Your name seems familiar …

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“That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet”

William Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s suggestion that names are not important is hopelessly wrong for writers.  Who hasn’t sat, staring at a blank sheet of paper, agonising over what to call a character.  And if it’s your protagonist, that only makes it harder.

Occasionally a name for a character just comes to me:  Meredith Hardew from my WIP Miss Burkett Changes Her Mind.  Amy Harper and Kym Morris in The Silent Woman. (still lying fallow!)  These are names that sprang fully-formed into my consciousness as I began to write the story.  But it doesn’t always work out like that. But I can spend hours, literally, agonising over the right name for a character.  There are times when I actually cannot begin writing a story because I can’t seem to find the right name.  Sometimes I can’t remember the names I’ve given to my characters, usually when I’m away from home and writing ‘middle’ chapters, and I have even written several thousand words with varying numbers of capital XXXXs to denote each character.  It can get confusing.  In these cuircumstances I have to write long explanations to myself of who the person is, as well as the XXXXXXs.

But I can’t always trust myself when a name does just spring into my head either.  Like the time I had a main character called Ben and I needed to give him a surname. Sherman.  Hmm, I thought, Ben Sherman sounds really good.  It’s like those two names were meant to go together, somehow.  What a great, natural-sounding name for a character, I thought.  Too often I hear people moan, no one would be called that, it’s not a name anyone would really be called.  I told my daughter.  She rolled her eyes heavenward in what can only be described as her ‘For God’s sake, Mother!” expression.  Apparently there is already someone well-known with that name.  Oh well.  Back to the book of baby names again.

Names can be absorbed by osmosis from society and culture and we don’t always know where they’ve come from.  I usually check my friends’ names on Facebook or for authors on Amazon to be ‘on the safe side’.  I had also written five chapters of my WIP before I realised that two of the main characters were named Meredith and Edith. Edith had to become Sheila.  You need to keep the names quite dissimilar to avoid confusion, unless that is germane to your plot.  And never feature  Jack Peters and a Peter Jackson.  (I’ve known it happen, and the confusion accidentally created by the author seriously impacts on the enjoyment of the story!  You can’t suspend belief if you’re trying to remember who is who.)

When it came to creating character names, Dickens was a master.  He used names to ridicule his characters, to reveal societal trends and attitudes, and to denote characteristics or personalities.  Think of Gradgrind and M’Choakumchild in Hard Times, think of Uriah Heep, Mr Cheeryble, Squeers.  He also used another technique that is still useful for writers today.  He used to take names that were ordinary and just slightly change them, creating something different and yet somehow familiar.  Thus Philip became Chilip.

Think of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games heroine, Katniss Everdeen, think of Margaret Attwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale – the woman Offred was the ‘property’ of Fred. Also for bizarre names it is impossible to beat Alistair Reynolds’  Pushing Ice character Chromis Pasqueflower Bowerbird.  So don’t be afraid to play around with names and have fun. Maybe Isaac can become Istac; Sophie can be Phosie, Mary can become Maare, John could become Hjon, Dohn, Joon.  In creating fiction, you are creating a whole world, so a few names is not much more of a stretch.  Just make sure they are not the names of a successful designer.

Uncle Harry

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When I was a little girl, in the 1960s in Tunbridge Wells, it was I think pretty normal for elderly close friends of the family to be referred to by children as Uncle and Auntie.  I had a couple of Uncles and Aunties who weren’t really family but were friends.  I have written quite a lot about Auntie Zonya, a unique soul and wonderful woman, an enigma.

But living in our grand old house in Tunbridge Wells, there were others.  In the room next door there were two hairdressers, two men, who went ‘professionally’ by French names – deemed more ‘suitable’ for hairdressers.  One called himself Rene (or Rennie as we used to say), I can’t remember what the other one called himself.  They were very ‘artistic’.   Of course now I look back and realise they were a gay couple, but in those days they were simply glamorous, artistic people, who lived together for convenience and to save money.  None of us living in the house had much of that.  It was a house full of similar people – no estate, no money, not much of anything.  There was an artist who made me a cat mask.  On the top floor was the elderly lady who owned the whole house, Miss Lilian, she had snow-white hair and almost never went out.  I was a bit scared of her.  We were a strange little community.

