Life In A Conversation #anthology #shortfiction #coveroptions

As foreshadowed before I am in the last throes of editing my latest compilation of short fiction. Things have slowed a touch while I focus on Nano (which is going very well, thanks for asking – 42,000 words and it’s only the sixteenth which shows the benefits of not working full time and certainly not commuting).

But I’m not here to boast (well, a tad perhaps). I want your views. I have two possible covers and I’d like honest opinions on them.

Four questions, answer any that you want in the comments please:

  1. do you like one or two
  2. do you like both
  3. do you like neither (and any specific reason?)
  4. do you think one or other has merit but would be enhanced with some tweak (and if so what tweak – yes, two questions in one, just give me a bit if slack please!)?

Number One

Number Two

To help you on your way I have added one of the stories below.

The Tonsorial Tree Tweaker

Whip Willow cracked his twigs and smoothed the leaves in front of him. ‘You have such a lovely canopy, so bouffant.’

He teased out a couple of twisted stalks and added, ‘So what are we doing today?’

Marje Magnolia giggled. He always tickled, did Whip.

He knew the impact his twigs were having. As the soft twirling that Whip expertly applied to her crown sent a sensuous skein of excitement through her bark and deep into her sapwood, she squealed. ‘Stop it, Whip!’

He leant in close. “You know, I’ve never seen you bloom quite so early.’

“Oh, you’re a dreadful Tree-clipper,’ Marje simpered. ‘You know I’m just a little ticklish.’

Whip held up her foliage. ‘What are we clipping today, sweetie?’

‘I thought a light prune and maybe a little Autumning?’

‘Oh get you, girl. Autumning, is it?’

He shuffled back and studied his customer’s reflection in the large lake in front of where they stood. ‘Still, you have the bark for it. You’ve always been able to carry an orange and yellow palette with that foliage of yours. Maybe a tinge to the leaves here, and here.’

While he flicked his pruning shears expertly Whip glanced at his colleagues.

Otto Oak used a bow saw to attack the badly maintained thatch on a Sapling.

Meanwhile Angie Ash wrinkled her bark into a frown. ‘Whip love, you got five?’

Whip stopped his clipping and asked for a moment of Marje’s time.

She rustled her leaves. ‘Oh, go on then, Mr Important. Since when does a Tree not have the time to wait? I’ll just drop anchor.’

Whip joined Angie behind a quivering Quercus, who Whip hadn’t seen before. She was sturdy with nice boughs and a well-developed trunk.

Angie said, ‘This is Brenda Beech. She’s got a new boyfriend.’

Whip twitched in excitement, ‘Oh lovely. And who is the lucky Hunk with a Trunk?’

Angie shushed him. ‘Silly, she’s worried about her, you know.’

Angie indicated the back of Brenda’s trunk.

Whip gasped. ‘Who pollared her? They ought to be chopped up.’

He leant through Brenda’s limpid boughs and whispered into the nearest knot. ‘Darling, fear not, we’ll wipe away your unsightly undergrowth in no time – they don’t call me the “Bush Baby” for nothing – and you’ll soon be swooning in his branches.’

Whip wiggled his twigs and led Angie to a quiet corner of the Clipping Copse.

‘Poor thing. At least it’s misty tonight; it’ll hide the stubble. Though you might suggest, while she’s here, she gets her roots done.’

Posted in cover reveal, short story | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

The Throne Room #writephoto #flashfiction

This week’s #writephoto prompt is 

which led to this 

How Herman Suet Rose To The Depths

Back in the mists of time, before universal healthcare, bidets and novelty condoms, Ode was a land of leisure. Nestled between the Grecian and Etruscan Empires, it was viewed from the outside rather like a piece of grit is viewed by your foot and your shoe, an irritation to both.  However, Ode’s self image was robust enough, and its cunning diplomacy sufficiently advanced to ensure it maintained its independence.

If the Greeks started agitating for Ode’s annexation, the Bards would send a delegation to Etrusca with a Paean that was the perfect mix of flattery and scaremongery with just a dash of snarky bitchery that would have the be-muscled if congenitally moronic Etruscan Elite loin-girding long before the final verse was declaimed. War on an Epic if unnecessary scale against Greece would be threatened, cunning and deceitful missives, all drafted by the resident Bardadors – like ambassadors but with neater beards and an ability to negotiate in iambic pentameter – would be dispatched and mass destruction would be averted with promises of cultural interfaces, open colosseum nights and two for one personalised rhyming couplets.

