Short stories


The ‘structure of a fairy tale’ as drawn in my notebook and copied from that to blackbosrd.

The ‘structure of a fairy tale’ as drawn in my notebook and copied from that to blackbosrd.

Looking for misplaced documents for our forthcoming drive to Romania (mostly proof I had paid a speeding fine last summer in case stopped at the border) I was really excited to discover the tattered remains of a notebook from my earliest time in Romania in 1993/94.

Not only did I not know I had it, I don’t remember keeping any kind of diary but there it is, a daily handwritten journal of my first two months in Romania, from early March to late April 1993. Unfortunately I did not record my first three days, but I remember some experiences of those few days very well: snow inside the train; breathing stopped by climbing out into -22degC; meeting with the Zaharia family with which I was to spend 6 wonderful months; a walk to the Ukrainian border from which I was escorted the 7km back to the town of Siret, having taken a ‘forbidden’ photograph’, by two armed (but friendly) border guards.

Teaching English

The journal stops abruptly on 27th April but the handwritten pages jump to November 1993 by which time I was teaching English and, more excitement, records working with some classes VI (12-13 year olds) at school no.1 in Suceava, to write a ‘21st century fairy tale’ for a competition in a British magazine.

Rambunctious

Recently I posted on this blog about discovering a new word, rambunctious.

https://wp.me/pkm0h-1Kt

and suggested this as a theme for the meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, on 7 July. My contribution was not a fiction but a true story, about teaching the classes VI. Here’s part of what I said:

… …

As I say often, ‘now for something completely different’. The only link to the word ‘Rambunctious’ is that had I known it then I would certainly have applied it to class VIa at School Number 1 in Suceava, Romania, which I taught for a while in 1993/1994.

Here’s the story class VIa submitted though eventually the story they wrote had to be edited down to 500 words for the competition.

A 21st century fairy tale

A poster made with the ‘21st century fairy story’ created by the four class VI

A poster made with the ‘21st century fairy story’ created by the four class VI

Once upon a time there was a handsome young man called Mihai. Although he was only 22 years old Mihai was a very clever computer programmer and he worked in a radar station near to his home near to his home town of Putna, in northern Romania.

One day he saw a strange object on his radar screen. It seemed to come from nowhere and land deep in a forest nearby. Mihai went to investigate.

When he came to the spot he saw not an aircraft or spaceship but a strange machine which was surrounded by bright beams of light. Mihai knew they were laser beams. But his attention was captured by a very beautiful young girl who was standing completely still, also surrounded by laser beams.

Are you alright?” asked Mihai.

Yes, but I cannot move at all,” said the girl. “I am Irina. I was walking in the forest when suddenly the machine you see there appeared. A terrible man got out of it. He said his name was Zod. He said he lived at the end of the 21st century but he had seen me on his time scanner and wanted my beauty for himself for ever. He came to our time in that machine; it’s a time machine but something happened and he cannot go back. So he has trapped me here and looks at me every day. The laser rays will kill anything which tries to take me or enter the time machine.”

As Irina spoke, Mihai knew he had fallen in love with her and must rescue her.

I will come back for you,” said Mihai.

He returned in his latest invention, a large transparent globe which could fly, powered by light could transport him as energy to another place, and could deflect laser beams.

However, Zod’s protection was not just the laser beams. He had powerful robots which could transform themselves into anything they chose. When they saw Mihai’s globe they immediately changed to a black slime and coated the globe. Without light the globe was powerless. 

Thinking that Mihai was dead inside it, Zod ordered it to be thrown in the forest. It lay there for days and Mihai was almost dead when along came a bear.

He smelt the globe. It smelled sweet. He licked the black substance. It was sweet – like honey. Soon he had licked it all off.

Light entered the globe and soon it was active again. Mihai returned to the time machine and beamed himself into Zod’s machine.

Zod was a big, powerful creature but, thought Mihai, the bigger the better. I will transform into energy then transport him far away but not materialise him.

