picture haiku – Washburn valley, Olympus OM4
June 5, 2013

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green satiated
winter songsters’ sanguine store
shiver prophesy

Picture haiku: rowan
October 20, 2013

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This post does not include a haiku but charts my journey since I began to try to write them

Haiku – a journey through seventeen syllables
October 28, 2013

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white snow dying … grey
children’s faces sad … silent
birds sing … dreams of spring

haiku: snow
January 22, 2015

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office rules to rest
laid among timed paper clips
writing in my head

haiku – writer’s retirement
February 6, 2015

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time travel … from chat
to chat in another time
anaesthesia

anaesthesia – haiku. Hernia repair
May 30, 2015

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leaves in still puddles
reflections of lost summer
rusted … yet to fall

Five reflections plus one
February 12, 2017

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distant memory
fighting to recall your face
dementia kills me

sublime poetry
in lyrics of a sad song
speaking to my soul

appegios sooth
minor chords provoke … sometimes
love flows in … and out

The thrill of seeing your writing in print
June 20, 2017

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autumn comes tardy
nature’s paintbox still half closed
birds gorge on berries

A special day doing nothing special. A haiku
October 6, 2017

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tanka

snowflakes in the rain
diluting their cold beauty
we wait for snowballs
like waiting for love letters
in a disrupted affair

Performing again! A tanka and a short story
November 19, 2016

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river’s melody
embraced by guardian hills
a chaffinch sings
the mad bull sinks into us
relishing the peace he brings

A trip to the English Lakes
April 21, 2017

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i saw you lovely
looking in a cracked mirror
quicksilver faded
too late I crossed the fractures
to reflect with you what might

Five reflections plus one
February 12, 2017

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I’m not going to tell you a story here, just hopefully to wet your appetite for a post soon after the 14th October. That’s the day on which the writers’ club of which I am a member, Writing on the Wharfe, will be doing its stuff at the prestigious Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’, having been invited back after its successful debut last year.

I’m working on my first ever ‘fairy story’ for the event. Because our club has grown since last year we each have only a short ‘slot’. That’s OK for my usual haiku and short short stories but having decided on one longer fairy story I’ve been working out how to present my story in the allotted time. I’ve decided to omit the centre section, just reading the opening and the ‘denouement’, with a brief explanation at the start.

Poster for our ‘fringe’event

Motivation

I’ve been motivated to write a fairy story by two delightful young ladies who generally come to our public events. So, in fact, I’m endeavouring to write two stories, the second for presentation at a later Christmas ‘show’ in Ilkley library, again a repeat of last year, but we’re hoping to take this ‘on tour’ to at least the library in the village in which I live. That one I’d hope to post here on the day after the Ilkley library ‘show’.

Talent

Part of a display Kelly currently has in the Keighley library Showing some of her illustration style

Part of a display Kelly currently has in the Keighley library

We have a tremendous range of local talent in our club, covering many different genres, some members having been published. We also have our wonderful singer/songwriter, Emma Nabarro-Steel, who published her debut (almost) album last year. Her CD is often in my player. Another member, Kelly McCarthy-Wright, not only writes stories but is a superb illustrator, her style including illustrations ideal for children’s books.

So, look out for my first fairy story (complete version) on or about 15th October and the second early to mid December. I’ll be truly interested in your feedback on each.

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