Life in Ode was, necessarily, lived on a knife edge. In many societies an ability to fight or grow food elevated you to a position of respect and leadership. In Ode those who showed a level of skill at turning a choice phrase or plucking an unlikely metaphor from three vowels and a couple of moody consonants placed the individual on a pedestal. Herman Suet was one such. He coupleted through Verse school, emerging with three straight Quinelles, secured a double Sonnet at university, in Petrarchan and Shakespearean (even though no one knew who he was then) spent one summer working in the local Stanza shop as a meter reader, coming up with a successful new promotion of Scribe One Declaim One Free, or SODOF as it was branded before joining the rest of Ode’s elite youngsters at the Composoritorium

The Composoritorium was the equivalent of a civil service and to reach the top a young Compost, as the junior ranks were known, had to go through several stages, the last of which was to perform his or hers best work in front of the Board of Laureates. Each Compost took their turn and the one who received the most profound silence was awarded the Silver Tongue. After each Compost had finished, he or she dropped their work into the massive centrepiece, the Urn of Utterances.

Herman Suet expected to win. It was destined. But like all top poets he knew he couldn’t copy what had gone before. He needed his point of difference.

So it was, as he entered the gated arena he regarded the serious if expectant faces. He marched forward, past the Performance Plinth, up the Declaratory Steps and next to the Urn.

The assembled Laureates adjusted their togas, and waited. And waited. And waited. 

Finally, Herman hitched up his robe and sat on the Urn. He raised his arms and spake thus

Each Blank tanks,

The Villanelle is criminelle

Any Epic’s septic

The Pantoum is doomed

But

And here his expression migrated from the pained to the beatific if distracted form of the relieved man. That change was accompanied by a distinct plop.

Without another word he left the stage.

The silence was deep, profound and stunned. He had won by literally crapping on his rivals.

Scholars have long analysed this momentous event which remains clouded in mystery though one thing is clear. This was the beginning of performance poetry.

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing, flash fiction | Tagged , | 16 Comments

The Easterliest Place #Lowestoft #walking

The best laid plans and all that. We are on a visit to Suffolk and had this rather neat plan sketched out. While the Textiliste headed for Beecles and a particularly fine example of Emporia Haberdasheri (I am not aware that any such shops can be categorized as being less than ‘fine’ in truth; their very existence grants them a pass enabling them to skip the awful-to-adequate stages on the retail spectrum) Dog and me were off on a  walk that would take us across country to the east coast at Covehithe and then south into Southwold where we would link up.

That’s before the bloody Germans decided to bugger us around. I’m not entirely sure why we bought a Volkswagon after our love affair with Saabs died alongside the company but we did. It looks nice enough in a sort of oiled woodlouse kind of way and is sufficiently capacious to take Dog, two weekend bags and the sort of paraphernalia you might associate with a peripatetic dressmaker whose been commissioned to clothe the entire Game of Thrones cast, but is in fact what the Textiliste ‘needs’ for a weekend. But boy do the gizmos that keep the wheels moving keep us on our toes.

We were maybe a mile for where we were to be dropped off when a sign like the dashboard had been possessed by astrological aliens lit up and the Textiliste said ‘we’ve gone limp’. Now, stop sniggering at the back, Pendulum Major and pay attention.

‘Limp Mood’ is a technical expression that means you are not totally fucked, just in a transitional state that leads from ‘it was all right when we set off’ to ‘yep, you’re fucked now.’ You have a window, an opportunity to reach a reputable mechanic before everything shuts down, you pop on the hazards and pull out the box of hat pins and the Merkel doll that it has become customary for us to take on long journeys. While you await a tow, you can spend hours happily perforating kapok.

The nearest mechanic, reputable or otherwise was in Lowestoft, some ten miles to the north. On the one hand that seems lucky, serendipitous almost; on the other you only think that if you’ve never been to Lowestoft.

Many people have commented on the fact that the British Isles, when viewed on a map, resembles an old man kneeling down and looking west. If that were so then Kent are his feet and East Anglia his rump. That makes Lowestoft England’s anus.

Still, never say we don’t try and make the best of it. Having been told they would call in a couple of hours with a diagnosis we headed east about half a mile to the coast and then north towards the town. We rationalised things thus:

  1. Lowestoft is out of season so the worst effects of English holiday resorts would be moderated by the fact it was November – namely they would be shut
  2. However, coffee shops would probably remain open for trade so we may well be able to secure a repast; and
  3. My iPad indicated at least three Haberdasheries…

Hmm, well Dog and I supposed we could find somewhere for a bit of a wander.