This he did. The giant burst of energy burned out all the circuits of the time machine, the lasers were destroyed and Irina was free.

Will you marry me?” asked Mihai.

Of course,” said Irina.

They returned to Putna where their families arranged a big feast.

Mihai and Irina were married and they all lived happily ever after.

THE END

Rambunctious

As I said, if they were excited to produce the story they were beyond control when they learned they had won a prize. We might say they were absolutely …

… rambunctious!

However, in my notebook, I had also written a letter to the editor of the magazine running the competition, before typing. Here’s an extract:

Letter to the editor

What is remarkable is that at the time they had been learning English for only two years – with me only a couple of months.

First each class was given the structure of a fairy story (see my sketch which I had recorded in my notebook) which was copied onto the blackboard (no computers then, so chalk on a real blackboard).

… the class was divided into groups of four and each group wrote their own story then read it (to the whole class). This was followed by a discussion during which I tried to suggest some improvements in the plots to get closer to a fairy story (the boys particularly tended to produce ‘Star Wars’ type science fiction tales).

At the following lesson I held a ‘workshop’ when again the structure of a fairy tale was explained and the vocabulary of the structure relearned. The outline plot and characters were defined.

The children were so keen they asked to come to school on a Saturday morning to produce the final entry. Again this was organised as a ‘workshop’, one pupil writing out the story as it was developed using many of the best ideas from the various groups.

Finally, after typing, a further lesson was used to give the opportunity to recognise and if possible correct any mistakes in English. Any mistakes they could not correct themselves have been left in the final entry.

The story production sequence has been of enormous benefit. Their already high motivation has been even further increased. They have considerably extended their vocabulary and they have had to explore different grammatical structures to reduce the number of words (to meet the competition criteria of 500 words).

RL

There’s more on teaching classes VI at school no.1

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The author, pointing to the window in the picture 'And interesting paragraph'Today was the second stage of the ‘Evocation’ project but this time I was one of the four writers, not the photographer. So unfortunately I don’t have a picture with all five performers as I did with the first stage – only of the four paintings and one of me with the painting which ‘evoked’ my story.

David, with a picture of a Norwegian ffiord gave us a wonderful mixture of myth and fact spanning from Viking times to the present day; Jo, with a drummer boy and his fife-playing companion on the battlefield, had us shedding a tear; James, given the unlikely subject of a couple of horses in a snow storm, had us in stitches. Sam (Samuel Moore) surpassed his usual brilliant self with astounding virtuoso performances of his flamenco compositions ‘evoked’ by a combination of the picture and the writer’s interpretation of it.

Unfortunately I cannot give you the three other stories as the authors may wish to enter in some competition and previous publication would prevent this. So, sadly, you have only my ‘Evocation’, as follows.

An interesting paragraph

Haynes King, who painted this picture called ‘An interesting paragraph’, was born in Barbados but came to England in his 20s. The two female figures are typical of many of his paintings but what has struck me more is the window, which also appears in several of his works. As I am a keen photographer it was his use of natural light, reflected from the newspaper to illuminate the reader’s face, which particularly appealed to me. I think the light and the newspaper are clues to the time of day: quite early in the morning.

The painting 'An interesting paragraph' by Haynes King.

Haynes King’s ‘An interesting paragraph’. Apologies for the reflections; it’s behind glass

When I first saw this picture I immediately thought of the Brontë sisters, though the environment is wrong – a quite humble cottage rather than a vicarage. Nevertheless, I chose to think of two young spinster sisters, relatively well educated so they can read and are quite well informed of world events. Research failed to uncover the date of the painting, only the date it came to this Gallery. So I chose to date the scene as 1865 and believed these sisters would have read Wuthering Heights and something from Charlotte and would have been aware that the male pen names of Currer Bell and Ellis Bell hid two talented women authors. Intelligent, well-read, they surely have dreams of meeting their own heroes and taking at least a small step up in society.

