Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday 160: Lammas

Lammas blessings this harvest tide to you and those held dear.
Celebrate the grain: eat bread and drink beer.
Show thanks for all you’ve gathered now.
Be happy.


A Happy Lammas to all my readers!

The Pagan celebration of Lammas is the first of three harvest festivals and celebrates the safe gathering in of the grain. I've made the new corn dollies and tonight I'll tie ribbons round them and hang them in the house. Last year's (in the photo) will be burned to release the harvest spirit which has ensured we have had enough to eat for the last 12 months.

There's bread baking at the moment and we'll be drinking beer very soon. (Just as soon as I've tidied up a bit from the dolly making).

For more on (last year's) Lammas see here.
If you want to make your own corn dollies there's instructions here.
But if you want to kow about Sunday 160 you'll need to go and see the Monkey Man.

Friday, July 29, 2011

FFF55: Bloodstain

It all began with a stain on the bathroom floor. Smeared and ill-defined, but, unmistakeably, it was blood. A trail of gory prints led from the red pool, downstairs and into the kitchen. What kind of horror was I about to find?

Another battered field mouse corpse.
I wish my cats weren’t such keen hunters. 


FFF55 is the G-Man's weekly challenge to write a story in just 55 words. Take a stroll over to see him at Mr. Knowitall's Blog to see what the rest of the world has written.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thursday extracts. A hum by Pooh.

"Pooh," said Piglet reproachfully, "haven't you been listening to what Rabbit was saying?"

"I listened, but I had a small piece of fluff in my ear. Could you say it again, please, Rabbit?"

Rabbit never minded saying things again, so he asked where he should begin from; and when Pooh had said from the moment when the fluff got in his ear, and Rabbit had asked when that was, and Pooh had said he didn't know because he hadn't heard properly, Piglet settled it all by saying that what they were trying to do was, they were just trying to think of a way to get the bounces out of Tigger, because however much you liked him, you couldn't deny it, he did bounce.

"Oh, I see," said Pooh.

"There's too much of him," said Rabbit, "that's what it comes to."

Pooh tried to think, and all he could think of was something which didn't help at all. So he hummed it very
quietly to himself.

If Rabbit
Was bigger
And fatter
And stronger,
Or bigger
Than Tigger,
If Tigger was smaller,
Then Tigger's bad habit
Of bouncing at Rabbit
Would matter
No longer,
If Rabbit
Was taller.

"What was Pooh saying?" asked Rabbit. "Any good?"
"No," said Pooh sadly. "No good."


When Tigger arrives in the 100 Acre Wood the rest of the animals decide that he is too bouncy and he must be unbounced for everyone's good. Pooh is a little distracted when it comes to drawing up a plan.

A A Milne has been a favourite since I was very young. Winnie the Pooh appeals to all ages and I have grown more appreciative as I've got older. I've known this hum by heart since I was about seven.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


I've recently finished reading Arctic Chill by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason  (If you want a review check out my Just Read page). I received it as part of a job lot of freebies for my e-reader and picked it because it was about Iceland, a place I have visited several times and love.

It was interesting to read about a different culture in the words of someone who actually belongs to it, but it got me wondering. Just how much of a flavour of place is lost in translation?  It was, after all, translated by English people, even if they do speak Icelandic.

As an aside: Modern Icelandic is virtually identical to Old Norse, the language of the Sagas, and therefore any Icelander who can read has direct access to their history and legends. It must help with a sense of identity and place and provide a fast link to the past. (Imagine being able to read Chaucer - or even Shakespeare - as easily as Agatha Christie or J K Rowling.)

What I learned from the book about modern-day Reykjavik is very different from the image presented to tourists, (in much the same way that Ian Rankin's tales of Edinburgh probably aren't popular with the Scottish Tourist Board, in spite of how many people visit the city to drink in Rebus's favourite bars) but that was because of the subject matter, rather than the descriptions. I recognised several locations immediately and had clear pictures of them in my mind as I read.

Do you read much translated fiction? Do you think that you have missed anything as a result? Can we ever have a true understanding of an author's intent if we rely on a translator's interpretation?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Social Not-working. Me me me!

What do you want to be when you grow up, little girl?
Rich and famous and thin and beautiful of course!
What about looking after other people?
No way! Why should I?


Social media is being blamed for its part in a dramatic change of moral values among teens and 'tweens' in the US.

A new study by psychologists at UCLA has shown that values such as being kind to others and community feeling, have been replaced by fame, and fortune among today's narcissistic kids.

The report points out that the availability of 24/7 media enables children to access the values put forward by television much more regularly than their parents can influence them.

As a result youngsters are more likely to align their ambitions with the standards of reality programmes such as American Idol, and the unrealistic success of teen star Hannah Montana.

There has been a dramatic change in the last decade, although another value, image, has been creeping up the scale for longer than that.

The UCLA team studied a list of values demonstrated in the most popular TV programmes every 10 years from 1967. Back in the days when everyone was watching The Lucy Show, the value at the top of the list was community feeling. By Hannah Montana's era in 2007 that had slid to 11th. In the same time fame shot from 15th to the top spot, with financial success following it in at number two.

One of the authors Yalda T. Uhls, a UCLA doctoral student in developmental psychology, said: "Even when parents are an active presence in their children's lives, peers and media go hand in hand, and peers can be more influential than parents.

"The biggest change occurred from 1997 to 2007, when YouTube, Facebook and Twitter exploded in popularity. Their growth parallels the rise in narcissism and the drop in empathy among college students in the United States, as other research has shown. We don't think this is a coincidence."

The report's other author was Patricia M. Greenfield, a UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children's Digital Media Center at Los Angeles.

She said: "In the past, children had their home, community and school; now they have thousands of 'friends' who look at their photos and their posts and comment on them. The growth of social media gives children access to an audience beyond the school grounds.

"If you have 400 or more Facebook friends, which many high school and college students do, you are on stage. It's intrinsically narcissistic."

Social Not-working is an ongoing project that happens when I see reports like the one above. For more examples click here

Monday, July 25, 2011

L’Égérie (The Muse)

L’Égérie (The Muse) it said
On a plastic plaque beside the work.
I looked at it (a long time)
But felt no echo in my mind
No similarity with mine.
How could this angular thing inspire?
This flat, red multiple thing
With extra heads, but lacking arms
And charms. (I could not see.)
Perhaps sculptors need a driving force
More pointed (or with razor's edge)
To guide their hands, their hammers
Or their welding torches.
We of the Word need gentler touch.
(I feel.)

I visited the annual sculpture show at Leicester Univerity botanic gardens yesterday and this was one of the works. Called L’Égérie (The Muse) by Laurence Ambrose. I can't see anything like my own muse in this at all. But I guess every muse is dfferent. 

What does everyone else think?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Sunday 160. Two Steeples

They promised that the Two Steeples underwear would never shrink but they never warned anyone that woolly undies are the itchiest clothing you could ever wear! 

That's exactly 160 characters for The Monkey Man.The photo is an old advertising panel from Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge.

Friday, July 22, 2011

fff55: The Plumbline and the City

What makes a city?

Architects and builders
Pencils and plumb lines
Bricks and mortar
Concrete and steel.

Roads and railways
Alleys and roundabouts
Pavements and walk-ways
Bridges and tunnels.

Shops and offices
Churches and temples
Hotels and hospitals
Houses, not homes.

Where are the people?
Residents and workers
Visitors and tourists
A city needs people.

This week's contribution to Flash Fiction Friday 55, which is hosted by the great G-Man over at Mr. Knowitall's Blog.

The photo is of a sculpture called The Plumbline and the City, by Clark Fitz-Gerald, in Coventry Cathedral.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Thursday extracts. Douglas Adams's sunrise.

The sadly missed Douglas Adams had an imagination matched by only a very few writers. His fantasy, comedy, science fiction, lunatic, indefinable genre, books were near perfect. He had a skill with words that leaves me breathless. Not just ordinary language, but the inventive names of his characters and places that leave the reader in little doubt about their natures. The man was a genius, and taken from us far too young. This tiny extract from Life, the Universe and Everything illustrates his style perfectly.


Another world, another day, another dawn. The early morning's thinnest sliver of light appeared silently. Several billion trillion tons of superhot exploding hydrogen nuclei rose slowly above the horizon and managed to look small, cold and slightly damp.

Douglas Adams. Life, the Universe and Everything.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

3 Word Week: Shadowman

One of my previous Three Word Week stories Earwig has been published on the Microstory a Week site. Thanks for choosing it Steve!

Here's this week's:


You know how sometimes you catch sight of something out of the corner of your eye and it scares you because it looks like a person in the shadows? You glimpse it, you turn to take another look, and then it morphs into your coat hanging on the door back, or a table lamp and a pile of books or something. Well it’s constant in my life, happens every day, but I never get used to it because once, many years back, it really was somebody, and I know one day he’s coming back.  

I had just got home from work, not that I worked too hard in those days. To be honest I was a bit of a waster and was the first to bleat if conditions weren’t exactly how I wanted them. I was drinking hard, ate too much of the wrong stuff, smoked worse than a kipper and was probably heading for an early grave. So I walked in the house and threw my coat and a load of other stuff onto an armchair as I passed it, went straight to the cabinet and poured myself a large whisky. Just as I looked back into the room, there he was; large as life and way more ugly, sitting in the chair where I’d just deposited my gear.

I did a double-take and checked again but he was still there. He looked like he’d been dragged out of a grave, all grey and dusty. His suit seemed like it had once been well cut, maybe Italian styling, but old fashioned. I could see the skull through the skin on his face and he just stared at me. He had no eyes in his sockets but I knew he was staring.

Listen,” he said, lifting a bony hand and pointing at me, “I’m here to give you some advice.  Unless you want to end up like me you have to lay off the booze, cut out the smokes and watch your cholesterol. You’ve heard about all that karma stuff? Well it’s real, and you already have a debt to pay. We have a job for you to do and you’d best be fit for it when we come to call.”

“What job? What do you mean? Who are you? Who’s we?” I tried to ask, but it was no good. I was talking to my coat. 

Do I need to tell you how terrified I was? Some beast from beyond had paid me a visit with a personal message from…who? Heaven or hell or some place I never heard of.  Next morning I joined a gym and I’ve been living the clean life ever since to keep myself in trim. I daren’t do anything else because I know he will be back. I’ve seen his eyeless face every single day to remind me: in dark corners by wardrobes; in the way the curtains hang in my living room; in my rear view mirror. So far he’s always been a shadow man but one day will be for real. When he does come I want to be ready for him. Though whether I’ll use my new fitness to help him or fight him off I’m not so sure.


Over at Steve Isaak's blog there's a weekly challenge to write a less than 600 word short story featuring the three words he chooses every Monday.  I've been playing with this idea for a while (about how everyday objects turn into strange people when you catch a glimpse of them) and figured I'd explore it through Three Word Monday. So here it is.

This week's words are:

And here's the rules. If you'd like to join in,

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Should I or shouldn't I?

When I write (anything really, short stories, novels, poems, press releases, whatever) I tend not to use contractions. You know: shouldn't, won't, I'll etc. But I have a problem. I have an idea going round my head that simply has to be written in first person and that person would never speak in full words. It's just not in his nature! I can hear his voice in my head, telling me the story, or at least setting up the situation so he CAN tell me the story, and he is obviously the kind who uses contractions.

My question is: would that put you off reading something of novel length?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Alchemy - inventing the big brother I never had

My WIP is a bit of a monster at the moment and I'm fighting to get it to fall into place properly. It's my own fault. I've been writing chapters as the muse has presented them - not in the order they will finally take in the book. I'm realising that I have described a lot of surroundings that are season-dependent and might be faced with cutting the heads off a few chapters and stitching them to earlier or later events. Ho hum.

Meanwhile, this book will have a cast of thousands (well - lots anyway) and I'm enjoying inventing them - including the big brother I never had in real life but always wanted.

He wanted to be a scientist and I can remember him clearly in his white laboratory coat. One of his favourite possessions was a chemistry set and he would carry out smelly experiments in the kitchen at weekends with lots of liquids that frothed and popped and changed colour when he mixed them. Sometimes he would let me watch, but I could never join in because he insisted that safety was important and I did not have a proper coat like his.  His real love was mechanics though, and he would take things apart to see how they worked, then sit for hours putting everything back together just to prove that he could. He wanted to show everyone, including himself, that he understood what was going on behind the front of things. He was a bit like that with people too, because he could always see straight through me. There was no fooling him about anything and he often unravelled my teenage troubles for me, with his calm and wise view of the world.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday 160. Vistas

The Fens’ flat landscape holds a bleak beauty and produces hardy people. Sons of the soil. Land of Oliver Cromwell, who overthrew a king. Land of my ancestors.

Sunday 160 is a weekly challenge hosted by The Monkey Man, to write a story in exactly 160 characters.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The British on holiday

Umbrellas out, swathed in plastic sheet clothes, clutching ice creams, hot dogs, waffles: the British are determined to enjoy their holidays, even when it rains!

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Unsure line
Lapping waves
Draw a line in the sand:
Here and no further.
Erased by the next tide
High tide
A tide in the affairs of man.
Time and tide wait for none.
A time for change
A change of mind.
Leaving on the new tide.
New journey
New horizons
New shores.


FFF55 is a weekly challenge set by the G-Man over at Mr Knowitall's blog. You know the score by now. Go and see everyone else's offerings!

Thursday extracts. Kenneth Grahame's idea of a picnic...

I think there isn't anyone in the (English speaking) world who has not heard of The Wind in the Willows. It's been a favourite of mine since I was about seven or eight. Right from the start the language and the story are delightful, and Grahame's rebellious use of words is magical. Here's an extract from Chapter One. Mole has just met the Rat and has been invited to go 'messing about in boats' but, before they set off, the Rat insists on fetching a hamper for their lunch.

