Short stories


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

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?

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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.

The trees are just beginning to colour for autumn; the rowan berries are ready. pictured today from our sitting room window

The trees are just beginning to colour for autumn; the rowan berries are ready for the birds. Pictured today from our sitting room window

She’s done it again: Ruxandra, the wonderful leader of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, has persuaded the organisers of the prestigious Ilkley Literature Festival ‘fringe’ to let us loose on stage again following our debut last year. Each of us will have a spot of around 5 minutes to read our contribution in a one hour programme. The overall theme will be autumn. I’ve still to write something so any ideas from you wonderful writers/bloggers out there will be gratefully received.

Most of my followers are far away from Ilkley but, just in case, we’re on at Church House, Ilkley, 7-8pm on 14 October. Entry is free.

Haiku and short story

Last year I mixed some haiku with a short story for my contribution (if you have the stomach for it you can see a video clip on a post I did following it). I’ll probably do the same again. In fact I already have a haiku which might fit the theme, though it was written as part of answering the given theme of ‘Reflection‘ for a club meeting last year. For that I experimented with several different kind of poetry – including a first attempt at writing a Shakespearean sonnet – as well as a short short story. I inflicted it on those of you following me at the time in a post.

Here’s the haiku I might use:

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

As many of you know, I enjoy writing short pieces with a precisely defined structure or number of words – haiku, tanka, stories of 75 and 100 words exactly. Shortly before this summer’s trip to Romania I came across 50 word stories and resolved to attempt one, or more. Now, having largely renounced anything other than my Facebook journal Dusty2Romania, and a very few blog posts, while travelling I thought it might be a way to ease myself back into so-called ‘creative writing’. I haven’t dared pick up my ‘long short story’ which, at approaching 25,000 words, was turning into a trilogy but I will, eventually.

So, here’s a bit of ‘fun’ in 50 words – precisely. 

She sat in the sun, he close to her. Their three little ones scampered below watched by the vigilant parents. A warning cry ended the carefree melee; a few seconds attentive inaction then the youngsters hurried to join the adults.

Frustration polluted the air with every twitch of Tabby’s tail.

The ever enthusiastic, hard-working Romanian founder and leader of our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe, Ruxandra, always pushing us into new ventures, recently agreed with a local free magazine, Suburban, that each month one of us would provide text for a page. This month I volunteered, mostly choosing the short short stories I favour, or haiku. Some of them you will have seen here before.

Although as a former journalist I’m used to seeing myself in print it’s still a bit of a thrill; I don’t think I’ll ever lose that. I love the blogosphere but that doesn’t give quite the kick that appearing in print does, especially when you know that your work will be dropping in 48,000 local mailboxes.

Here’s the page (some of the haiku were not formatted as written, three lines 5-7-5, but I’ll live with that):

Our writers's club page in the magazine 'Suburban' for June 2017

Suburban, June 2017

 

Dusty with me in Harrogate today. Petronela was, of course, taking the picture

Meet the new member of our family; we’ve christened him Dusty. He is joining Mini, the classic mini, and temporarily Lofty the VW camper. Lofty, sadly, will be going to another family (ie, he is to be sold) as I can no longer look after him as he needs and certainly I am no longer able to drive him to and around Romania, and back, as I did two years ago. We’re hoping Dusty will be taking us on a similar trip this summer. He is, of course, a Dacia Duster, which is spacious enough for an overnight sleep if we don’t want to put a tent up. Despite the reputation for taking five elephants or, in my case, a piano (which she brought home from Newcastle a few years ago), Mini was not good for an overnight sleep though we did it in a awesome storm somewhere in Germany when she took us to Romania and back in 2006.

Monochrome summer

Those of you who have been following this blog for a few years will know that classic cars are not my only ‘classic’ loves; classic French cooking, classic(al) music and classic cameras are others. Although I have not posted on it for a long time, since health problems forced me to cut back on blogging, you can still visit it by clicking on my classic camera/film photography blog (link also at bottom right) and with easier driving I hope to take one or two classic film cameras, maybe one 35mm and one medium format (or more!) to Romania this year and make it a monochrome (my preferred film medium) summer, leaving Petronela (my wife) to capture the spectacular Romanian landscapes in colour.

Writers’ club theme

Coincidentally, in our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe we’ve been set ‘a monochrome summer day’ as a final theme before the summer break. Though I’ve said I’m not usually going to write to given themes in future, concentrating more on my ‘novella’ or trilogy of novellas when not ‘grabbed’ by an idea for a short story, haiku or tanka, I might be tempted by this one – dark rooms (and darkrooms), ’60s cameras and black and white images have so many possibilities.

Anyway, as you can see, Dusty is black and white!

 

 

Following what we deemed to be the ‘success’ of our winter story-telling in Ilkley Library last year we (our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe) repeated the exercise last Saturday but with Spring/Easter stories. Three of our new members were performing for the first time. There were some great stories, poems and a song – or two.

The 'team' pictured after the performance

L to R: Kayla, Becky, John, Emma, Roger, Ruxandra, David, Helen (thanks to Adam for the picture)

Great fun, good chats in the pub afterwards for some of us then more ‘fun’ in the park for a few of us (it was a spectacularly lovely sunny day, warm, more like summer).

Emma and Becky sitting on the grass in Ilkley Park after the meeting

Singer-songwriter Emma Nabarro-Steel and blogger extraordinary, Becky Bond, who brighten up our meetings with their wonderful talent

A chat with one of our new members in the pub showed me the path the protagonists in my ‘long short story’ might take and an ‘event’ in the park gave me an idea of how they might reach their destination, whatever that might be (I’ve written the beginning and the end, though it’s all in draft so could change).

I hope that I might receive some of the contributions from other members so I can post them somewhere so you can see them, but in the meantime I can only post mine, below, prompted by a comment from a member when planning, that “children should be introduced to new words”.


Maleficently

“I’m really fed up, cooped up here in the dark.” The voice was muffled in the cramped space.

“Oh be quiet, we haven’t been in here for very long, not a day yet, and we’ll be out soon then you know what will happen, don’t you? You’ll really have something to complain about.” The answering voice was very close, a soft, calming voice even if it was telling him off.

“Well, I wish I could at least see you. You do have a lovely voice.”

“That’s nice, thank you. So, would you like me to sing you a song to pass the time?”

“Oh yes please, I’d love that.”

“OK, now let me see, let me see … oh yes …

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great —”

“No, no, no, stop! Not that one, please, anything but that one.”

“I’m sorry, it’s the only one I know. What else could I do? Oh yes, would you like a limerick instead? I know a limerick, in fact I just made it up.”

“OK, I’d rather hear you sing but if you only have that song. You do have such a beautiful voice.”

“Well, I’ll try to sing-song it. Here goes …

“There once was an egg called Humpty
Very good looking but dumpty,
He sat in a box
Protected from shocks
Till he sat on a wall and —”

“Woah, stop, it’s going to be as bad as your song for sure!”

“Oh dear. How about a haiku then?”

“What’s a hi coo? Something a pigeon says?”

“No silly, it a very short Japanese poem, just three lines.”

“Alright, go on then, but nothing about sitting on a wall this time, please.”

“Right, let me see …

 “sitting in the dark
humpty   met girl in a box
fell in love   right there”

“That’s not a poem, it doesn’t rhyme.”

“A haiku doesn’t rhyme, it just has five syllables, then seven syllables, then five syllables. Lots of poems don’t rhyme. Do you know what a syllable is?”

“Of course I know what a syllabub is. My mum makes them all the time. Do you think I’m —”

A sudden burst of bright light, and excited voices of children, interrupted:

“Oh yes, they look perfect, I think I’ll choose this one, it’s a nice pale colour so I can paint it,” said one of the children, a girl about seven years old, as she carefully lifted her selection out of the box and put it in a white egg cup.

“The one next to it looks good for me,” said another voice, a boy about the same age. He lifted the adjacent egg out of the box and put it, not so carefully, into another egg cup next to the first one.

“Be careful,” said the girl, “you’ll break it if you’re so rough. So, what are you going to do with yours? Something nice for Easter?”

“I’m going to make it into Darth Vader, all black, with a big laser gun blasting everything to pieces.”

“Oh no, that’s not right. Anyway, I’m sure your’s is a girl. It’s mine that’s a boy.”

“OK, OK … I’ll make it Maleficent then.”

“Why do you always have to make everything nasty. I bet you don’t even know what maleficent means, do you?”

“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just the name of the wicked queen in Sleeping Beauty. I like her, she’s got horns, which is perfect.”

“It does so mean something, it means something doing evil or harm to someone else. Do you really want that for Easter?”

“Of course I do,” the boy said, drawing the sword from the belt of his red soldier’s uniform and brandishing it wildly.

“Oh do be careful, it’s you that’s maleficent, not the egg. I’m going to make mine into Humpty Dumpty, with red trousers and a big smile.”

“Did you hear that?” the soft voice said, “I’m going to be a wicked queen and you’re going to be Humpty Dumpty. You know what happened to him don’t you?”

“I don’t care, it’s just nice to be next to you again and to see you. You’re just as beautiful as your voice”.

Before an answer could be made both eggs were lifted out of the egg cups and the children were working busily with paintbrushes, the girl with red, the boy with black. Soon they had finished, a jolly Humpty Dumpty in one egg cup, a menacing black queen with plasticine horns in the other.

“Come on, let’s go and hide them for the egg hunt,” said the girl, picking up Humpty Dumpty and running outside, followed by the little soldier with his dark queen.

“Let’s hide them behind the holly bush, you know, on that wall. They won’t be easy to find there, especially as it’ll be a bit prickly to get in there,” shouted the boy as he ran towards his chosen spot. The girl squeezed in behind him, placing Humpty Dumpty carefully on the wall. “Hooray,” cheered the boy. Drawing his sword and, waving it about, he knocked Humpty down, where he lay on the ground, his smile still beaming up at the children but his red trousers in a dozen small pieces.

“Don’t worry, I’ll fix him” said the boy as the girl began to cry.

“Don’t be stupid,” the girl blubbed through her tears. “If all the king’s soldiers and all the king’s men couldn’t do it, one stupid little soldier isn’t going to do it. I’ll go and make another, but you just go away, right away.” Stamping on the smile as she squeezed out of the space, she ran into the house and slammed the door firmly shut.

Now, If you looked very, very carefully at the evil queen up on the wall, you might have seen her smiling – maleficently!


Now children, I’ll let you into a secret, maleficently isn’t a word. I just made it up. But I think it’s a good word for the kind of smile you might see on that bad queen’s face, isn’t it? Can you say it? So, how did the queen smile?MA – LE – FI – CENT – LY.

Now here’s one for the adults:

CENOSILICAPHOBIA

or perhaps even better

CENOCYLICAPHOBIA

Either way:

Ceno – empty (as in cenotaph, an empty tomb)
Silica – glass, or Cylica – drinking vessel
Phobia – a fear of

So, at risk of offending any Greek scholars out there, fear of an empty glass, that Saturday evening feeling which prompts you to get to Aldi, pdq!

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