So, we might imagine the following conversation:

Here’s an interesting paragraph Emm. It says that slavery has been abolished in the United States of America. What do you think of that?” Sitting in the window reading a newspaper by the morning light, Lucy enjoyed scanning the paper and calling her sister’s attention to things she found interesting. Although she could read herself, Emily was happy with this usual arrangement.

Emily thought deeply before she replied: “It seems strange to me that a nation which fought so hard to win independence, freedom, from Britain, could retain slavery for so long. But of course there’s effectively been no slavery there for a while. How long ago was it abolished in the British Empire, thirty years or more?

Yes, something like that,” Lucy paused, then continued, “But I think we still have some kinds of slavery here, in particular for women. Because we can’t vote for members of parliament it’s very difficult to change that. It seems sad to me that the Brontë sisters felt it necessary to publish their wonderful stories with men’s names for the authors. Otherwise no one would have taken them seriously.”

Emily, always the more proactive of the two sisters, said thoughtfully, “Maybe we should try to do something about it. It’s all very well leaving it to a few ‘posh’ women in London but maybe we could push from the bottom of the pile. I kept the story about those women in London who set up a society; we could write to them. What did they call themselves? I can’t remember.”

Oh, I think it was something like ‘The Chelsea Society’, but that’s not right. It was ‘the something society’, a place in London but I can’t remember exactly,” Lucy replied.

After a minute’s silence, Emily shouted “I’ve got it, ‘The Kensington Society’, that was it! Please see if you can find that story I cut out.”

Yes that was it, and I cut another from the newspaper about some movement in Manchester. Maybe it would be better to write to the women in Manchester; we could ask about forming a group here, even go to one of their meetings. We could get a train from Leeds”. While speaking, Lucy jumped down from her window seat, shuffled through a drawer, then, “Here they are”, waving the cuttings.

What does it say about Manchester?” Emily asked.

Lucy quickly scanned the cutting: “Oh, only that some women were thinking of setting up a society, not that they’d done it. But there is a name of a woman who was interviewed about the idea – Lydia Becker. There’s no address, but we could write to the paper I suppose.”

Yes, let’s do that Lu. Meanwhile we can make a poster proposing setting up some kind of group locally and see what response we get. We might even get some more free-thinking men, our own Mr Rochesters!” Emily paused. “Even a Heathcliffe would be interesting,” she added, with a mischevious glint in her eye.

So, there we’ll leave our sisters, busy with paper and pen, with the hope that they did find their heroes though they would not get the vote in their lifetimes.

It was not until 1918 that women got the vote in the UK, and they had to wait another ten years before all women over 21 got the vote on the same terms as men. But the slavery continues even today, for example by women frequently being paid far less than men for the same job. Can you believe that, more than 150 years after my fictional conversation evoked by Haynes King’s painting?

You’ll find more information about our club, ‘Writing on the Wharfe’, on a recently created public Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/writingonthewharfe/

No children today (children’s film next door) but an attentive older audience. ‘Props’ for one storyteller on the floor.

In my previous post I said that I was writing a story for children, to be read as my contribution to what is becoming a regular presentation by our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, in Ilkley public library – each autumn, winter and spring. Our latest ‘spring’ presentation was earlier today.

As with so many of my stories, this one was ‘inspired’ by a post on one of the blogs I follow; the recent post related how a Latvian family, with three young sisters, had been ‘puzzling’ over a weekend. This story was, as usual and as I explained in my previous post, related to me by the  characters; all I did was write it down.


The Magical Spring Garden

That’s part of a crocus,” Melanie said.

I don’t think so, I think it’s part of a daffodil, in fact I’m sure it’s from a daffodil,” Lizzie said firmly. Lizzie, Melanie’s elder sister, was always sure of everything.

Daffdill, daffdill,” shouted Jilly, at two and a bit the youngest of the three sisters and always willing to back up her oldest sister.

Well I think it’s a bit of a crocus,” Melanie muttered grumpily.

Please don’t argue about it, just try to do the puzzle nicely and quietly.” The girls’ mum was used to these squabbles when the girls did something together, often ending in a fight, especially if that something was a bit difficult. This jigsaw puzzle was certainly not easy; one thousand pieces and really intended for an adult – or was it? The older sisters were just five and four years old.