And in the room next door but one, on our floor, was an elderly man who lived alone.  His English was good but heavily accented.  He was from a exotic-sounding place I had never heard of – Yugoslavia – and he had come over during the second world war, and had never been able to return.  He was all alone.  Family left behind, unheard of, out of touch, maybe dead.

I don’t know what his name was really, but I called him Uncle Harry.  Perhaps he really was called Harald something.  I used to scamper into his room once or twice a week, sometimes with a story book, sometimes with paper and crayons.  He used to tell me stories.  He used to tell me about his little girl.

He always used to give me a little glass dish of tinned fruit with tinned cream poured on top, and he used to sprinkle sugar on the cream.  He kept the tins for me, in his little cupboard.  He used to tell me to run and ask my mum if it was okay for me to have it.  She always said yes, and told me to say thank you.  My mother could rarely afford such a treat.  I didn’t get much pampering (neither of us did) and I hadn’t much experience of father figures.

But Uncle Harry was gentle and indulgent.  He was softly spoken and kind.  He never told me off.  He let me chatter.  He told me stories.  He gave me pudding!

Whenever I have a dessert with cream, even now, 50 years later, I sneak a bit of sugar on top.  And when I am sad, or worried or bored, sweet things are what I crave.  Especially dairy products.

I remember sitting at his dining-table, my legs dangling, unable to reach the floor.  I felt safe.  I felt loved.  I had an uncle-figure, an older man, wiser, who had weathered storms to make his home in a bedsit in Kent.  He added hope to my life.  I wish we hadn’t moved away, I would have liked to know him when I was older.

Gold or Silver?

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I found these notes in an old journal.  I was pondering the attributes, from a writer’s point of view, of gold and silver.

Gold is the colour of royalty, of quality, of the authorised, and acknowledged, of states and state, religions and churches and faiths, of the accepted and acceptable, of righteousness.  Gold is pure, incorruptible, reliable, ‘pure gold’, good, honest and forthright.  Gold is given in blessing and to enrich, it is security, savings and wealth.  Gold is warm and appealing, gold is the colour of the noonday sun, giving life to all and sight to all.  ‘Gold standard’ indicates a status achieved, a level of existence and compliance, of regularity and trust, and a line by which all else is measured.  Gold is laid up for the righteous.

 

But silver.  No.  Silver is ‘other’.  Silver is secretive and fleeting, it is mercurial and unremarkable in nature, it changes hands easily, claiming a new master.  Silver works its arts by night, it is hard, cold, bright and the colour of small change, ready money, the easily-obtained.  The colour of stars and light of the moon, silvery and secret, sinister and elusive, dancing through the sky, always out of reach, now hidden, now displayed.  The thirty pieces of silver, the betrayer’s coin, the turner of hearts and souls, the illicit, the unpermitted, the unauthorised, the denied.

 

Don’t look down

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The dreaded middle-of-the-book slump.  The urge to give up and get a proper job strikes yet again.  Why am I doing this to myself, I ask.  I sit in front of the keyboard and think, I can’t even remember the names of all these people, what they look like and what they did.  My murderer is too obvious, my victim deserves to be bumped off – whiny, stupid and pushy – the only mystery here is why someone hadn’t bumped her off sooner.

Staying focused is the hard part now.  Some 35,000 words into the book, and I am into self-doubt territory.  The desire to write something new, something easier is strong.  But I have to press on.  This is not the time to listen to voices telling me to stop, telling me what I’m writing is rubbish.  This is not the time to be concerned with quality or to agonise over the aptness of a phrase.

There are ways of coping – mechanisms for dealing with the tough parts of the experience.  I could try Dr Wicked’s Write Or Die, set it on Kamikaze and write, write write, furiously, for the allotted time before the programme deletes my words and they are gone forever.  I may not churn out Proust or Shakespeare, but at least I AM still churning …   anything – even ten words – are better than writing nothing.

