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.

A photo of the moon taken from my sitting room window

Moon from my sitting room window (photo on film, ‘legacy’ Zeiss Sonnar lens)

It is now unusual for me to pick up on the theme given for members of our local writers’ club Writing on the Wharfe – to write something for the following meeting. Our most recent meeting before today was on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing so the theme given, no surprise, was ‘moon’.

Why it appealed to me I don’t know, perhaps  because on a clear night I follow with wonder her travel across the sky from our sitting room window, perhaps because I covered the event (from an engineering point of view) as a journalist in 1969.

My ‘poem’, however, has nothing to do with engineering.

Moon
brightly watching me through my window
Venus at her shoulder
stirring thoughts of love
Mars more secretly telling of his presence
protecting the three of us
from what I do not know
i feel the trio watching over you too
so far away
can you see them?
i know you feel the stardust
always
even when you cannot see the stars

My ‘poem’ is dedicated to my female blogging friend(s) who feel the stardust.

I’ve written once or twice about my attempts at a novella or novel (I’m still not sure how it will end up – it began as a short story). About a week ago, reading a short bio of my blogger friend Iulia Halatz on the blog of the literary collective Sudden Denouement I saw she said she was much influenced by W Somerset Maugham, which tempted me to pick up his “masterpiece” – Of Human Bondage. It’s a long book for me; I’m about two thirds through now at about chapter 80.

Autobiographical?

Without reading anything about the novel it seemed to me to be largely autobiographical and seemed in many ways to be similar to my attempts at a longer story. I have said more than once that my fictional writing is not entirely fiction, my factual writing is not always strictly true. Somerset Maughan said “Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other.”

That gave me some hope.

The necessity of personal experience

One of the things which has struck me forcibly is that his descriptions of his main character’s (Philip’s) times in London, around the turn of the century, indicate that it was not substantially different to ‘my’ London of around half a century later, despite two world wars. It is of course a lot different now. Perhaps the biggest difference between Somerset Maugham’s fictional London and mine is the attitude to the ‘gentleman’, the professional and the tradesman.

Initial boredom

As for his novel, I found the first 25-30 chapters – about Philip’s school days – boring. I think a chapter or two would have done. However, after that his times in London, Heidelberg and Paris, and the attempts at art, accountancy and medicine, I found fascinating and it is clear that the author was writing from experience. It reinforced my belief you should only write from experience, laying creativity over that; no amount of research can substitute in my opinion. I’ve been to both Heidelberg and Paris more than once but could never set a story in either; even my small reference to a visit to Paris in my tale wouldn’t be there if I had never been there and knew the event written about could have happened (it could not now).

What I have gained most from my reading of Somerset Maugham so far is an idea of where to go in my story and if it leads where I think it might lead it could well become a novel rather than a novella.

A photo of the working cover showing a mini-skirted girl 'with attitude'

My first attempt at getting my story going again was to format it as a book (https://wp.me/pkm0h-1G9)

I’ve often said I cannot write (fiction) to order, only when my characters hassle me to be heard; getting up early, or staying up late, to write 1,000 words come what may, as so often advised, is a pointless activity for me. So my first novella/novel(?) – ‘A tale of unlikely love in 60s-70s London’ – has lain untouched for several months.

Yesterday morning my two protagonists demanded that I pick up my fountain pen and give them a voice again. Why, I do not know. They did not say much, half a chapter from only one of them before I had to leave home, but they were clear what they wanted to say, each demanding a new chapter to give more details of a close friend, a friend who had a major influence on our lovers’ relationship. More than that I do not know.

It’s not writers’ block

Some time ago I felt I had not let them say all they wished to say but their tale had stopped at around 30,000 words. I had the idea that they each wanted to say more about a friend mentioned in passing but they wouldn’t say more at that time. I put the idea of filling out two other characters to my blogging writer friend Kristina Steiner, who has just published the second novel in her trilogy; despite her support for the idea my characters wouldn’t say more. Until now.

Beginning as a short story

The tale began as a short story, prompted by a theme set in our writers’ club: ‘what if?’ The story resulting, no more than two or three hundred words, became a chapter as one character began to speak. Shortly after the other of the couple demanded to be heard, so another chapter flowed out of the pen. They each now seem to be settled on allowing one to speak to me without interruption, for a chapter, then keeping silent while the other speaks.

Initially, each chapter finished with ‘what if?’ but that became tiresome and was deleted. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the idea of a story having more than one ending – ever since reading ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ when it was published during the era in which my tale is set. So my complete story became a ‘what if?’

