I finished the Costa first novel award book. Not an easy read.

In my previous post I said that the writing seemed to have become better and I was beginning to enjoy it. Then, suddenly, it was back to forcing myself to read. The similes began to jump out at me again.

(One of the advantages of reading a Kindle version – despite my love of real books – apart from taking no space in our small flat, is that some analysis is easy. The word ‘like’, the majority as part of a simile, occurs no fewer that 600 times. I’m surprised that none of the editors picked that up.)

The author seems to have had difficulty writing some chapters. Apart from the early chapters, the most obvious is when she introduces S&M. At the time I couldn’t see why it had been introduced but that becomes clear as you approach the end, though I’m still not convinced it was necessary.

Slavery

What I did like is that I learned quite a bit about slavery and that the ending was hidden well, at least from me. However, parts of the story were not believable for me, eg the court scenes.

Maybe my first novella/novel will not sound believable (if I ever finish it); though it’s fictional, most of it did happen, though not quite in the way I relate it.

Mermaid and bear

It was a relief to escape into my current reading, also a first novel, by a blogger I’ve followed for quite a while: Ailish Sinclair. I’ve got only about half way into it but already I can say that it has all the charm and magic of a good children’s story, wrapped up (so far) in an adult fairy tale.

I’ve always enjoyed her posts having learned a lot from them, which I why I bought her novel. Also the promise of some real history of witches, which I’ve yet to get to. Another draw was that she is/was a ballet dancer. I’ve been a lover of ballet since I was seven years old and some time ago I wrote a short story around a visit to Covent Garden and another visit there plays an important part in my unfinished novella/novel.

Ailish’s blog posts, especially about stone circles and castles, determined me to spend some of last summer in Aberdeenshire. It has been no surprise to find stone circles occurring in the book, momentous events happening within them (I don’t want to give too much away). Unfortunately, ill health prevented my visit. Maybe next summer.

A big surprise is that, halfway through the story I’ve been confronted with how I thought it would end. So I’m intrigued by where it will go now.

So, if you want a relaxing read, with all the ups and downs of a Catherine Cookson tale, this might be a book for you. But I’m only half way through so who knows what is in store.

Ailish’s novel is called The Mermaid and the Bear, published by GWL Publishing and available on Amazon and in some book shops.


Front cover of ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’.My current reading, The Confessions of Frannie Langton, winner of the Costa Book Award for a first novel, has suddenly improved. That is, the writing has improved or, perhaps better said, I am finding it easier to read.

Now on Chaper 29, I’m enjoying it. The writing flows and those interminable similes have mostly disappeared, though when the word ‘like’ does appear it resonates and irritates. Nevertheless, now enjoyable. It’s almost as though I’m reading a different author.

What brought about this change?

Although things did improve a little after the first five chapters, the big change occurred immediately after the author, Sara Collins, introduced the beginning of the lesbian relationship between Frannie and her ‘mistress’.

A lesson?

What really interests me is the lesson I might learn for attempting to finish my first novella/novel. Sara Collins said in the radio interview which introduced her to me (Scala Radio), that she disliked all the research she had to do into anti-slavery campaigns and London at that time. There was for sure a lot of research behind those first five chapters.

I said in a previous post that I was finding research tiresome. Is that affecting my writing? The words are not flowing as freely for me as I am used to.

A lesson: that the necessary research to ensure authenticity should not be allowed to ‘take over’ the main point of the story?

I’m beginning to understand why critics have rated the novel highly (including those from The Times and Guardian and, of course, why it might have merited the Costa award). I could, however, have done without the first few chapters which, had I not heard the radio interview, would have made me give up reading.


I said some time ago that I was changing the basis of my grumpytyke blog. From a general “view from Yorkshire, about anything” to concentrate on my writing, But not only of my writing, that of others too, be it from my reading of commercially published authors, self published authors, or unpublished works from people I know, including lessons learned from reading them. It will include an archive of my stories and ‘poems’ (this in still in progress). 

However, my previous favourite subjects – discrimination of any kind and food/cooking – in fact anything, might creep in from time to time.

After I’d heard Sara Collins interviewed on Scala Radio (one of many fascinating interviews I’ve heard on this station since I abandoned, most of the time, the ‘other classical music station’) I just had to read her first novel, ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’. The story is just as fascinating as I’d hoped but it has made me equally fascinated to know on what criteria the Costa prize in awarded.

The writing, in my opinion, is terrible.