I could go for a walk, take some time off, watch TV or read a book, do some chores around the house, I could do ‘research’ – ie sit looking at stuff on the internet.  Just taking a break will renew my energy and strengthen my sense of purpose, so long as I don’t allow myself too much time away.

But then, sooner rather than later, I have to sit down, take up my pen or put my fingers on the keys, and carry on with my story.  I have to believe in my ability to tell my story and believe that it is a story only I can tell.  Mary Wibberley, a great British writer of romance novels, wrote a book many years ago which changed my life.  It was the first how-to book I ever read, and it taught me to believe, hope and above all, to write.  It was called ‘To Writers With Love’, and in it she likened the writing process to that of mountain climbing.  Her advice?  “Don’t look down”.

Don’t look down means not stepping back from the ‘problem’ and seeing too big a picture, filling yourself with fear and a sense of something too large to be scaled.  It means keep battling forward, one step at a time, then you will gradually reach your goal.  Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed but move forward, overcoming difficulties one at a time.  So I will battle on, through this Slough Of Despond, until I write those wonderful words that bring such joy and a sense of accomplishment. ‘The End’.

At The WIP Crossroads

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WIP stands for Work In Progress.  What we really should call works in progress is WIFITDSE.  But I know that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It stands for Work I Frequently Interrupt To Do Something Else.  I know I’m not the only guilty one here …

And what I’m talking about here is not wandering off and doing something totally different.  I’m not talking about displacement activity or your basic everyday procrastination.  I’m talking about Legitimate stuff that still somehow gets in the way.  Research.  Plotting.  Even proofreading and editing.

And with my current WIP – oh it’s been so hard to just sit down and get on with it.  There are a couple of reasons for this.

One is I’m a bit of an anti-planner.  If I plan my book, then something in me just puts its pen and paper away and folds its arms and says, ‘well, I don’t wanna …’

I do plan – a bit – I know roughly who is going to get snuffed out, and I know roughly who will make that happen.  But some writers I know – quite a few actually – have a chart or a big page or something, all spread out and every chapter laid out, who does what, who says what, what happened when they were all having breakfast, that kind of thing.  I don’t have that.  I have a few snatches of conversation in my head, as if overheard from another room, and possibly a couple of facial expressions, and this is all often scrawled on the back of an old envelope then stapled into a notebook.  During the course of the first draft I scribble a list of characters, their names, ages, occupations, and I only do that because I get confused by the ‘Mrs X said to Mr X “I wonder if Mr X has seen Ms X?” ‘

So I’m not really a planner.

The second thing is, I sometimes have so much fun thinking about the possibilities, I don’t actually write the story.  I think, if Mr X hit Ms X with the blunt instrument, this would happen.  Ah, but what if it was Mrs X who hit her, but Mr X confessed to it …ooh that might work …  and so it goes on.  So many permutations, so many exciting, unplumbed depths.  Once I even gave up on a story because I couldn’t decide what to do when I reached a crossroads in the story and I allowed myself to become overwhelmed by the possibilities.

And that’s where I am at the moment with the WIP and that’s why it’s taken me a fortnight to write five short chapters.  I can’t make up my mind who is going to be the baddie.  I think I need a map …  or – maybe I DO need to plan, after all?

Still thinking about it – writing in – not on – the brain! A kind of mental patchwork.

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So I’m still thinking over what I want to say in my new story. Still clueless about a title, although I have a couple of alternatives to ponder.  I’m drawn to old stuff, I’m drawn to the past.  I’m thinking of all the Summer of Love protest songs, but no, too recent, go further back.

I’m thinking rural, villagey, fields, water, trees.  I’m thinking of sorrow and haunting, of deeds never talked of.  I’m thinking of shame and sacrifice, I’m humming old pastoral songs and rhymes, of Scarborough Fair, of the occasional duplicitous nature of the minstrel, wandering, legitimately planting one foot in each camp.

I’m thinking of myths and legends, hills cloaked in mist, an unseen bird calling in the gloom, of the soft insinuating sound of the wind.  I’m thinking of that moment when you come home and you know someone else has been there, the house is guilty, complicit, hushed as if someone had been speaking and stopped when the door opened.

I’m thinking of The Waste Land (all-time No. 1 for me) by T S Eliot,   Snatches of it: “Speak to me.  Why do you never speak?” “What are you thinking?” “What is that noise?  The wind under the door.” “Do you know nothing?  Do you see nothing?” “I remember/Those are pearls that were his eyes.”

I am thinking, staring at the falling leaves, driven across the grass by a pushing wind, and I am thinking of long ago, of people who may not have existed, but who may come into being in my imagination.  I am thinking of a man at a window staring out, his mind working on things he cannot speak.

I’m thinking of a boy coming over the hill.  Of grass, green, long, dewy.  Of the sun, soft, golden, gentle as a mother’s hand, just touching his hair, his shoulder.

I remember.  It was all long ago and afar away.  I’ve said that a lot lately.

Gray’s Elegy “Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,/And all the air a solemn stillness holds.”

Autumn spookiness

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What is it about the Autumn that always bends my thoughts to things that go bump in the night?  Is it the pumpkin-suit wearing tots that pound  on the door demanding ‘trick or treat’?  Is it the proliferation of black felt bats or  witches costumes?  Or maybe the prospect of fireworks and an effigy burnt on a pyre?

Whatever it is, when the evenings crowd in and I huddle indoors with books and comfort food, this is the way my thoughts turn.  I gaze into space and hear the long-ago-and-far-away sound of a creaking stair or see a candle gutter and revive, and my mind is away, fashioning old gloomy houses with uneven floors and unreliable electricity.

Last November’s NaNoWriMo saw me writing not quite 60, 000 words under the title of The Silent Woman, a ghost story set in haunted converted buildings.  I fully intended to revise and publish that story this year, but everything else got in the way, so maybe next year.  It’ll do it good to ‘lie fallow’ for a year.

This year it looks as though I might do something similar.  I have the germ of an idea floating just out of reach, just beyond my field of vision, i can almost glimpse it sometimes, but it is not yet ready to come into view.  It began in the middle of my two-week temping job in mid-September.  It was a job which required me to perform vast numbers of scans of old documents and maps.  This was a job of the hands and the eyes.  My brain was busy elsewhere …

I pictured a hospital room, an old man lay dying, a young woman sat with him, holding his hand in those last moments, his daughter/niece/granddaughter, I don’t know yet.  He thinks she is his wife, when young, he forgets where he is.  He says, “Whatever happened to the boy?  I never told anyone, like you asked.”  He sleeps for a few minutes then stirs again, still holding her hand and says, “remember when we were young?  There was a photo – all of us – that spring.  I still have it somewhere.”  He points in the direction of the chest of drawers in his bedroom, he forgets he is in hospital.  Later he dies, and she is left wondering.

And now, so am I.

Extract – Thirty Days on the Fourth Floor

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This is an extract, the opening one and a half chapters of a novella I began last year then didn’t get round to finishing, I think because I did so much planning I lost the impetus of the story, but it’s still sort of nagging at me so I am puzzling over it again.  It  is called Thirty Days on the Fourth Floor

‘You have displayed a callous disregard for the well-being of others.  This is your third appearance in my court within a single year and I therefore have no hesitation in sentencing you to thirty days incarceration in the hope that this time you will learn that there will be no tolerance of persistent law-breaking in this City.’

The gavel was tapped lightly down on the bench in front of Judge Givens and by the time the bailiff had led Jeremiah ‘Roxx’ Weston from the court, the Judge’s robes were billowing behind him as he went through the door marked ‘Private’ at the back of the court.  Roxx didn’t care.  Thirty lousy days playing pool and cards was nothing, it would go by like a flash, the perfect spring break.

Moments later he was entering a room where a number of others were waiting.  There appeared to be a dispute between a clerk of the court and someone who was presumably in Roxx’s situation.  This woman wanted to phone her kids, let them know she’d got thirty days this time and they should go and stay with her sister till she could figure out the best thing to do.  The clerk of the court wasn’t allowing any calls.  A police officer came over to encourage the outraged detainee to step back.  Another, male, detainee came forward, angry and upset.  The clerk was saying,

‘Ma’am, as I already told you, you will be allowed one phone call once you reach the detainment center, but not until then.  I’m sorry, but I don’t make the rules.  Sir, step back please, the same goes for you.  You can call your secretary later.’

And having said her piece, the clerk turned and left the room.  The detainee continued to rant and swear, but more quietly and in a corner.  It was now almost five o’clock, the court was closed for the day.

The bailiff cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, we will now be leaving the court complex.  Please stay in line and follow me.’

He nodded to a nearby police officer who opened the door for them all to pass out and into the hall, hesitantly following after the bailiff.  In case anyone got any ideas, there were a number of officers lining the corridor.

The woman with the children wasn’t giving up.  She tried to catch the fast-walking bailiff up, calling out

‘Where are we going?  We have a right to know?  I’ve got children…’

‘Just keep moving, ma’am,’ advised a police officer, but she shook him off.

‘I want to know where …’

But now they were at the exit, surrounded by police officers, and the outer door was opening on a parking bay at the back of the court complex.  A police van was waiting, engine purring.  The rear doors stood open and the group was chivvied inside, and as they were put into their seats and safety belts were locked into place across them, a roll-call began and their names were ticked off by an officer as the bailiff disappeared round to the front of the vehicle.

Immediately the rear doors were locked and the vehicle swung out of the parking bay and onto the road.  The woman with the children began a heated debate with the man with the secretary and a voice spoke next to Roxx.  He turned to look at the scrawny white woman sitting next to him.

‘You get thirty days too?’  She asked.  He nodded.

‘We all did.’  She said, ‘we were talking about it before you came.  Every one of us – look, nine of us – we all got thirty days.  Don’t you think that’s weird?  What are they going to do to us?  Where are they taking us?’

‘It’ll be fine,’ Roxx told her, ‘don’t sweat it.  What so we all got thirty days?  We all do the same thing or something?’

‘You do drugs?’  She asked.

‘No.  Drugs is a fool’s game.  What even Mrs Mum over there, she got thirty days?  What did she do?’

‘Speeding, I think she said.  Not just once, just all the time, never paid her fines.  I was the drugs.  Selling.  Third time.  I just really needed the money.  Why d’you get thirty days?

‘Red lights.  I just like running through them.  It’s nothing, it’s not like I hurt anyone, it’s just a laugh, a buzz.  But they got this software catches your license-plate, so they caught me.  Again.  Thirty ain’t nothing, be out in fifteen on good behavior.’

‘That’s disgusting, that is, you should be ashamed of yourself.  You could kill someone doing that.’  The Mum told him.  He glared at her.

‘How’s it any worse than what you do?  Speeding?  That’s dangerous.  You’re more likely to kill someone than I am.  And you got kids, that’s irresponsible, Missus.’

‘I was always in control of the car,’ she began, but someone else disagreed with her.

And then it happened, they all started shouting at each other, and the row went on until the van pulled over and stopped, and the rear doors were unlocked.

A couple of officers started unlocking them and sending them out onto the pavement where they stood in a shifty-looking bunch surrounded by police and twitching curtains.  They were outside an apartment block.

‘Where’s the prison?’  The Druggie asked no one in particular.  They were herded into the front door of the building and corralled into the lift in twos.

Fifteen minutes later, Roxx was walking in the front door of an apartment on the fourth floor.  He looked around him, puzzled.

‘I’m beginning to think this is a bit odd.’  He told the Druggie.  ‘Maybe we been selected for special ops or something.’

‘Why are we here?’  The Druggie asked the bailiff, who ignored her.

‘Where are we?  What the fuck is going on?’  The man with the secretary wanted to know.  Everyone was edgy and tense.  Where was the nice conventional prison?

‘Keep walking through to the sitting room.  Sit down, shut up and listen, then we can get on with things a little quicker.’  The bailiff urged, and reluctantly, and with the encouragement of a couple of police officers, they complied.  Roxx counted nine detainees, six men, three women, and besides the bailiff there were twelve officers.  It was a squeeze.

‘Now,’ said the bailiff in a big loud voice, ‘I want everyone to take a seat at the table, and then I can explain the procedure.’

A couple of people half-heartedly protested, but everyone sat quickly enough.

‘That’s better.’  Said the bailiff, and Roxx felt like he was in nursery school again.  ‘You will each get one phone call, you will get a hot meal, a shower, and a change of clothes.  You will be wearing prison uniform for the next thirty days.  You will remain in this apartment for the next thirty days.  You will not leave until you have served your sentence as laid down by the ruling of the court.  The front door is the only safe exit from the apartment and this will be kept locked.  While you are here you will be rehabilitated and, hopefully while justice is done, you will learn to make wiser choices in the future.’

He paused and a slew of questions had to be dealt with before he could continue.

‘In case of emergency we will evacuate the apartment.  There will be no – I repeat no – wardens, guards, police officers or any other official presence within the apartment for the entirety of the thirty days.   However, the apartment will be under constant surveillance night and day, but any intervention will be in an emergency only.  Just so you know, this is day one.  I will return on day thirty if – I repeat if – all conditions are fulfilled and it is deemed by the court that rehabilitation has taken place and you are all fit to return to society.  I will now hand out mobile phones and you may call whomever you wish, you have one call and five minutes only.’

There was a rush to snatch the phones form him and silence as people feverishly tapped in the numbers they wanted.  And then a babble of voices as connections were made and information relayed.  Mrs Mum was weeping at the end of her five minutes and claiming it wasn’t fair, and two other people claimed their human rights were being violated.

All this was ignored and a large cardboard packing case was dragged into the room.  The bailiff ripped off the top and started handing out blue boiler suits and white cotton underwear to everyone.  Then, one at a time, a police officer escorted one detainee into the bathroom for a shower and a change of clothes.  Personal belongings and clothing was confiscated, placed into the plastic bags the boiler-suits came in, and stashed away in the same packing case.  Airline-style hot food trays were handed around the table, and the nine, now already showing signs of resignation, ate in near silence.

At the end of the meal, they were shown into the dormitory which was where they would all sleep on narrow lumpy mattresses, the bailiff took his leave, and the police officers, the outer door slammed behind them and locked and the prisoners were there, and it was the end of day one.

Day two dawned brighter and earlier than most of them would have liked.

Roxx was the second one out of bed, the Druggie being the first – she’d been up most of the night in fact and was hunched by the window scratching agitatedly at herself when he came into the sitting room.

One by one they drifted out of their beds and came to sit around the table.  One of the men, heavily tattooed and pierced, sat across the table from Mrs Mum who had already been weeping because she wanted to get out, wanted to be with her children, no one knew how she felt, a mother separated from her own flesh and blood and corralled here with a bunch of crazy people and lawless criminals.  She started to weep again. The tattooed/pierced guy laughed.  He looked around the room, but everyone avoided catching his eye.  He rapped on the table and laughed loudly, frightening Mrs Mum into a fresh outburst of sobbing, and having achieved this, he linked his hands behind his head and leaned back in the seat to enjoy the spectacle of her misery.

The Druggie was shivering next to Roxx.  Roxx, not able to do anything else for her, patted her on the knee.  The two of them perched on the window sill and Roxx surveyed the room.

In the doorway, Secretary Man was jogging on the spot and flapping his arms up and down.  Roxx shook his head impatiently.  It hadn’t been more than 15 hours and the guy already was worrying he was getting flabby.

A bleary-eyed young man wandered in from the dormitory, squeezing past the panting Secretary Man.

‘What do we do about food?’  He asked.  Everyone looked at him blankly.  He looked round at them.  ‘well, hello, there’s no kitchen, in case no one had noticed, so I’m assuming there’s no maid service, no chef, no restaurant, so how are we getting our meals for the next four weeks?’

There was an immediate rise in the tension, and they were all looking at each other.  The kid was right.

There was the dormitory.  And this room they were in now.  And then there was the bathroom.

There were three other doors on one wall.  Roxx strolled across and tried the first door.  It was locked.  He tried the next.  Also locked.

‘Hmm.’ He said to himself.  Over his shoulder he could see everyone – seated and standing – was watching him.  Unaccountably he felt a trickle of fear at the back of his boiler-suit collar.  Reminding himself for future reference that red means stop, the thrill is just not worth the sentence, he tried a cocky grin at his audience.

‘Well, one of these had got to open.  Hughie, I choose door number three.’  He quipped, going into a kind of exaggerated mime of someone preparing to open a door.  It was odd they were all so tense, just watching him.  he felt the handle of the door beneath his fingers.  It was cold and the cold seemed to travel along his spine.  He felt a pang of nausea.  If no one had been watching him, he would have turned and gone back to his perch on the window sill.  His heart beat fast, and he turned the handle, turning again to smile at the audience with his trade-mark grin, and saying, ‘here goes noth…’

But the phrase died on his lips.

At the threshold of the door was a little pile of rubble and ash.  He tried to focus, tried to piece together the scene before him, through the door.  It was something – else.

It was a street.  Half of the buildings were gone, blackened ruins in heaps and piles and sagging roof timbers hanging down.  It was like a movie set for a war film.  There was a house nearby, just a few yards from the doorway.  If Roxx took a step, or maybe two, if he put out a hand, he would be able to touch the brickwork.

He shook his head.  His vision, never blurred, still showed him the same scene.  He was aware that the people behind him were exclaiming, moving, rushing over, there were cries of disbelief and even fear, but Roxx couldn’t find anything to say.  He looked into the room.  He looked through the doorway and saw a whole new world, a world of destruction and chaos.

He took a step, and Mrs Mum screeched at him, clutching his arm.

‘Don’t!  Don’t go in there!’

Confused he gaped at her.  There were a couple of others, equally fearful, reaching out for him.

‘Come back.’

‘Shut the door.  Shut it.  Now.  Quick.  Shut the door.’

And the tattooed and pierced man was getting up from his chair, noisily chewing gum and nodding, delight all over his face.

‘Yeah!  Man, I mean, wow!  Yeah!  Wow!  People, like, I mean, wow!’

And he stepped right up to the doorway, elbowing a bewildered Roxx to one side, and then, glancing back over his shoulder, tattoo man laughed again.

‘This is a fucking amazing movie set!  It’s wicked.  Wicked or what?  I’m asking you, people, like wow!  Truly fucking, un-fucking-believable!’

And he stepped through the doorway and went into the rubble-strewn street, looking around, turning round as he went, looking at the scene around him.

‘Man!  It’s fucking unbelievable!  How the fuck did they do it?  This is just like a real …’

And a chimney toppled from a roof and crushed him on the ground.  His foot twitched and was still, no more of his body visible beneath the blackened brickwork.

The influence of books

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Is it possible to gauge the influence our reading has on us over time?  Think back to the first books you ever read as a child – can you still remember them?  Have you read those same books as an adult and still found those same ideas and images grabbing you as they did that first time?

I can remember my mother reading The Wind in the Willows and The House at Pooh Corner to me when I was a very young child.  I can remember that sometimes I was bored, sometimes I couldn’t find my way through the complex language to the story inside.  But I always wanted to hear more, I always longed for the next chapter, begged her not to stop reading.  I can remember thinking, when I’m older I can read and read and read and never stop.  I can remember reading fairy stories from a  huge colourful book, to the poor guy who came to mend the boiler, when I was no more than 5 or 6.  I suppose I also loved having a captive audience!

I can remember being so inspired by the stories I read that I started writing my own stories – not usually more than a page long to begin with – and not usually very interesting.

