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.

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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!”

Reading my morning story in Menston library. Next to me is our wonderful leader, Ruxandra Moore, who founded our writers’ club

Our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, yesterday gave story reading sessions in two local libraries yesterday, Menston Library and Ilkley Library. The theme was ‘winter’ or ‘Christmas’. This follows similar readings in just Ilkley for Autumn and Spring. As we expect families to our readings I wrote two ‘children’s stories’, I’d hardly call them ‘fairy stories’.

They were both inspired by children I know, in a way.

Here’s my introduction to the morning story in my local Menston village library: “We have a very special young lady in the audience this morning. Last year our writers’ club ran a competition to find the young writer of the year and she, then just six years old, took second place. I think she got that place for her creativity and that creativity inspired me to write a story just for her. The rest of you might find it rather strange. Her story was about a shark in a rather strange situation.

To read my story which she inspired go to:

The shark that ate half of Father Christmas

For the afternoon I was inspired by three even smaller girls who I know only through their mother’s blog. Following their daily lives gives me a great deal of pleasure so although the story is fictional it is not entirely so.

To read it go to:

Spiders

Our ‘star turn’, David, a great story-teller, does a bit more than ‘read’

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.

§

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.

§

Petronela the chicken

Petronela. An extraordinary attire but I don’t like that look in her eye!

Sunday 15 October

An extraordinarily warm mid October day prompted a complete mind shift from yesterday. Then a spot of baking pushed out any stage nerves before ‘performing’ at the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ (in fact I arrogantly don’t have any – I never have been frightened of making a fool of myself and it gets worse with age – readers of this blog may well have deduced that 😜).

Favourite short walk

Today walking with Petronela on our favourite short local walk, intent on having a chat with another Petronela – a chicken, one of those who lays our eggs. I really wanted to get a picture of Petronela holding her namesake but we couldn’t find her (the chicken). Every one of the ladies has a name and Sue, who with Simon provides a home for these ladies who lay our “very free range eggs”, knows each one of them by name. I had to settle for the dog for my photo.

She was here earlier,” said Sue, “she was eating like a pig.” Looking at the Petronela who can polish off a plate of spaghetti bolognaise in little more time than it takes me to grate some Parmesan on mine, I held my tongue. Who cares? They both remain beautiful, as you can see. The picture of chicken Petronela is one taken on an earlier visit (by Petronela –  confusing isn’t it?).

A large group of walkers arrived just before us which prevented Sue helping us locate Petronela. Clearly most of them had not been there before so seeing the discomfort of one, as a very free range lady tried to nick his slice of Sue’s exceedingly good homemade cake, made my day.

Charity

Sue and Simon are an extraordinary, lovely couple. They sell the eggs, with an ‘honour’ system of payment, and serve homemade cakes and drinks to passing walkers if they are home, but all the proceeds go to a charity supporting teenagers with cancer. Once a year they have a charity day to support one local young person disadvantaged in some way. P and I have a money box into which change of 10p and under goes throughout the year to hand over on that day.

When I despair of the world in which we now live I think of Sue and Simon and how lucky we are to have that walk to chat with them.