Christmas: A Cautionary Tale

Long ago and far away, in a land called 1971, there lived a brother and sister. This is part one of a very story of what happened to them on Christmas Eve, as it was told to me.

            ‘The year that I was 6 and my brother 10 our parents decided that we were both old enough to be trusted with the welfare of both house and cat so they could go out for a Christmas eve drink with friends. At seven on the dot they set off into the night heading for a pub hidden somewhere in the countryside, leaving strict instructions with me and my brother to be in bed by 8 o’clock and No Fighting. Otherwise, Santa wouldn’t come.
            In the living room the Christmas tree sparkled as its little lights flashed on and off illuminating the Very Old Glass Baubles that adorned the tree. A few presents sat temptingly beneath.Snow%20kitteh[1].JPG           
As did Mrs Tibbs, our tabby cat. Her eyes, also like glass baubles, reflected the flickering lights and she refused to come out from beneath the tinsel-laden boughs.
            About ten seconds after our parents had left my brother was restless. I would have been happy to go to bed at 8 o’clock as instructed, but he being that bit older than me he found being alone in the house on Christmas eve a fascinating delight and an opportunity that may not come even once a year. His fidgety excitement soon had us heading for disaster.
            Trying to coax Mrs Tibbs out from under the tree, she backed away, bumping the tree lightly as she went. It rocked gently. The Very Old Glass Baubles swayed ever so slightly and the tinsel glittered.photo-1543869237-04c565027462.jpeg
            “C’mon. We’re going to play hide and seek,” announced my brother.
            I hesitated.
            The last time we did that he’d persuaded me to hide in the garage in a trunk that was full of nails and saws and he’d left me there to go and play football with his friends until tea-time.
            He sensed my apprehension.
            “C’mon, it’ll be fun. We won’t hide though,” he said, and scurried upstairs.
            What sort of hide and seek involved not hiding?
            Tentatively, I followed. I could hear banging and shuffling, the dragging of things about, and doors opening and closing. A shaft of light came from our parent’s bedroom.
            “What are you doing?” I whispered, dismayed.
            “They hide, we seek!”
I stepped into our parent’s room where my brother was searching high and low.
            “For the Christmas Presents!!” he said, in his exasperated older sibling voice.
            “But Father Christmas brings those!” I said, horrified.
            “Wake up Thicko” he instructed. “Mum and Dad bring them!”
                        I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
            “That’s not true!” I said. I couldn’t possibly be true – really it couldn’t! Santa brought our presents! He flew through the air with his sleigh and his gang of reindeer delivering presents to all us good children in the world.
            “Don’t be so stupid!” scoffed my brother.
            As my young brain absorbed and digested this absolutely terrible news, I watched as he continued hunting. There were none to be found.
            “See! It’s not mummy and daddy! It’s Father Christmas!” I declared, worried, relieved, and on the edge of tears.
            He muttered something about getting a ladder and pushed past me. Lamely, I followed him down stairs as he made his way to the garage.
            Struggling back in with some step-ladders he told me the grab one end and we staggered back upstairs with them, taking a few chunks of plaster out of the wall and tearing the new Vymura wall paper. I stopped to look at the damage.
            “Now look what you’ve done!” he declared.
            We dragged the ladders along the landing until we came to rest below the loft hatch. We looked up.
            “No!”
            “Yes!” he said with glee. “You can go first because you’re smaller.”
            Terror gripped me as I remembered the Loft Spiders – they’re bigger than ordinary spiders because they live in the dark and they have teeth. I knew this was true because my brother had told me. I couldn’t go up there!
            Huffing at my reluctance, he climbed the wobbly ladder, pushed open the hatch and disappeared inside the loft….’

To be continued…

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From LGBTQ+ With Love: The Fight Back Flash Competition

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then please fellow writers, get writing…

ShortStops

Dearest compatriots, collaborators, friends, foes, gentlepeople, unicorns (both sparkly and plain), folkingtons, allies and everyone in between and either side and up and down and diagonal and round and round the whole glorious spectrum of humanity.

You may have heard about a rather unpleasant exclusionary flash fiction competition that’s been doing the rounds on Twitter lately. Not just exclusionary, but implying members of the LGBTQ+ community are somehow comparable to scenes of graphic violence or torture. Yeah. Not exactly what we want to see from a writing competition in 2018.

But you cannot fight hate with hate. The answer is love. Only love and always love. Whatever damn kind of love you’re into. Because love knows no bounds, people.