Will my protagonists continue to speak? I don’t know but I would like to learn what happens to them. Hopefully, so will you if they do continue to speak.

 

 

 

 

Several members of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, took a break from writing on Saturday evening to take part in a ‘crime party’, organised by our founder/leader Ruxandra. I was not keen but went along to support Ruxandra.

I’m glad I did. I’ve never laughed so much at a ‘party’. The words spoken by each character were of course scripted but the cast being made up of writers there was a great deal of ad libbing, often hilarious.

If your club is getting rather ‘dry’ (ours was not) and needs an energising boot I can recommend the activity.

The ‘cast’: Pointing fingers accuse! Back row, l to r, gipsy fortune teller. grieving widow, retired army general, butler, victim’s lover, local PC and moonlighting stripper. On the sofa, the maid, academic and the murderer, French detective, chauffeur. At the front, the cook.

A ‘new’ word for my vocabulary

Ariana Savalas performing No Diggity with PMJ

Listening to PMJ (Postmodern Jukebox) today I was introduced to a new word, by somebody commenting on Ariana Savalas performing No Diggity. What a perfect word for a perfect performance.

The word? Eargasm

Another perfect performance giving me an eargasm, though I didn’t know the word then, was introduced to me the day before by my blogging friend Ilze. This was Miche Braden performing a blues cover of Prince‘s Purple Rain. Ilze had sometime earlier introduced me to PMJ.

PMJ’s pianist and founder of PMJ I believe is extraordinary – brilliant.

Anyone reading this blog for a while, or my ‘about’, will know me as a ‘classical music’ fan; in fact most of the day I have music from Classic FM playing. Until now my alternative has been Romanian ‘musica populara’. But I’ve now found another great alternative for when the Classic FM presenter (only a small number of the men, none of the women!) or programme irritates me.

Top of the list of irritating presenters is Alexander Armstrong with his unwitty, pointless  ‘wit’ and horrible presenting style. Thank heavens the station seems to have stopped playing his attempts to sing: he has a passable voice but he cannot sing.

One irritating programme is a kind of top of the pops (in which he figured for some time) which, based on the best  selling so called ‘classical music’ of the week, not surprisingly mixes some truly great music with a proportion of, to my ear, rubbish.

Definitely earache not eargasm!

PS. Ariana Savalas is Telly Savalas‘s daughter, so the fact I’d never heard of her shows how out of touch I’ve been. And the fact that I find most of PMJ’s covers better than the originals probably says much the same.

 

A screen shot of a preview screen showing the menu structure of my reorganised blog.

I still use the editor with which I began 11 years ago; in my opinion few, if any, of WordPress’s changes have been an improvement, rather the reverse. I disliked the ‘app’ from the start and I haven’t changed my mind.

Recently I decided to restructure this blog, in particular to highlight things which interest me more than when I began to post on it seven years ago (though it was created four years before that!). I didn’t want to change the overall look of it, with which I’ve always been happy; in particular, I now want it to be principally a ‘library’ of my fictional prose and ‘poetry’, grouped under menu headings. So I’ve changed the tag line in the header a little too to reflect that.

What has amazed me during this exercise is not only the number of short stories and ‘poems’ I have written but the different genres I have tackled. My first attempt at a short story was almost seven years ago; the ‘poems’ began about a month after that, prompted by a haiku from a blogger ‘five reflections‘, who I believe posts no more.

However, the greatest influence has been our local writers’ club, Writing of the Wharfe, formed by our lovely Romanian ‘leader’ Ruxandra Moore. I was a founder member.

A change of emphasis only

I continue to ignore the desperate attempts by WordPress to change my way of editing: “There’s an easier way to edit posts …”, it insists at the top of every editing screen. Not for me there’s not!.

Although I’m changing the emphasis, I do not want it to be a blog only as somewhere to publish my fictional writings, as many writers’ blogs are. I still want grumpytyke to feel free to have a grump about something from time to time and, when appropriate, give some background to the ‘creative writing’.

Until now all my so-called ‘creative writing’ appearing on this blog has been within a post giving some background, eg, this piece was what I wrote to read at a meeting of my local writers’ club, that piece was what I presented at the Ilkley Literature Festival, this work was inspired by something written (link) by this blogger, etc. So I wanted to separate the story or ‘poem’ from the post originally including it. Eventually there will be a link to the original post including it. I did this with my ‘haiku’ (I don’t now believe they are haiku – just 5-7-5  verses) and ‘tanka’ some time ago, collecting them together on a single page.