The puzzle was about half done, thanks to a lot of help from mum, with parts of it looking just like the beautiful picture on the box but a lot of pieces had no obvious place to go, some of them looking just like another.

Well, I bet you don’t know what this is,” shouted Melanie, holding up another piece which had a complete star-like flower, again bright yellow.

Easy, easy, it’s a buttercup,” cried Lizzie triumphantly, “isn’t it mum?” as she grabbed the piece and held it up.

No sweetheart, this is a Spring picture but buttercups don’t come till the summer. That bright, shiny yellow star is called a celandine. Now girls, please stop quarrelling; I have to go upstairs to do some cleaning and I don’t want to hear a lot of noise or have to come down to stop you fighting. And be careful with that table; it’s a bit rickety.”

Can you tell us again what the picture is called before you go upstairs, please?” asked Melanie.

It’s called ‘The Magical Spring Garden’ and it does look magical doesn’t it, with all those flowers, some trees with half-opened blossom buds and lots of birds. Now, be good while I’m upstairs.”

For a couple of minutes the girls worked quietly but when Melanie tried to fit a piece into somewhere it would not go Lizzie grabbed it from her hand and, as Melanie tried to grab it back, the table tipped and all the pieces were on the floor, most separate, some not the right way up.

Look what you’ve done Melanie!”. Lizzie’s voice, half angry, half sobbing, faded away before her sister could answer, and she pointed at the floor.

The girls watched in complete silence as the pieces began to move, slowly, round and round, slowly, slowly one joining to another. Soon, the puzzle was complete.

That’s why it’s called ‘magical’. I’m going to call mum.” Melanie’s voice was trembling as she spoke, partly wonder, partly fear.

Suddenly, a bluetit in one of the trees flew from a branch and landed on Melanie’s shoulder. “Don’t call your mum, she will come down soon to see why you are all so quiet but this puzzle is only magical for children; adults don’t believe in magic. You just watch.”

Just watch quietly,” a robin, which had flown onto Jilly’s shoulder, whispered in her ear.

Two goldfinches flew to Lizzie’s shoulders, one on each, singing the same beautiful song before saying, together, “We do everything together, we’re oh so sociable, and never quarrel. That’s what you and your sisters should do. It’s much more fun like that. Now watch.”

The sisters, totally silent, watched amazed as one after another the blossom on the cherry trees, white on some, pink on others, red on just one, opened fully to fill the magic garden with colour.

One after another, white, yellow and purple crocuses opened to cover the grass with a rainbow of colours. At the bottom of many trees, the little bright yellow stars of celandines turned their faces to the sun.

Oh I’m going to pick some of those,” shouted Jilly as she began to get down from her chair.

Oh no, you should never pick the flowers. Here you will break the magic; outside, the flowers you pick will die and the others will be very sad. Just enjoy them where they are,” said the robin on Jilly’s shoulder.

Upstairs, just a bit worried she had heard nothing for such a long time, mum moved towards the stairs. Trying to make no noise herself she began to go down.

Downstairs, the girls heard the stairs creak. All of a sudden, with a soft rustling sound like the fluttering of birds’ wings, all the jigsaw pieces flew onto the table, arranging themselves into an almost completed picture of the magic Spring garden, as the birds flew back into the trees. Just a few pieces were not in their places.

Mum stood still as she slowly opened the door to see the girls sitting quietly with an almost completed puzzle . “Good heavens, I’m amazed. See what you can do when you don’t squabble,” she said.

Mum, mum, you’ll never believe what happened,” the sisters shouted together.

And, of course, she didn’t!

Club members reading today: from left, Danish, Romanian, Canadian then – as far as I know – British till, partly Viking he says, at far right.

St Patrick’s Day today and I guess there’ll be a multitude of  blog posts about it. As Ireland is one of my two favourite countries in the 43 I’ve visited, the other is of course Romania, I have to post something, but what? Last year I posted about a wonderful personal experience in the land of fairies. I might have seen a leprechaun on that occasion but I did have rather a lot of Guinness and Irish whisky; I’ll settle for less today.