And so. Writers’ HQ are running a flash fiction competition on the theme: From LGBTQ+ With Love, with all proceeds going to MindOut, a mental health service for LGBTQ+ people.

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Boo!

This Sunday myself and other lovers of ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night are convening at The White Lion pub in Henley in Arden to thrill ourselves senseless with a live lit evening of horror and ghost stories. If you’re in the area, float on by – it’s free entry and it’s a haunted pub; what’s not to like? And if I snap any pictures of phantoms and weirdness, you’ll see them here. My collection of photos of ghostly apparitions seems to be growing, the first one taken during my trip to the wonderful Finland, and some more recently snapped at The Savoy theatre in Monmouth. Freaky stuff.
Beyond The Grave 28th Oct.jpegAnyway, returning to our evolutionary roots of fire-gazing and story-telling, Sunday at The White Lion is bound to be creepy evening – in a good way –  organised by editor and author Pat Spence.

I’ll be reading my ghost story, Channel One Six from my updated Collection of Unsettling Short Stories, which will also be on sale. If you fancy a fun yet spooky night, come along to the White Lion. 

In Praise of Small Places

Once in a while you might stumble upon a quirky shop or unusual venue hidden away somewhere, the sort of place that makes you go Wow – I had no idea this was here. Advertising blurb would call such a place a ‘hidden gem’ and although not out specifically treasure hunting earlier this year, I did indeed stumble upon a hidden gem in Monmouth. I’m sure Monmouthians know all about their beautiful little theatre, The Savoy but it was news to me, and any theatre that has it’s foundations built on the same foundations as an 18th century pub has to be a winner. The little entrance is at the bottom of Church Street, a narrow winding little street that in no way hints at having a theatre at the end of it. If I’d been asked ‘What do you think is at the end of this street – a charity shop, an launderette, an antiques shop or a theatre?’ I would have gone with antiques shop. And I suppose in a way, that’s what this little theatre is.Welcome.JPG

Savoy Stage.JPGThe Savoy is a real proper theatre but also acts as a cinema and general all-round brilliant venue. Sadly I wasn’t in Monmouth long enough to go to a show there, but I would have if I’d had the chance. The venue is now run by volunteers and thank goodness for such people, for without them astonishing buildings and heritage like The Savoy would be lost. So if you cross the border from Gloucestershire or Herefordshire into Monmouthshire, do find time to visit this wonderful little theatre.

Downstairs@Temperance.jpg

Another place that was a surprise find was the basement of a cafe in Leamington Spa. Not that I was actually surprised that a) said cafe had a basement, but b) that it was an uber cool venue for music, theatre, stand-up, open mics, art, film – you name it, The Temperance Bar in Bath Street Leamington, supports it. In the digital age of streaming and gaming, finding places such as these is treat – there is something deep in our psyches I think about big buildings and little buildings – big caves and little caves that feed the imagination. Maybe it’s the acoustics. Did you ever make a den as a child? – scrabbling around trying to stop the quilt or sheet falling in on you, stuffing the corners under books and toys that were balanced on the edge of the bed or bedside table, just so you could have your own little space lit by a torch and shared with only your most precious toys – and of course a book.

There is a little copse not too far from where I live and when I’m out on a rare ramble I have a poke about this little copse just out of interest. And always – come rain or sun or snow or frost – there is a little den there that someone has made of logs and twigs and branches. Now, if I wanted to go down the LRR route and let my imagination runaway with me, I could go all Blair Witchy and completely creep myself out, but I wouldn’t want to spook myself alone in the woods. That might cause me to run a little bit faster than is healthy and fall flat on my face as I trip over a twig. And how embarrassing would that be. But the point is, we do love a den. A hovel. A hidey-hole; whatever you want to call it. And maybe as writers, we all have one of those deep inside our minds too. I like to think it’s where the words live. The storylines, plots and ideas live. In a little venue all of their own.

Anyone Can Write a Book

…right? Right! It’s the other bit that’s so hard. I’ve had three emails already this week – and it’s only Monday – asking me about marketing and promotion, those two holy grails (can you have two holy grails?) of independently published book selling. Before we go any further though, this week’s blog isn’t a long list of Dos and Don’ts and Hints and Tips, it is an interview with writer, on-line radio producer and theatre critic Nick Le Mesurier who offers writers a little light in the bewildering darkness of self-promotion.Hard at Work at Stratford Words.jpeg

Nick has two undertakings running concurrently, the writer’s radio platform Stratford Words via on-line radio Welcomb Radio, and a new podcast, Speak, Muse! To start off then Nick, tell us a little more about each…

‘Well, writing is difficult enough in itself: promoting your work is even harder. Both Stratford Words and Speak Muse aim to provide a platform for writers to present their work and to discuss it. Services such as the BBC tend to feature only established artists, and while that provides good material and interesting copy it ignores a lot of other writers who, for various reasons might not have been so lucky, or who are at earlier stages in their careers’.