We’d settled for that coffee when the call came in. Something splenetic in the oil region needed hybridising or some such – I’m not completely au fait with the vital organs of the infernal combustion engine but I think I’m close enough. The result was no, it wouldn’t be ready today but yes tomorrow mid morning would be fine. And before you ask, no we don’t have a spare car you can use, even though they had a forecourt full of them. They were being anti-white-doggist if you ask me which is understandable in cars with predominately black upholstery – his hairs are a right sod to remove.

The Textiliste and I mulled the options. We could take a cab hither and yon or see if we could get a deal on a  hire car. We decided on the latter.

There was a time when my new musical choices tended to be sourced from listening to the radio. These days, having spent unconscionable amounts of time holding for ‘your call is important to us’ to be repeated for the umpteenth occasion I have heard pretty much every known tune and can choose from these playlists. Indeed I was intrigued by one of the messages they intersperse between tracks; ‘we provide a pick up and collection service from wherever you are: work, home, the garage…’ I wondered how they’d react if I said ‘Sweden’.

Eventually that too was sorted but we had to wait until 3.30 for the car to be ready. Time for one of us to haberdash…

Another simple plan; Dog and I would stroll for a while, the Textilsite would survey the opportunities and we could lunch in a  dog friendly establishment – Coffee Heart if you ever find yourself with an hour to kill hereabouts. After… who knew.

We headed for Ness Point which I was told was the easterliest point of mainland Britain. We found it behind the most enormous Bird’s Eye factory. The nearest equivalent on this coast is the Sizewell Nuclear Power Station and the output probably as good for you from each.

It allowed for a couple of arty pics and we two to ponder the purpose of this rotunda and why someone would put a seat around the bottom.

We meandered back to the High Street Haberdashery and were welcomed inside. There amongst the ephemera that is essential to these particular creative arts was a little leaflet. We had our afternoon organised in one.

The ‘Scores’ are the passages that used to lead off the north cliffs down to the fishing boats.

There’s the easterliest church – All Saints in which a  boat floated during the devastating floods of 1953.

Over time inns were set up at the top and the Scores took their names from some of these establishments nearby or some of the longer established families.

The place reeks of smuggling and piracy and, er, fish. Oliver Cromwell stayed in one pub pending quelling a royalist incursion – it took about half an hour.

 

George II ran aground on his way back from Hanover and stayed the night at the top of another Score before returning to London by road.

There’s a post celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Armada’s defeat erected in the 1600s.

And a line of tablets with details of the famous ships built hereabouts.

The crinkle crankle walls are a Suffolk speciality – designed to stand as a single course of bricks without buttresses and withstand the easterly winds. They are represented here.

As too are weirdy skeletal fishy sculptures and inserts in the pavements.

And there were steps. Lots and lots of steps. It’s a walk to keep you fit. And you know what? It was very enjoyable.

But this day wouldn’t have ended right if we’d had enough time to do it all. The clock began to tick before we could reach the end – the intriguingly named ‘Ravine’ – so we had to turnabout and go collect the motor.

It was a good day, all in, considering the high degrees of buggeration involved in it. And it proved once again a truism I keep having to learn. My petty prejudices against places should be ignored; give somewhere enough time and you’ll always find something worthwhile about it to justify the visit.

Excluding Milton Keynes, obv.

We may even go back and finish what we started…

Posted in humour, suffolk, walking | Tagged , , | 27 Comments

Equine Ambivalence

The other day I wrote a post that included a picture of a horse. Someone saw it and expressed a certain concern, wondering if it was happy.

It does have notes of eeyore about him. But I was ambivalent, I don’t want any creature to suffer but I really do not warm to horses. It did make me ponder why so many love Equus Caballus with such a passion and I don’t. I don’t get it.

Now I’m not playing some sort of evolution bingo here and deciding if I could remove one species what would it be. I’m happy for horses to run wild and free – just a long way from me.

I live in the UK. We don’t do mean critters really. Nothing that’s going to eat you and, unless you’re prone to anaphylactic shocks nothing to poison you to death through fangs or stings. If I wander the countryside there are big beasts which I can understand. Cows and the odd bull mostly but since I drink milk and like the odd steak I’m quite prepared to share my space with them. Ish.

But horses?

We don’t eat them like most other Europeans. We no longer need them for transport. So the fact I have to run their gauntlet when on a walk is, well, a bit of a bummer.

It’s not like I haven’t tried. Or spent time in close proximity. That’s maybe the problem. As a youngster in the New Forest they and their ancestral forebears, the ponies, were everywhere. As was their effluent.