A work in progress

It’s a work in progress at the moment. It’s not too difficult to extract pieces from a post, put them on a page and put them under the appropriate menu or sub-menu heading, though I’m no IT expert so it’s far from perfect. Another problem is that I have quite a bit of writing which has never appeared on this blog.

’Poetry’ not Poetry

You may notice that I usually put inverted commas round the words ‘poem’ or ‘poetry’ when referring to my own creations. After reading and listening to poetry for more than seven decades I’m still not sure what poetry is so I am reluctant to call any little piece of mine a poem. Of course I have to tag them as such.

One of my favourite poets, David Machin, a member of our writers’ club, insists on calling his creations ‘verse’,  not poetry. Another, Matt Abbott told me during an hour spent with him on a barge on the Leeds-Liverpool canal, “If it makes the audience cry it is poetry” (see my ‘poem’ A Lesson in Restriction). The poetry of another, Iulia Halatz, which I ‘lost’, I’ve just unearthed hiding in an interesting writers’ collective, Sudden Denouement

An added difficulty is that for the past few months I’ve produced so-called ‘creative writing’ only with a fountain pen. So, unless I’ve typed it up to put in a post, it has now to be typed up to add to this archive.

A novella/novel in progress

Finally, I wanted this library to include pieces I’m working on so I have a sub-heading ‘Writing in Progress’. At the moment this is mainly chapters of a novella?/novel? I pick up from time to time (it began as a 5,000 word short story; now it’s reached about 30,000 words). Even this list gives something away: I don’t write by starting at the beginning and proceeding to the end. Nor do I ‘work’ at it; I write only when I feel the urge to write and may pick up a story, or ‘poem’, at any point. (Recently I read a blogging ‘guru’ saying that writing was hard work and there was no such thing as an innate ability to write. That may be so for him but in my view it is nonsense, even arrogant, to apply it to all writers.)

The work in progress is password protected.

For me, the only art form to compete with writing is music but as I do not create music I do not have a menu heading for that, any more than for my reading, though I may occasionally have posts about either. I’ll rely on the search facility to find those.

Food and Romania

I used to blog a lot about cooking/food and Romania so I decided to leave a menu heading for each of those categories, to display posts which fall into that category. At some point I’ll sort those out too.

As I said above, this reorganisation is a work in progress. If a particular story or ‘poem’ is clicked, you should be taken to that story or poem. If you click on a menu heading or sub-heading it should take you to all the posts in that category, as usual, but it doesn’t always do that. I’m working on it!

Regular readers may notice that I’ve simplified my menu system, majoring on my writing which is now my main interest as far as blogging is concerned, at least as an archive. Although I do not now do much fancy cooking, food remains a major interest, mainly satisfied through following other foodie bloggers. In the future I’ll be gathering together posts about food and Romania under those headings.


In my previous post I wrote of the emotion evident in a poetry ‘collection’ launched by K M Herbert, a fellow member of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, and her collaborator, Sussi Louise, who illustrated each poem.

Two years ago I wrote of my surprise that so many bloggers “lay their souls bare” and maybe I should do it. I do not think that I ever did so. So …

A blogger’s lament

I miss you.
How can that be?
I’ve never crossed the miles which divide us,
Nor have you.

Boxed in

I push up on the lid,
Just a small crack, but
The light comes in.
Four directions, illuminated.
Where my feet are standing now I cannot see:
Dark.
Empty?

Again I push the lid
More strongly, more urgently.
A flood of light
Tells me
It’s a wonderful world
In which we live.

Useless vocabulary

Friend’,
Another word corrupted.
Like ‘fuck’
And ‘gay’
And ‘passion’,
Maybe even ‘love’.

Two years ago

Here’s an extract from that post I wrote way back in early May 2017.


“I was particularly struck very recently by the final paragraph in a post from a Romanian blogger, Iulia Halatz, a teacher of English in Bucharest (moreover, she runs her own business – check her out at https://blogdecompanie.wordpress.com). Here’s the final paragraph of her post ‘tyrannosaurus writing’:

To write with the truth of pain in your mouth is gruesome poetry…You’ll have to cut out your heart with every word and show it to the world, then hope it will heal. This is how the light gets in, also the dark. To acknowledge fear, defeat, despair and pretend serenity of a lesson learned while patching up the wounds is…Life.”

“As someone much influenced by Leonard Cohen in my younger days I found the bow (or curtsy) to him striking. It made me think maybe I should write posts now and then where I open a few cracks, to let the light in.”


Do my three little ‘poems’ do that, I wonder?

Photo of poet Poet KMHerbert - Kayla - at the launch

Poet KMHerbert – Kayla – at the launch

Writers and other artists talking about their works, graduates in English literature (even professors!), or critics, analysing novels and poetry, usually just irritate me; I long ago gave up going to ‘an evening with … ‘ at the Ilkley Literature Festival (or reading blog posts with a similar theme – though there are rare exceptions – just a couple of women blogging writers). Usually so much self-indulgent, pretentious claptrap from others!

This probably stems from my experience with Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. I first read it at seven years old and loved it. Eight or nine years later it was the set book for my English Literature GCE ‘O’ level; the analysis over a year ruined it for me and I have not been able to read it since. Of course I failed the exam. Fortunately I didn’t need it but ‘O’ level English Language was no problem and that was handy to have when I changed career course from science to journalism.

A surprise

Photo of Sussi Louise at the launch

Sussi Louise Smith – Sussi – at the launch

It was a delightful surprise when I attended the launch of a ‘collection’ of poems and illustrations by two members of our writers’ clubWriting on the Wharfe – this week. Far from irritating me, the ‘presentations’ had me enthralled – K.M.Herbert (Kayla) explaining some of the motivation behind her poems and Sussi Louise Smith (Sussi) showing clearly the emotions aroused by the poems and carried through into her illustrations.

Kayla is Canadian, Sussi is Danish, but both have lived in Yorkshire for a while.

Here’s what I wrote on our writers’ club Facebook page the following morning:

So glad I made it to Kayla’s and Sussi’s launch last night. A fascinating evening to have a little of the creative process of two of our ‘collective’ of talented artists explained and such openness about the emotions driving the writing of Kayla’s poems over a five year period and Sussi’s reaction to them, inspiring her wonderful illustrations.

Anyone who knows me will know that I generally don’t react well to writers and other artists explaining their thought processes – usually so much pretentious b……. – but Kayla and Sussi took us on a wonderful journey through the ‘collection’ of 12 poems and illustrations ‘Between the Spaces’.

The chosen medium, a set of postcards, Kayla’s poem on one side, Sussi’s illustration on the other, was inspired.

You can order a set at:  www.kmherbert.com

The setting for the launch was perfect too: surrounded by books in the intimacy of  Ilkley’s The Grove Bookshop.

Just one poem and illustration

I cannot choose a favourite poem nor illustration now, possibly never, it’s been difficult enough to separate out just one, but here is one of Kayla’s shortest fills of the spaces in her life over five years and Sussi’s illustration for it.

PS. If you see an advertisement in the middle of this post it has nothing to do with me. I do not, of course, object to WordPress putting an ad at the end of a post as I’m not willing to pay to get rid of them. But messing up a bloggers’ carefully constructed posts with advertisements in the middle is unacceptable. Much as I like most aspects of WordPress after using it for about a decade I’ll have to look for an alternative.

Worse, the ads are usually completely inappropriate; the latest is for a military video game. I object strongly to such a game being associated with my blog. I do not play video games, I don’t believe many of my followers will play video games either. 

It’s a long time since I bought paper copies of fiction books; it was more convenient to buy kindle editions and read them on the iPad. But my recent reversion to writing on paper with a fountain pen brought to mind the delight of turning real, physical pages.

Second edition of a “contemporary romance”

First a blogging writer I now regard as a distant friend launched the second edition of her “contemporary romance”, Equinox. This genre of novel is not my cup of tea (though it did appeal to my ‘feminist‘ side) but as she said that she’d made some changes (I read the first as a kindle edition) I wanted to read it to see what those changes were so I bought it on paper. I haven‘t had time to read this second edition yet; I don’t feel I can ‘review’ it as it’s not my kind of book.

From the cover notes: ‘But everything changes when they lay eyes on each other and their attraction takes them by storm. Soon, they find themselves in uncharted territory, their comfort and idea of selves threatened by needing what they’ve never wanted.’

Even if this genre of novel is not your cup of tea either I can recommend Kristina’s short short stories, published fairly regularly on her blog.

The Girl on the Train – ‘top notch’ thriller?

The second book recently added to my bookshelf is a novel I’ve wanted to read for some time: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I bought it for £1 in a charity shop. Said to be a ‘top notch thriller’, it should have been very much my cup of tea.

However, as the plot is interesting it should have been intriguing but I just found it confusing. I didn’t like the way the story is structured; I didn’t like the writing; there is very little about the characters so you never feel you are beginning to know them so try to work out what will happen next – surely one of the appeals of a ‘thriller’; it is for me.

It is highly recommended by Stephen King but that probably puts a nail in the coffin for me – I cannot stand his books, even being bored by each one I’ve tried to read so didn’t manage many pages.