I am trying to write a ‘fairy story’ today, as our writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) has one of our occasional ‘performances’ in a local library, Ilkley, next Saturday afternoon. Recently we have done it for Spring/Easter, Autumn and Winter/Christmas. It doesn’t have to be a children’s story though it has to be suitable for children. I love writing for them, drawing my inspiration not from the impressive list of Irish story writers but from children I know, daughters of a friend in our village or, on this occasion, and some past, from the daughters of my blogger friend in Latvia. However, back to Ireland … …

Irish writers

It is extraordinary how many Irish writers jump immediately to mind, way disproportionate to the size of this astoundingly beautiful country and people. I just made a list but I’m sure someone will say “what about … …?” I cannot put them, poets, dramatists, short story writers and novelists, in order of preference so I spent a minute putting them in alphabetical order.

Samuel BeckettBrendan BehanRoddy DoyleJohn EnnisOliver GoldsmithSeamus Heaney, James JoyceC. S. LewisLewis MacNeicePatrick McCabeIris MurdochEdna O’BrienLiam O’FlahertyGeorge Bernard ShawBram StokerJonathan SwiftOscar WildeW. B. Yeats.

Personally I’m hard pushed to make such a list for any other nation.

I could, though, make such a list for Romanian poets, they have a language which seems to me perfect for poetry.

Which brings me back to writing and a post earlier today from one of the first bloggers I followed, Romanian; at the time I was struck by how good his written English was and found his writing on writing interesting, which was unusual for me as much as I like to write, reading about writing rarely interests me.

His post today (or rather the one which interested me; he tends to post several times a day, most of which I do not open) is titled ‘Being a writer’ and includes a short video clip of American tv writer Chuck Lorre’s response to being asked for advice to new writers. I’ve never seen one of his sitcoms but what he said hit home:

Write what you love … write what’s real, write what you care about …”

When writing for children I write ‘inspired’ by children I know, so what I write is always based in truth. Those children may not always be entirely ‘real’, though they often are, but my method of writing whether for children or adults is simple: I ‘dream’ of the characters, wait for them to speak to me and write down what they say, do or think. If they don’t speak to me I don’t write, so I cannot follow the advice to write something every day. But as I write for me, with no aspirations to be published more widely than my blog, it doesn’t matter.

PS. Congratulations to the Irish rugby team which beat England today to win their first Grand Slam for 9 years and the third ever.

One of the things I love about WordPress is how a ‘like’ from a previously unknown blogger can take me into new worlds and on paths I’ve not only not explored but never thought about.

So it was that a ‘like’ took me to the Ukraine (I have been there in the real world) and discovered an unlikely blogging couple, Ukrainian/Australian. However, what caught my attention, as someone probably best known in the local writers’ club for writing really short ‘short stories’ – I’m talking of down to 25 words – was that Tatania and Tony write 6 word stories. I just had to have a go, so set myself to write one on the sixth day of each week. Here are my efforts so far.

Friday 2 March:
He walked in, she walked out.

Friday 9 March:
“Shut up”. My fist followed, just in case.


The following story is not so short, about 350 words, but was inspired by a meeting of the writers’ club at which members played around with a ‘story generator’. I left before this so didn’t know the ‘story generator’ was not a computer app but to me that is not the point. I used the occasion to provoke a discussion on the club closed FB group page about using such devices.

I did not use one to generate the following, unless I consider, arrogantly, my brain to be a bit of a story generator. As a journalist I was known for ‘always being able to see the story’.

The Story Generator

That’s a cracking story you wrote. I read it last night – couldn’t put it down.”

Thank you; I wasn’t so sure.” Alan looked at his pal, trying to see in his face whether the admiration was genuine or merely polite.

I wish I could write like you,” Pete continued “I’ve always wanted to write something but I never know where to start.”

Well, if you really fancy writing something why don’t you try a story generator to get you going. It’s a kind of app, some are free. All you do is feed in some words, like names of your characters, what kind of situation they are in – things like that. It’s all prompted so not difficult. Then out comes a basic story for you to work on. It might get you going. I’ll send you a link to a good one.”

Sure enough, when Pete arrived home there was the link in a message from Alan. Forgetting food, he set about answering the prompts.

Name of protagonist?: ‘Pete’ was entered, after a quick diversion to Google to see what the hell protagonist meant.

Come on, come on,” Pete muttered, repeatedly hammering the V key on his ancient computer. Finally he managed to answer the second prompt with ‘Violent’ and the third with ‘Angry’.

Situation?: ‘F’ ‘i’ ‘r ‘e’ was thumped in, accompanied by a tirade of curses directed at the ancient PC.

Second character?: Maybe Alan? No, that’s too easy. I’ll put this bloody thing in he thought as he hammered in ‘Computer’.

§

The young police constable was clearly uncomfortable as he looked around Pete’s room, trying to ignore the smell, a mixture of Sunday roast and acrid smoke, eyes averted from the charred pile on the floor, hardly recognisable as a corpse. “What do you think happened?”, he asked the fire investigation officer.

Well, it looks as though the PC exploded so, overcome by fumes from the old electronics, he couldn’t find his way out. Strange though how the monitor survived intact, working even.” He read aloud the three words on the screen:

Stuff you Pete!”

I put my first ‘writing doodle’ up on our writers’ club page and one reaction was that it was “courageous” to put these ‘doodles’ up for examination. I’m not sure about that but I thought I’d begin to put them up on this blog as they have so often been forgotten. They could be useful when I’m bereft of ideas. I’m thinking of making a sub-category under ‘Short stories’ and putting them there. The first one stood as a ‘short short story’. This one is clearly unfinished. You have three options: ignore it, think about how you would finish it, or even ‘nick it’ and finish it. 


I haven’t seen you in here before.”
I hadn’t noticed the person standing next to me until she spoke. I turned to look at her.
“Let me buy you a drink.” My surprise was evident as she continued, “You look sad.”
I could not prevent my look wandering from the soft brown eyes to the rest of this beautiful young woman, no more than half my age, dressed smartly as if for the office rather than as a lady of the night looking for business.
“I recently lost a good friend,” I found myself mumbling, half to myself.
“I’m so sorry – were they ill or was it an accident?”
“Oh, she didn’t die; she just suddenly stopped answering or returning my calls. I know that sounds pathetic but we chatted briefly every morning before.”
“Maybe she’s ill, or just too busy. Were you in love with her?”
“Oh it was nothing like that, we are both in happy relationships, just very close friends I thought. She’s not ill, I was able to check that through a mutual acquaintance. And how can someone be too busy just to say hello?”
“You didn’t tell me what you’d like to drink; let me get that and then you can tell me more if you wish.”
“I’d like that. I’ll have a scotch please then I’ll buy you one. Let’s find somewhere more comfortable to sit too if you’re not in a hurry.”
“I’ve all the time in the world,” she said, gesturing to the barman, “let’s sit over there by the fire. You go, I’ll join you in just a minute, then ….”


Doodling – can’t think of another word which means idly scribbling a few words, rather than shapes or pictures, while the mind is occupied elsewhere, or unoccupied. The result, a ‘little story’ as one blogger calls them.

_______________________________________________

I wasn’t surprised to see my grandmother when I opened the front door on a balmy summer evening, though some of you may think I should have been. She’s been dead for over 50 years.

You are looking peaky,” she said. “I heard you playing that Schubert Impromptu; a few wrong notes and a bit erratic in places.”

I looked for the ruler in her hand, the one with which she rapped my fingers at each wrong note when I was a boy. Nothing.

Are you going to invite me in?” she asked.

“No.”

“Well you come out for a walk then,” she said, extending a hand.

“No, it’s too cold out there, and I’m not ready yet,” I said as I firmly closed the door.

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