2014-10-09 15.44.02

New Forest Pony: eeyore having a bad day

I cycle. A lot. Well I did.  And countless were the skids on freshly moistened horse dung. The smell, as mum scrapped some fresh ordure into a sack and popped it in the boot for use on her roses will remain one of five defining smells of my childhood alongside gripewater, toast, boiled handkerchiefs and beery breath.

I’ve been on their backs. In one excess of parental courage I even agreed to try horse riding with the Vet as a fourteen year old while we holidayed in Barbados. She was given  a cutesy bay called Apple or Angel or some such.

2009-05-11 21.39.34

Here she is, swimming in the Caribbean sea abroad the bareback of her sweet natured horse. The fact that I’m taking the picture tell you what I thought of the idea of a bareback swim

I was given the beast that even the Four Horsemen thought too frisky called Macho. It was like doing an animated weights programme where the weights fight back as I struggled to contain the beast’s urges. Having some smug stable lad tell me to ‘relax’ and ‘be less tense’ was as helpful as a set of Ikea instructions.

So lots of people love them. They get great pleasure spending time in the great outdoors astride these great mammals. I just can’t see it myself. Dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle, as I heard them described.

2009-05-13 21.23.06

The Lawyer pretends he’s happy but really? I mean REALLY?

Someone once suggested that you should try everything once except folk dancing and incest. I’d add horse riding to that list!

Posted in Animals, humour, miscellany, thought | Tagged , , | 37 Comments

The Impossible Art Of Soldiering On #microcosms #flashfiction

The Impossible Art Of Soldiering On

Geraldine ran a finger round the stiff collar. The VAD uniform wasn’t made for comfort. She felt eyes on her and glanced at number fourteen. Mrs Ephram shuffled out of her door; she nodded as she realised Geraldine was looking. ‘First day?’

Geraldine lowered her gaze out of respect. Their Harry had taken a bullet at Ypres. ‘Yes, Mrs Ephram.’

‘Good.’ She patted her arm as she shuffled last.

Geraldine watched her go, physically broken but keeping on. How did she do it? She moved to one side, to avoid the horse droppings from the baker’s cart. She didn’t want to have the staff nurse on her case on her first day. She didn’t think she could bear that.

Young Martin appeared, peddling furiously up the rise. She waited, ready to tease him. Before he reached her he had his hand in his pocket and pulled out a telegram. ‘It’s alright Geraldine. It’s good.’

Martin was a sweet boy with ears like sails and teeth like granite chips. ‘Go on.’

She opened it and read it slowly. ‘Private Arnold Summers has been awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry on the field of battle.’ Her Arnie.

A cough made her turn. Cousin Peter. ‘Arnold’s Ma’s ‘ad a turn.’

She ran behind him, the speed and her uniform stopping her asking what was up, while she clutched the telegram. They were shown in the Forman’s office. Mrs Summers sat, gripping a hanky and a telegram. She held it out to Geraldine. ‘I know Ma.’

Puzzlement filled her face, confusing Geraldine who read the second telegram. ‘We regret to inform you of the death of Pte Arnold Summers from his injuries sustained…’

Geraldine met her mother in law’s gaze. They would get through this, like Mrs Ephram and so many more. 

This week’s #microcosms prompt has a WW1 theme to it with the three prompts: wife, street and tragedy. 

Posted in creative writing, flash fiction, microcosms, miscellany, prompt | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

A Complete Mash Up #carrotranch #flashfiction #loganandmorgan

‘What the…? Logan…’

‘Wassup?’

‘You said you’d left me dinner.’

‘Yeah. Sausage and mash.’

‘Why poison me?’

‘I don’t… oh.’

‘Yes. Oh. What gives?’

‘I was making a you.’

‘A me?’

‘Yes a you? A papier-mache Morgan. See.’

‘That’s… amazing. For me?’

‘Yep. Thought you’d like it.’

‘I do. But the dinner…?’

‘You used the mix in the blue bowl?’

‘The mash and the sausages, yes.’

‘That bowl contained the remaining paper pulp. You’ve had sausage and pulp.’

‘But it doesn’t smell of pulp?’

‘I wanted an authentic you so I softened the paper in a can of Bud.’

This week’s prompt from the Carrot Ranch is 

November 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs mashed potatoes with a superpower. It can be in any circumstance, funny or poignant. Go where the prompt leads.

Posted in carrot ranch, creative writing, flash fiction, logan and morgan, prompt | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

How Joan Of Arc Ensured My Existence #WW1 #family


Artefact - Joan of Arc

In a display cabinet, a few feet from where I am sitting is a small porcelain statue of Joan of Arc. Whilst it is over one hundred years old, it is of no particular value, especially as the head has, at some time, been knocked off and crudely stuck back on. But it has been treasured in our family for many years – and this is her story.