And how do you go about this? That is to say, how do you get the best from your guests?

‘In each format I try to give subjects a little space to explore their experience and what drives them. Stratford Words has a nice live feel to it but Speak Muse can allow for a bit more space; I also transcribe the Speak Muse interviews so the audience can get a fuller appreciation of what each guests says. So along with providing a positive environment for discussion and reading I try to find some questions that will interest listeners and readers (who I assume are often interested in the writer as much as the written word) and also shows an awareness of what the writer is trying to do.’

The art of asking a good question is quite a hard one to master I would imagine. What inspires the questions you ask of your guests? Is there a role model you work to?

‘I would say my role models for each are radio 4, with a nudge towards radio 3, and The Paris Review interviews. The latter are really the gold standard. I don’t mind trying to be a bit high-brow: in the rush for publicity brows are too easily lowered! And yes, that means I have to do some homework. But it’s not my job to trip up my subjects but to bring the best out of them.’

Yes, I’ve heard it said that some writers, although they may pour their heart and soul in to a novel are quite shy and retiring in person.

‘Indeed. Yet the principles of interviewing a well-known author apply equally to an unknown author or someone just starting out. I’ve had some good interviews with people like poet Ann Alexander whose work I love, and also Paul Budd, whose novel A Material Harvest is worthy of more attention. Then I have Vanessa Berridge talking about her love of the social history of gardening.  Or Amanda Laidler who is not so well known but has a lot of experience working with young actors. Then there are a couple of young authors just starting out on their careers, Natasha Dubalia and Sacha Wood, for example. They’ve some way to go yet, but to be encouraged and taken seriously at this stage could be very helpful to them later on.’

If you would like to know about Nick and his work with authors on Stratford Words and Speak, Muse, please contact him here: nicklemesurier@icloud.com

As Nick says, ‘The truth is that there is an over-supply of writers and not enough listeners and readers for new work. It’s hard to get a reward for the years spent working on one’s writing. Mine might be only a small platform, but it is that at least, I hope.’

 

 

 

 

It’s All About The Syntax

During my daily writing endeavours I read a lot of websites, newsletters, blog posts, emails and social media comments under the banner of ‘research’. Consequently I come across some absolute howlers. I received this in an email yesterday and was struck by the architectural aspect of it:

‘…should be reported to the office in a timely manor..’

Now, you can’t blame people for finding spelling difficult, (see my previous blog interview with writer Hugo Kerr) any more than you can blame people for struggling with maths, but sometimes do you think – Get Someone To Check It Before You Send It? Or, if you’ve been asked to read/review the work of an autonomous author, think: (Why Didn’t You) Get Someone To Check It Before You Printed It? If you want your work to work well, there really is no excuse.

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Thank you, Ben Hershey + Unsplash.

A while ago had some short stories copy-edited by two people at the same time just to gauge their different points of view and editing techniques. One comment still stands out today. I had used the word ‘silty’, but the copy editor was sure I meant ‘salty’. I assured him I did not. ‘Was I absolutely sure?’ he asked. I confirmed I was. The other copy editor didn’t comment on this word at all, clearly happy with the word and my use of it. But it threw up an interesting point – would my readers think I meant salty even though I’d written silty? Did it matter? I think it did. It still does. From my point of view as a writer, I want my readers to enjoy my work, not stumble head-first over an unfamiliar word or a familiar word in the wrong place. Control freak? Possibly.

In an email I received last week I noticed that some of the punctuation in this sentence had fallen away – if indeed it was ever there in the first place. I suspect it wasn’t:

‘I have sent this email in edith’s best interest would you suggest this is left for edith to dispose of going forward.’

I don’t really know what this person is saying to me. But it seems rude to ask, somehow. Yes, yes, yes, I’m as guilty as the next writer of missing out or adding an extraneous word to what I thought was a perfectly formed sentence, but when it comes to syntax…ah… now you’re talking. This can take hours to get right, and yet still be wrong.

Below is a statement from a website menu I read earlier today and shared here for your delectation:

… our delicious roast dinners from just £12 each, the meat alternates each week and will be uploaded to Facebook.

I really did not make that up!