The books that have shaped my life?  I loved Treasure Island, Jane Eyre, the Famous Five, the Lone Pine Five, all the usual books that kids in the 1960s read.  The Ann of Green Gables books by L M Montgomery are very special to me – because that was when I learned falling in love is not only about heart-pounding attraction, desperate emotional rollercoastering, but it can also be realising that your friend is the person you most want to keep in your life forever, without whom your life would be bleak and colourless.  The Wind in the Willows taught me that children’s stories don’t have to be facile.  Shakespeare’s plays taught me that I have a brain and I’m not afraid to use it.  Enid Blyton‘s books showed me that being nosy is a sure way to get into trouble and end up tied up in a cellar (but oh the adventure!).  Many, many books taught me to believe I could write,  Agatha Christie, Tom Holt, Jasper Fforde and Patricia Wentworth taught me what I wanted to write and that you don’t have to be highbrow or obscure to be a good writer.  Books made me take that leap of faith, try, experiment, and when things didn’t work out, I had somewhere to go to recover.  If all else fails, they make a bloody big pile you can hide behind.

But over all of this, the books themselves, crowding about me like friends, took over my life to the detriment of all else – apart from my family of course 🙂 and I can honestly say that nine times out of ten, I’d sooner spend my money on a book than a bar of chocolate – and those who know me know that is really saying something.

The Arrival of Autumn

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On Sunday I wrote in my journal, “it’s a rainy, cool and windy day. Looking out at the garden, with the trees and the tall shrubs being tossed by the wind and the rain slashing the windows, I see a few first leaves falling and I know it is now Autumn.”
Like Spring, Autumn is a time of transition, not from dormancy into life, but into rest from the long busy-ness of summer. It is a time of reflection, of falling back to regroup, and to continue the military metaphor, it is a time for laying plans and forming strategies for the coming year.
And I, too, reflect and consider the future. I lay my plans and think ahead to the coming writing year. I plot. I scheme.
These last two weeks of working at a temping job have been a break for me from the messy, exhausting disarray of the last eight months that I have been out of work and able to concentrate more on my writing. So for me it has been a kind of holiday-in-reverse: usually one works then takes a couple of weeks’ holiday. And to the outsider, it appears that I have holidayed for eight months and now finally I am working.
But.
In the last year, I have: had a full-time job from September to December, and at the same time I also wrote a complete first draft of a novel. Since then I have written another first draft and about a quarter of a third. I have written at least 10 short stories varying between 500 and 8,000 words, I have revised and self-published (yes, I’m an Indie!) a full-length novel and also a ‘long’ short story (the 8,000 word one) as eBooks. At the moment I am rewriting one of my first drafts ready to publish it ‘shortly’. I’ve learned how to create my own eBook covers, I’ve set up a Facebook page and a blog, I’ve tweeted and google+’d and I’ve made many, many friends, most of whom are also writers, I have joined online book groups and read along with their ‘book of the month’.
So yes, two weeks working from 8.00 to 4.30 has been a holiday for me.
And around all this, I have done laundry, served meals, cleaned the house, paid bills, baked, shopped etc. I’ve read at least twenty books. I’ve top-spotted my cats. I’ve grown a few tomatoes and courgettes. It’s been a hectic and demanding schedule.
I’m making a list. Asking myself, what do I want to achieve in the coming quiet season? And, already I’m looking ahead. What do I want to achieve next year? Obviously I want to lose wight, get fitter, make that craft project that is gathering dust in a corner. But none of that is important to me.
My real goals centre around writing – I want to write the next story in both my series – so I will be thinking about the third and final book in the Posh Hits trilogy. And I want to write the next in my Miss Burkett detective series, set in the mid to late 1960s. Haven’t even finished the first draft of the first book yet!) I think I’d like to publish a volume of short stories. And there are so many possibilities for other projects – shall I dust off an old novel, mouldering in a drawer? Is the world ready yet for my take on reincarnation or vampires? Or shall I work on one of those extended and partially developed ideas, gone well beyond the notes stage. And – obviously – I will do a bit more life-writing. To be honest, there really aren’t enough hours in the day for all that I would like to do. And I want to go to a writer’s conference – haven’t been to one for years – not since Brisbane, to the Queensland Writer’s Festival, so that would be around 2000 or 2001?
So now I am ready to sit back for a while, to ponder and enjoy, the long, creative sleep of winter, and formulate my plans for the next twelve months. Mwah ha ha ha!