Percy Francis Officer - perhaps before graduation

Percy Francis was fascinated by flying. Today it would not be unusual, but this was 1911. Powered flight was only a few years old and the primitive machines that clawed their way into the sky were incredibly dangerous. But Percy loved it. By 1911 he was by his own account ‘involved in aeronautical research’, and in 1912 he was an official of the London Aero Club helping to run the first London Air Show.

Forward two years and when war was declared he naturally wanted to join the embryonic Royal Flying Corps. However hardly anybody had any idea of what aircraft could do in war and he was told to wait. But all his friends were joining up so he decided to join the army anyway. When one friend bet him he would never wear a kilt, he joined the Seaforth Highlanders – one of the ‘Ladies from hell’ as the Germans were to call them.

Percy Francis Seaforth Highlander 1

By November 1914 he was in France and, during the cold winter of 1914-15 he turned his ingenuity to making underwear – as the uniform didn’t include any to wear under the kilt. This was perhaps his only failure. More successful was the film projector he found, and for many month he ran the ‘Only Cinema at the Front’, as it was called on the posters. French films could easily be played as, in the days of silent film, all you needed was someone to translate the titles when they appeared.

Cinema poster

In the spring of 1915 the Seaforth’s were one of the regiments involved in the battle of Neuve Chapelle, one of the first big trench battles of the war. The regiment played a particularly gallant part, so they commissioned a war artist, Joseph Gray, to depict the scene when the Seaforth’s advanced. Percy was chosen to be the model for all the soldiers depicted, walking, shooting, shouting encouragement. We still possess a sketch of Percy, the highland soldier, that Joseph Gray gave him, and he is recognisable at least four times in the finished paintings!

(c) The Highlanders' Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Joseph Gray

Towards the end of that year he took part in intelligence gathering, creeping out after dark into no man’s land to map German positions, the compass he used lives in my study.

Artefacts - Compass and Binoculars 2

For one particularly hazardous expedition he was offered the choice between a military medal or immediate commission, he chose the latter and became Lieutenant Percy Francis. He didn’t remain long as an officer in the trenches but rapidly managed to get transferred to where he had long wanted to be – the Royal Flying Corps.

It was while he was back in England, doing his pilot training (he didn’t need to learn to fly, but rather become acquainted with the military aircraft of the day), that he was arrested as a spy. Officers didn’t need to wear uniform when not on duty and he was sitting in a London park reading a magazine. He had fair hair, close cropped to fit under his flying helmet, and someone thought he looked German. A crowd gathered and a policeman had to take him into protective custody.Leave - Fishing party Brendon

Back in France he joined his squadron, whose job was mapping enemy positions. Flying low and slow over the trenches, whilst the observer took photographs. The average life span of a pilot in those days was thirteen weeks; he did it for over eighteen months. He was never shot down – he seemed to have regarded the enemy as a minor irritation and the aircraft he was flying were much more dangerous.

He was right, in early 1918 he was going home on leave and was offered the choice between taking the troop ship home or flying a plane back to England. He naturally chose the latter and set off across the Channel. Then the fog came down.

For three days there was no news, it was assumed that his aircraft had been lost at sea, then a gamekeeper walking on the cliffs near Dover found the crashed aircraft. Though he was badly injured, Percy made a full recovery.

Convalescing - Larking around

Much to his irritation the Army wouldn’t pass him fit for flying, but gave him another promotion and a desk job, and so he survived the war. He went on to race at Brooklands,

Percy in 3 Wheeler

and fly with his friend Geoffrey De Havilland and design a Flying Bicycle!

Artefact - RAF Badge

But what, you will be asking yourself if you remember the beginning of this tale, has Joan of Arc got to do with it all. Shortly after arriving in France, Percy found the statue of St. Joan in a shelled church. He repaired it and took it with him wherever he went as a good luck charm. As you may have realised his career in the war, from ordinary soldier at the front – to officer at the front – to officer in the Royal Flying Corps, took him into more and more dangerous situations.

Artefact - Flying helmet 1

In protecting our grandfather, Percy Francis, St. Joan worked overtime.

My brother, the Archaeologist write this piece for my blog back in 1914 when we were thinking about the 100th anniversary of the start of that god-awful conflict. This piece deserves a repeat, the story of a little statue that, in part, I like to think, means I am here today, writing these posts. 

Thank you, Bruv for this post and thank you Joan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in family, memoires, WW1 | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments