WARNING! This is one of my ‘grumpy’ posts. Although I first set up this blog to have a grump about things which irritate me, hence the user name, I don’t do that often now.

What has irritated me recently? Bloggers who think they are psychologists, philosophers, even psychiatrists, and/or are competent to advise on writing fiction though either they have never had their writings, particularly a novel, published or only self published. I don’t mean to knock self publishing – I’ve read some great writing on blogs, which is after all a form of self publishing, but I think the test for any would-be novelist has to be the market – has the ‘advisor’ had a novel published by a commercial publisher?

I know there are some outstanding exceptions but even with that there seems to be only one bit of good advice: don’t be discouraged by rejections and keep submitting (after all, if I’d have received Harry Potter I’d have rejected it!). Having said that, do get it edited by a good native speaker of the language in which it’s written. (No. I don’t want the job.)

I know, I know – such blogged advice usually gets a lot of ‘likes’ and grateful comments – some people are even willing to pay for it – but I wonder how many would-be writers in fact go on to be successful writers based on such blogged advice.

Short story writers and poets have it easier; it is simpler to get into an anthology though I would not belittle that.

Blogging is different

Blogging is somewhat different; if you want thousands of followers (I do not) there are several things you can do in your writing to achieve this; most of them are ‘mechanical’ and could be done by a robot. In fact there are ‘digital robots’ out there which will analyse your writing and ‘advise’ how to increase readers and followers or even do it for you. And there are some really ‘successful’ blogs on which the writing is terrible.

One exception is of course bloggers writing in imperfect English, that not being their native tongue. I follow several blogs like this and have great admiration for these bloggers, quite apart from the enjoyment I have from what they post.

If your blog has a ‘theme’ then even if the writing is poor you may get followers who are interested in that subject. .

One of the blog things which most impresses me is a number of non-native English-speaking bloggers who post in two languages – both their own language and English – and in which the standard of English is excellent. I can only judge those published in Romanian and English as the only foreign language I speak pretty well is Romanian; in fact I usually only read the English if I get stuck with the Romanian, which is rare now.

Writers’ club

One of the things I really like about our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, is that advice is given only if asked for (and we do have several published writers); the same applies to ‘criticism’ (which I use in its positive sense: “The analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work“ – Oxford dictionary). Such criticism is anyway always kindly and supportive. There is never criticism in the other sense: “The expression of disapproval of someone or something on the basis of perceived faults or mistakes.”

Writing fiction or poetry is something pretty new for me though I earned my living from writing, sometimes a very good living, for most of my working life. But even in my field I’d be wary of giving advice.

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I don’t now often pick up on the writing prompt given in our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, but that for today – Poem in the Pocket – appealed. So, picking up my fountain pen I saw the words pouring out into my little primary school exercise book. For certain, as I had the day before read the latest offering from one of my preferred blogging poets,  Jenni Winterburn (a Yorkshire lass, the optimistic pessimist) – you might say my absolute favourite – I have to acknowledge that it’s been influenced very much by her poetry.

§

poem in the pocket
among the coins
screwed up tissues
words
and things better forgotten
a poem jostled by the little ones
1p, 2p, 5p, even 10p
which no longer buy anything
just wear holes in the pocket
so the poem slips out
word by word
lost for ever
unless you’re careful
longish beautiful words
like happenstance
which i’ve been trying to fit
into a poem for ages
slip out too
lost for ever
even floccinaucinihilipification
might escape
thus preventing sesquipedalian texts
or poems
and logomachies
disrupting our writers’ club meetings
somehow this little ‘poem’ did not get away

but those long words

better
lost for ever?

◊◊◊

As I’ve said before, I no longer consider the 5-7-5 ‘verses’ I write to be haiku but I think it’s as much a haiku as any in English I’ve seen on internet. It was written for a special friend, not a blogger.

Winter in her eyes
Its beauty shatters her gaze
In love yet again

The short story was written very quickly, maybe 1/2 hour, for the first 2019 meeting of our writers’ clubWriting on the Wharfe. It is completely unedited, just as it came pouring out of my fountain pen, with which I now write everything, only typing up later for internet. 

Short story

The New Year has never begun well for me, not for as far back as I can remember.

But, downing the glass of bubbly as Big Ben’s hand moved steadily past twelve, I really thought this year would be different. 

I’d arrived at the party late, too late for the hosts Kath and Mike to introduce me to everybody in their crowded sitting room, probably 30 people in all. I didn’t mind; I’m not at all good with people I don’t know.

But then, bubbles exploding on my tongue as the sixth chime struck, I saw her. Or rather, her eyes pulled at mine. Embarrassed, I tried to look away from that frank, open look inviting entrance to an enchanted world behind those wide, soft, brown circular doors. I could not.

I made the effort to slowly widen my field of view, noting that the eyes were not much less than six feet from the floor though, glancing lower, I saw that her feet were almost completely flat on the ground, no tall heels to add to her height.

Avoiding her eyes, I slowly allowed mine to travel up her perfectly sculptured ankles and calves, pausing a moment at the hem of her dress just a couple of inches above her knees.

Continuing upwards, the lightly pleated, gossamer skirt, which would sway provocatively when she walked, did not hide her softly curvaceous form, a hint of the mount of Venus, a comfortable inviting cushion above it suggesting a love for her food. 

I paused a moment, imagining my head resting just where the long bare fingers of her right hand now rested, the fingers ending in perfectly manicured nails with a hint of shine from the uncoloured varnish.

A quick glance to her left revealed index and second finger gracefully retaining the stem of the almost empty champagne glass.

“Damn!” Her third finger was hidden.

My secret, so I thought, journey upwards dipped into a gentle waist then hardly changed direction to cross the valley between her pubescent breasts, girl-like though her whole demeanour suggested an age well into her twenties, maybe even thirties.

Finally I summoned courage to look for those eyes again. They were still looking directly into mine; was that a smile in them? It was certainly not mockery, which I half expected to see. 

It was only ten paces to arrive directly in front of her, looking a little upwards into those eyes. 

Hello. May I get you another drink,” I heard myself saying.

That would be nice of you.” Still her eyes never left mine.

As I reached for her glass I felt a presence at my side. With difficulty I pulled my eyes away from hers to see a man a couple of inches taller than her, handsome, confident, superbly attired.

He smiled, a genuine warm, friendly smile.

Thank you for looking after my wife; I had to make an urgent call,” I heard over my thumping chest.

Damn again! Another New Year beginning disappointingly,” I thought.

Again you might blame my writers’ club colleague, Jo Campbell, for this story.

But not completely. The 17/18 years old students (at Liceul Tehnologic ‘Nicolae Nanu’, Broșteni, Neamț, Romania) of my former Romanian student, Paula, now herself a teacher of English, so liked my ‘dark’ 5th November story, which was prompted by Jo, I promised to write another for them. Unusually, I have written to the theme given for readings at today’s meeting of our club, Writing on the Wharfe.


Not in my diary

She had been meticulous as far as her diary was concerned. By ‘diary’ I mean journal, not a place to note appointments, meetings or other dates and times to be remembered.

The journal was completed over morning tea each day, relating the most important, to her, happenings of the previous day.

She had noted, on the page for 30th April, ‘St Walburger, witches’ sabbath!’. Born close to the Brocken in Germany, she had always observed this feast.

But, and it’s a big but, Richard, the name of the love of her life she has declared, has never appeared in the journal. ‘My love’, yes; ‘he’ or ‘him’, perhaps; but never the name – Richard.

Photo of the Cow&Calf

The Cow&Calf

It began one day when, as the sun was setting, she and Richard visited the famous Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor, in Yorkshire.

Not satisfied with standing on the larger ‘cow’ and admiring the superb view over the town of Ilkley and the Wharfe Valley, they descended with a mixture of runs and jumps to the ‘calf’ below. Giggling, they scrambled to the top of the smaller rock and lay out in the fading sun.

Let’s leave our names on the calf,” Richard suggested, “with today’s date. It’s a special day.”

I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Isn’t it better to leave the rocks as nature intended?” Heidi was a keen environmentalist.

One more won’t make much difference; there are so many on all the rocks,” Richard answered as he began to scratch the rock with a knife he always carried.

3, 0, A, P, R, 2, 0, 1, 5,  H, E, I, D, I,  A, N, D,  R, I, C, H, A, R … 

he hesitated as the knife met some resistance from an inclusion harder than the surrounding rock. Exasperated, he put his whole weight behind the blade, lost his balance and tumbled down to the ground.

Eventually the air ambulance arrived – two broken legs, a broken collar bone and a dislocated neck kept him in hospital for several weeks.

The following 30th of April, 2016, early evening, found the couple wandering through the New Forest hand-in-hand in the twilight. As trees began to assume fantastic shapes in the fading light, an impressive oak, its trunk of a girth which the two lovers could not encircle with their outstretched arms, made them stop and rest, backs against the rough but somehow comfortable majesty supporting the now leafy branches above.

I’m going to carve our names here so this tree will remember us,” Richard announced.

If you do, it will remember us with pain. Don’t do it, please.”

Oh, you’re too superstitious. Trees don’t feel and anyway it can’t do any harm to one so enormous!,” Richard retorted, the irritation clear in his voice as he took the knife from his pocket and began:

3, 0, A, P, R, 2, 0, 1, 6,  H, E, I, D, I,  A, N, D,  R, I, C, H, A, R …

a large gasp broke the concentrated silence as the knife slipped to make a deep gash in his left wrist.

Blood, so much blood, fountained from the cut, obliterating the carved letters before covering Heidi’s breast. Quick thinking, she ripped off her blood-soaked shirt and applied a tourniquet.

Nevertheless, Richard lapsed into unconsciousness and the paramedics, who arrived quickly following Heidi’s desperate phone call, told her he was lucky to be alive and would not be were it not for her prompt action.

One year later, 30th April 2017, found the couple on the Brocken, following a visit to Heidi’s parents. 

They didn’t take the steam train up to the highest peak in the Harz mountains but decided to walk, though there were vestiges of snow on the peak.

About half way up they left the road, found a clearing among the pines and sat to eat their picnic. Richard lit the tiny light-weight gas stove and poured bottled water into the small pan they had brought to make a warming tea.

Etching, St Walburger’s Night, Johann Heinrich Ramberg, 1829

Etching, St Walburger’s Night, Johann Heinrich Ramberg, 1829

This is a magical place my love; I’m so glad you brought me here.” Richard wasn’t usually so easily impressed.

You just be careful; it is a magical place but it’s witches’ magic, not fairies’ magic,” Heidi warned him.

Oh you and your superstitions. I don’t believe a word of it. Anyway, it’s beautiful. I’m going to carve our names in the dry turf here,” he finished, pulling out his knife.

Please don’t. Just leave it as nature intended,” Heidi pleaded.

But Richard had already completed her name and the first six letters of his own. Turning quickly, his elbow caught the little stove and it was on its side, setting the dry turf alight.

A forest ranger found them in a tight embrace. 

In his police report he wrote: “I don’t understand how the fire burned in a perfect circle with them at the centre, or how such a small fire could completely carbonise the two corpses. Even stranger in a way was that there was a diary lying there next to them, completely untouched by the fire. The last entry was for 30th April; it just read “This is not in my diary!”

§

I’m not a fan of ‘dark’ tales, of Gothic literature (not even Bram Stoker or Mary Shelley) though I did have a teenage period when I was crazy about Dennis Wheatley‘s occult novels (anyone remember The Devil Rides Out, his first, and the first I read?) – not quite the same thing but certainly scary. (The film ‘The Exorcist‘ cured me of that, sometime in the ’70s I think, and I’ve never watched or read the like since). However, as the meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, was a few days before 31 October we were set to write a ‘Halloween story’. I dislike what ‘Halloween’ has become too so I said I’d prefer to write around a real English tradition, a November 5th story.

Last year I did attempt a ‘dark’ story so I asked one of our newer members (Jo Campbell) to read it and give an opinion as she’s a fan of Gothic literature and writes ghoulish tales. As she is a relative newcomer to blogging I was delighted that about a week ago she extended her sparse blog to include things like her story (not ‘dark’ at all) for our ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival, which has to be my favourite from the night. Her blog is here.

As she liked my tale from last year (suggesting one amendment, which I’ve made) I decided to try another. This is below. Last year’s, Hallow’morrow, is under the ‘Short stories’ menu.


Guy was puzzled. Forks in the road, with signposts clearly indicating the way to his destination, never seemed to get him there. In fact, it was just one fork and the third time he’d arrived at it. He was feeling ever more cold though wearing warm cycling gear and it was not yet winter, being only the beginning of November, the 5th of November to be precise.

He’d set off from his flat in Gillygate in York, close to where St. Peter’s School had been when attended by the best remembered gunpowder plot conspirator, with the idea of visiting the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy; there was a ruined church, parts of which were medieval, and really old gravestones, which were particularly interesting to him.

He didn’t take his road bike as he’d decided to take a cross-country route from the still populated village of Wharram le Street rather than the usual advertised walk from the English Heritage car park. However, the gear change on his off-road bike had been playing up recently so he decided not to go directly via Malton but to make a detour to Easingwold and call in on bikeWright to see if they could fix the gear problem. 

The Easingwold shop had repaired the gear change but it took far longer than he’d planned. By the time he arrived in Malton the light was already fading and a typical November mist was thickening. He debated with himself whether it might be better to go directly home from Malton but he had excellent lights on the bike, chosen for riding off road in the dark, and a powerful flashlight in his backpack so, thinking a tour of the ruined church with no-one else around might be fun, he continued. He set off down the B1248 and was soon in Wharram le Street. Having taken Station Road as he remembered from the map, it was not long before he’d reached the fork with a signpost to Wharram Percy, though he almost missed it in the deepening gloom.

When he first set off down the narrow lane signposted to Wharram Percy there was still a little light so he was surprised when he seemed to arrive back at the fork. He had not seen any turning, signposted or not, since leaving the spot. “I must have missed it in the gloom,” he muttered and set off again.

On the second visit to the fork he recalled catching a glimpse of a billboard announcing that Catesby Estates had acquired a field near the fork for a new estate. “Many people would be scared to go out at night in such an isolated place,” he thought, “Strange how the notice has disappeared – maybe it was further back than I remember, maybe it’s just the mist is a lot thicker now.”

He began down the lane for a second time, cycling very slowly, looking carefully to left and right. Finally he come to a fork with a sign post to Wharram Percy.

But it was the same fork. Of that he was sure.

Was someone or something trying to tell him he shouldn’t go there? Should he give up and carry straight on, to Stamford Bridge then home to York?

“Damned if I will,” he said aloud. “”I’ll give it one more go!”

He set off again. There was little light now but enough, he thought, to make finding the church worthwhile. The lane soon became something he did not recognise, trees on either side making it ever darker but the broad beam of his headlight picked out ruts and large stones to be avoided. “This isn’t bad,” he thought, “if only it were not getting so damned cold.” He shivered, despite the effort required on the rough track.

A large dark mass emerged out of the gloom without warning; it took him a moment to realise he was only a few yards from the church, the broken tower reaching out to a moon filtered by mist, a few dark clouds recalling scenes from a Hammer horror film. Spooky.

Then he saw them, a small group of figures, men.

“Damn!” he exclaimed softly. He had hoped to be alone.

“Must be some kind of event, or rehearsal for one,” he thought, noticing now that the figures were in cloaks, pointed hats and carrying flaming rush torches, not flashlights.

Laying his bike down he approached them but before he could say a word one of the group said loudly “Thither he is. Alloweth not him receiveth hence.”

The group surged forward, one grabbing his arms, another swiftly tying his wrists behind his back.

“Hey, I don’t know who the hell you think I am but I’m not part of your play or whatever it is. I just came to see the church.”

“Thou art Guy aren’t thee?” The question came from the man who seemed to be leader of the group.

“Yes but –“. His answer was cut off with a glare and a slap in the face, a hard slap. “Bid us, bid us, who is’t they wast.” He didn’t understand and the accent was one he didn’t recognise.

He must have been slapped very hard as the faces in front of him kept fading in and out, even disappearing for a few seconds. “He’ll not bid, Sir William;” said one. “Rack him!” shouted another.

He felt himself being bundled forwards, then up stone steps in the tower, his increasingly desperate protests: “This is crazy! I’m not who you think, I’m just a visitor, and it’s bloody dangerous to climb up here,” were ignored.

The group ceased pushing him upwards. There was now only a glimmer of light. He strained to refocus on what was directly in front. Some rope, a loop of rope. A hangman’s noose. Instinctively he took a step to the side to avoid putting his head in it.

A dog walker (Wharram Percy is a favourite place for dog walkers early morning) found him at the base of the church tower. He clearly had a broken neck. “The idiot must have tried to climb the tower in the dark,” the dog walker said to himself as he pulled out his mobile phone.


Wharram Percy is probably the best known deserted medieval village in Europe as a result of all the excavation and research which has been done there. It’s now an English Heritage site.

Did you pick up the clues ‘hidden’ in the story? Not difficult. A bit of self-indulgent fun on my part. Guy Fawkes avoided the hangman’s noose for his part in the 1605 plot to blow up the House of Lords, with the king, either by jumping or falling from the scaffold (it is not known which) and breaking his neck.

Photo of after rehearsal last Saturday. Full caption on the village website

After rehearsal last Saturday. Full caption on the village website

Winding myself up for next Saturday’s ‘performance’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival, including promoting as much as I can. I even put a link on my now almost unused Facebook and resurrected my ‘alternative village website’ on which I haven’t posted for over a year.

I won’t post my contribution until after the event – I think I’ll have to ‘translate’ my ‘Yorkshire dialect’ before posting.

There’s more information on the resurrected village site, if you want it.

https://wp.me/p3LVH3-1MU

 

A picture of The famous Roman acrostic (and palindrome) or word square in Cirencester in the UK.

The famous Roman acrostic (and palindrome) or word square in Cirencester in UK.

I so love this blogging world. Over the years I have made blogging friends (friends in the true sense) from several countries; I have learnt so much about things of which I would not even have been aware were I not an avid reader of other blogs; and recently, the day before yesterday, I added a new word to my vocabulary, a rare occurrence having been an insatiable reader of books of many kinds for around three quarters of a century. I’m as excited as I would be finding a rare piece of ancient Chinese porcelain for 10p at a car boot or flea market. The word is: Rambunctious

As an aspiring writer (of fiction – I had a successful career in what you might call ‘documentary writing’), reading something with excellent use of the vast English vocabulary thrills me; lazy writing, with restricted vocabulary, makes me despair, the overwhelming example now being the liberal sprinkling of ‘the f… word’ throughout a piece. I’m no prude; it used to be a good word to use when riled; now, it having been made meaningless, we have been left without such a word.

Rambunctious – an 19th century north American word

Back to rambunctious; a little research found that it was was a north American word coined in the early to mid 19th century and, surprise, used in the Financial Times in 2011.  I was so excited at its discovery I just had to use it; I’m no poet but I decided to rush off an acrostic poem for today’s meeting of our writers’ club, ‘Writing on the Wharfe’. Here it is:

Rare is the day when
After years of devouring books –
Many times, when young, with a torch,
Blankets over my head
Until the battery failed –
New words, or even just one, are added to my vocabulary.
Came a blogger new to me,
Tasted, drawn by, my comments to another blogger friend,
Introducing her young grandsons as ‘rambunctious’.
Oh what a word to savour!
Uncontrollably exuberant, wildly boisterous,
Such am I today – rambunctious

Thanks are due to ‘atticsister’, an antique dealer and blogger from Illinois who was brought to my blog by my comments on the blog of my good blogger friend Ilze from Latvia. She described her grandsons as rambunctious. What is more, she also described them as ‘tikes’, calling to mind my own grandmother who often called me and my younger brothers that when we were being unruly.