Too many similes

I struggled through the first five chapters, much of the time not knowing what the author was talking about. From there it became easier but the overload with similes continued as did the often tortuous metaphors (the word ‘like’ seems to occur on almost every line – now it irritates me every time it occurs).

Nevertheless, I determined to keep going as the story seemed to be becoming as fascinating as the interview promised. As I write this I’ve reached the eighteenth chapter, having recently read at least a chapter a day.

During the interview I was interested to hear Sara Collins say she “hated” the necessary research into 18th/19th century London. I’ve been surprised to find that I’ve disliked my necessary research into 60s/70s London as I try to finish my novella/novel subtitled ‘A tale of unlikely love in 1960s-1970s London’.

Disliking research

I’ve been surprised because before this I’ve really enjoyed research, first in a research laboratory, then as a journalist. Perhaps now it’s just frustration that my memory fails so often as my novella/novel is based on real experiences. An example: I was at Covent Garden the first time Margot Fonteyn danced with Nureyev; I remembered much, including the 23 curtain calls and, of course, the balletGiselle – but I  could  not remember the precise date (easy to find – 15 February 1962) or details of the environment inside the opera house at that time, vital for my story. I’m still having problems with the latter.

One of the things I often dislike about the writings of ‘indie’ authors is that, as someone who has travelled a lot, it is obvious to me they have never set foot in the place in which they have set their story or action nor done the necessary research.


More on Scala Radio

I’ve found it worth listening to Scala Radio just for some of the interviews (not all, some of the ‘celebrities’ are, as usual, tiresome but not all: Howard Shelley talking about Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto was wonderful).

However I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy much of this station’s output, exceptions (as I’ve said in a past post) being programmes about film music, video games music and pieces from many ‘modern’ musicals. What is certain is that Scala has introduced me to quite a bit of classical music which I don’t recall having heard before, a pleasant surprise as I’ve been listening to classical music for about eight decades.

Unfortunately Scala is not on FM as we cannot get it on DAB at home and don’t have DAB in the car; I listen at home on the app. For the regular listening in the car, school runs morning and afternoon, the Classic FM presenters are two of my favourites: Tim Lihoreau and Anne-Marie Minhall). The third is Alyd Jones but unfortunately he usually shuts down on a Sunday morning at ten in favour of that gardener, just when one of the other Scala programmes I don’t like comes on.

Managed to scribble this short story for today’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe. The theme given to us was ‘radiation’; that’s the title of my story.

Working cover; photo of girl in mini dress holding a ‘Save the mini’ campaign poster

Photo: Daily Mirror

I say “managed” as I’m endeavouring to spend what writing time I have on completing the novella/novel in progress, subtitled ‘A tale of unlikely love in 1960s-1970s London‘ which was put on the back burner at least a year ago. Now I’ve set myself a target of at least half an hour a day working on it and have managed that for, so far, over a week. I intend to post something here sometime soon on this unusual, for me, way of getting me writing something. As I’ve often said, I usually write only when the muse prompts me.


Short story

Radiation

It all began well, except no breakfast allowed.

Later, I should have been forewarned as it took five attempts to get in a canula for a dose of vitamin k.

Screen please.” A kind of click somewhere beyond the glass screen between surgeon (and me) and the two young ladies who had been introduced as the radiology team. There were another four young women grouped around the operating table on which I was laying, on my stomach, head back, uncomfortable with a tube fed down my throat.

Interesting that the radiology team had to be protected from the radiation but not the six people on this side of the screen, I thought. Of course I couldn’t be, being the subject of the surgery.

Screen please”. Another click. I realised that it was the surgeon speaking, though I could see him only with difficulty, lowering my eyes as far as I could.

I saw the surgeon feeding something down the tube in my mouth, but also the nurse next to him holding something else.

Screen please.” Another click. I realised what was happening; the radiation was turned on for only a short time when the surgeon needed to see what was happening at the end of the tube down in my stomach.

Screen please.” Click. Then “One centimetre please.” The second instruction seemed to be directed at the nurse who I now saw was moving a black and white striped ‘cord’. “Ah, they must be centimetre markings,” I deduced.

Screen please.” Click.

The feeling in my throat was getting more and more uncomfortable. I expected to feel nothing as a result of a foul tasting spray into my throat before the procedure began. The pre-op letter had not prepared me for this. The spray had me gagging though, as I had been told not to eat for at least six hours before, I was not actually sick.

Screen please.” Click.

It was becoming more and more difficult to remain still. I had an almost irresistable urge to pull the tube from my mouth. Fortunately, my position on the table would have made it extremely difficult for me to do it. “This is far worse than open surgery with a general anaesthetic,” I thought.

Screen please”. No click? Then a rushing sound, getting louder and louder followed by a loud bang and the sound of breaking glass.

A scream, cut off sharply as shards of glass began to radiate above me from a point somewhere behind me. The surgeon grabbed at his chest as a red stain spread over his green surgical overalls then he collapsed to the floor.

A second shard hit the assisting nurse in the throat. A stream of red covered my face as I forced my arms upwards to grab the end of the tube coming out of my mouth and pulled, ignoring the pain as the long tube was withdrawn.

The other three, observers including a student nurse, fared better than the surgeon and his assistant; the radiating shards hitting them being small they were just covered with tiny cuts.

I woke up in recovery, two days later I understood.

Why am I here,” I asked.

I had been subjected to a high dose of radiation, they told me, as had been the five staff who survived. The surgeon did not.

Nor did the assisting nurse.

Months later, I’m still enjoying the lingering sweet salty taste of her in my mouth.

Thumbing through the notebook I use for writing pieces to be read at a meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, I saw a ‘poem’ which I thought I had never read. Evidently I did when there were few members there so I read it again today.

The theme set for today, ‘Change’, prompted another bit of nonsense in the form of an acrostic.

Facebook

Facebook
So many people on the hook
They’ve forgotten how to write
They’ve forgotten how to spell
Punctuation is nowhere in sight
While distorted grammar makes me yell.
Lies broadcast at random
Often with overphotoshopped pictures in tandem.
Plagiarism is rife
Just forwarding others’ work, not acknowledging the source.
Bullying too often takes a life
Particularly of the young and vulnerable, of course.
It all began with an idea which was great,
Now so often it is just an instrument of hate.
Recent changes are not to improve it,
Just to make bigger the owner’s pot of gold.
If it were up to me I’d remove it
But will any who have the power be so bold?
If I could I’d never give it another look.
Do you get the idea? I really dislike Facebook!

Acrostic

Cos of a little variation
He subjected himself to some radiation
Atoms and the like are not to be messed about
Neutrons should be left alone without doubt
Grizzly face is all that remains
Electrons pouring out of each of its veins
All change
Electrons are probably no longer there
Grizzly features covered with hair
Neutrons lost in their neutrality
Atoms give the face brutality
He shouldn’t have gone through that door
Cos the sign said ‘No entry’, and more.

Trying to keep up the momentum for new grumpytyke posts in 2020, I decided to add a short story dashed off over my morning tea yesterday, for yesterday’s meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the  Wharfe. I didn’t give it a title as I couldn’t think of a good one which didn’t give too much away.


Short story

Seeing a chateau in the Loire valley for sale for less than £300,000 we just had to buy it.

With four towers, one on each corner, surrounded by a moat and set in about 8 acres of land, somewhat overgrown, it was a magnificent sight. We expected a lot of work to make it habitable. That was not why I ran from it, alone, one night, screaming, never to return.

It was a few weeks after we acquired it that we ventured to the top of one of the towers. The steps of each tower were in a bad state and our priority was to make some of the ground floor rooms fit for living. At last that was done and Peter, my husband, set about making the steps in one of the towers safe to climb. 

One evening, after dinner at which I ate locally collected mushrooms in cream laced with very strong garlic I had brought from Romania, Peter returned to the tower saying he had only two or three steps still to do. He avoids garlic, disliking it intensely, so I had to make a separate dish for him; it was no problem as I just put the crushed garlic in mine at the last minute, so it wasn’t cooked.

Picture of a chateau at night

Credit to ‘Escape to the chateau’

After about half an hour Peter emerged, covered in dust and cobwebs, from the door leading to one of the towers saying, excitedly, “You must come and see the view from the top of the stairs. The nearby river is glistening in the light of a full moon, as is our moat; each of the distant surrounding farmhouses is bathed in a warm light, very romantic, and the sky is full of stars. Come on.”

The torch Peter held illuminated the spiral steps to the next turn as we slowly climbed the four floors of the main part of the house then one more to what seemed to be the top of the tower. A single window, wooden frame rotten and no glass, framed a view just as Peter had described. I was speechless. We stood in silence for what must have been at least five minutes. “So beautiful,” I whispered at last. I felt Peter squeezing my hand. No words from him were necessary.

“Are we actually at the top?” I asked, gesturing to a dusty door at the final step. “I think so,” Peter answered,” but I haven’t yet tried to open the door.”

“Let’s see if we can open it,” I pleaded, “it seems a pity to climb all the way up here without knowing what’s behind that door. Maybe the view is even better”.

Peter picked up the iron spike with which he had been prising muck off the steps, inserted it between door and jamb, then put his shoulder against the door expecting a lot of resistance but it flew open with such ease that Peter had difficulty keeping on his feet. Total blackness. No sign of light from a window like at the top of the steps, but as Peter began to turn the torch to shine through the door there was a loud rushing sound, like an extemely strong wind, and dozens of small dark  shapes emerged from the door, causing Peter to fall against me, before the black shapes disappeared out of the window. I screamed.

“Just bats,” said Peter. “They’re probably protected; we’ll have to get someone in to advise us before we do anything to what seems to be another room. Let’s go in, shall we, to see just what we have here?”

Nervously I nodded, holding his hand tightly, as we entered the dark space in front of us, making out beams and the underside of slates making the conical top of the tower.  Everywhere was festooned with spider webs, thickened by layers of dust. “Let’s go,” I said. “I’m sure it’s better to come up here in daylight.”

Before Peter could answer there was an unearthly shriek from somewhere in the room, followed by a sound like flapping of enormous wings. The torch fell to the floor, its light going out as Peter screamed, more of an uncanny gurgle through which I could just make out “Get out, get out for God’s sake”.

I fell down the first few steps, past the window, and turned to see Peter on his back half way through the door, his head flopping loosely over the first step, blood spouting out of two punctures in his throat. I crawled up to him putting my hands to his throat trying to staunch the two fountains of blood. I frantically tried to rip off a sleeve of my dress but as I did so I saw Peter’s face by the moonlight coming through the window distorting, becoming more and more terrifying as two fangs grew longer from where his canine teeth had been. Ignoring them, I decided I must try mouth to mouth resuscitation but as I lowered my mouth to his an horrific scream came out of his mouth, he rose up throwing me aside, seemed to grow black bat-like wings and flew out of the window.

I half ran, half tumbled, down the tower steps, wrenched open the door of the chateau, ran over the causeway crossing the moat and ran the kilometer or so over fields to the nearest farmhouse. There I lay on the step, covered in blood, banging on the door till it was opened by my horrified neighbours. The police arrived a short time after that.

They found Peter at the base of the tower, half in half out of the moat with two deep punctures in his throat, made they said by the spike Peter had been using. 

I said I never returned to the chateau. I cannot. Most of the time I’m shut in my room in a secure women’s hospital for the criminally insane.

Ben Nevis, Britain's "highest hill"Those of you who have followed me for some time (11th anniversary for grumptyke the other day) will know for my attempts at poetry and short stories I like to write short, often very short, and in a form for which there are strict rules.

Something I have never tried before is a pantoum, based on the Malay literary form of pantun, which has a rhyming structure and in each quatrain repeats lines from the previous quatrain.

Wanting to write something in praise of my friend Ruxandra’s (and founder/leader of our writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe) amazing hike of 120 miles in 3 days in the Scottish Highlands, in aid of a young persons’ mental health charity – Young Minds Trust – I chose to scribble a pantoum over my pre club meeting lunch.

Here it is:

Homage

She climbed Britain’s highest hill
In a trek of some 120 miles
Covering Scottish Highlands with only will
Yet her reports were filled with smiles

In a walk of some 120 miles
Some of us might give up before the end
Yet her reports were filled with smiles
Not a glum face wherever she might wend

Some of us might give up before the end
To return to the start by bus or train
Not a glum face wherever she might wend
But a walk for troubled youngsters has much to gain

To return to the start by bus or train
Never entered her crazy Romanian head
Not a glum face wherever she might wend
But I bet she welcomed at last the stay in bed

Struggles with longer writing

My battle to finish the one ‘long’ piece of fiction, working title Miranda, I’ve attempted continues. Starting as a 300 word short story, it’s now become a novella at about 30,000 words but my ambition is to grow it into a novel. The subtitle – ‘A tale of unlikely love in 60s-70s London‘ – tells me there’s enough material in my head from that exciting time, my time, in our capital to merit it. Dragging distant memories to the fore and turning it to fiction, easy for the first few chapters, is proving more difficult as  the journey through subsequent chapters continues. It is, after all, a period of my life between 47 and 52 years ago but draws somewhat on my experience a few years further back than that.