`What's inside it?' asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.
`There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; `coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssan dwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater----'
`O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: `This is too much!'
`Do you really think so?' enquired the Rat seriously. `It's only what I always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are always telling me that I'm a mean beast and cut it VERY fine!'

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Sometimes my feelings seep through into my writing. Here's an extract from my latest WIP and, in spite of what it says, I miss the moorlands desperately!

As I drove on, higher onto the moorland, the fields became smaller and more angular, hedges gave way to grey, stone walls marking long, narrow strips of land. The cattle of the lower slopes were gradually replaced by wandering sheep that dotted the stony hillsides. I saw many lying slumped against the foot of the walls and it was not until then that I understood the pattern of the dry, grey lines. They had been constructed against the prevailing wind and were designed to provide shelter in a landscape that offered very little natural protection against the elements. This would be a very different place in winter from the scene I could see spread out before me; without the sunshine of a summer’s day it would be truly bleak.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Three word week: Earwig

Prison life really suited Jimmy the Wig because of his habit. Jimmy’s nickname didn’t come from any lack of hair; he had such a thick thatch of black locks that many people thought it was a rug, but no. He got his name from being a natural earwig. He couldn’t stop himself eavesdropping conversations. He was compelled to do it, just like that disease, that obsessive compulsive thing, you know, OCD.  So being in prison was just right for him, surrounded by people with nothing better to do than discuss old exploits and plan new jobs for when they got out, and Jimmy became what they call institutionalised. He was happiest behind bars.

His only troubles came from the other side of his compulsion: he felt driven to pass on whatever he overheard. If he thought he was imparting a particularly exciting piece of news he would gesticulate a lot, so it left no-one in any doubt what he was doing.  At first it ruffled a few feathers when he chose to reveal something to the hotter heads in clink, but an understanding Governor solved that by putting him in a cell with Clothears Jones: deaf in one ear and didn’t listen with the other. Wig could say anything he liked and Clothears would nod and hum and har occasionally to make Wig think he was paying attention. That went on for years and life looked settled.

Wig had a number of jobs around the prison. They’d tried him on library duty but it made him edgy because no-one was allowed to talk in there, so they swapped him to cleaning the chapel. He loved that because he often overheard juicy confessions about dirty thoughts. So one day when he was polishing the brasswork and Phil Skillett came in to talk to the Padre he thought he was in for a treat. He was; just not the kind of treat he was expecting.  Phil’s nickname was ‘Fillet’ and it wasn’t just a play on his name; he was renowned for his knife skills and I don’t mean he was a good cook! Anyhow, him and the Reverend disappeared behind the curtain and Wig could hear the prayer bit as he dusted his way closer to the booth. He was comfortably in place when he heard Fillet admit he was the one who had shanked one of the screws two weeks ago.

Well that was too much for Wig. He dropped his cloth and dashed out to find someone to listen. Give the boy his due, he went looking for Clothears, but as bad luck would have it the cell was empty. Wig turned back just in time to come face to face with a chatty screw and he couldn’t stop himself from telling. He was still talking and waving his arms around when Fillet came back from chapel and saw him. Of course he realised straight away what was going on and Wig’s days were numbered.

They found Jimmy dead in his cell two days later and everyone assumed that Fillet had got to him somehow, even though he had been questioned almost non-stop since the secret was revealed. At the inquest, though, the sawbones reckoned there wasn’t a mark on him and there was no hint of poison. The coroner had no option but to call it natural causes, though I know he was wrong. I know what it should have said on the death certificate. To protect him from Fillet’s attentions the screws had Wig put in solitary confinement. I reckon he died of boredom.


Three word week is a challenge set by Steve Isaak. ONce a week he provides three words or phrases and we have to write a (max) 600 word short story based around them. I've not done one for a couple of weeks but here's this week's go.
This week's words were: earwig, OCD and gesticulate. 
Check out the rules here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ghost sign

Star Stores supplied groceries.
There were savings to be made.
Now the shop holds promise of big wins
but there is no

Bricks hold memories
of what the shoppers
have forgotten.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday 160. Road kill

Height of summer, and the road is punctuated with the bodies of young animals, whose short lives were ended by passing traffic as they explored their new world.
Sunday 160 is a challenge hosted by The Monkey Man. The idea is to write a story in exactly 160 characters.

Friday, July 08, 2011

fff55 Dinner at the pub

We set off to the pub in the next village with high hopes, only to find it served no food on Wednesdays. So we walked to the next nearest hostelry and had a wonderful meal of fajitas in wraps, chicken supreme, and beer. We certainly worked up an appetite – it was a four mile walk!


True story.  It's called Friday Flash Fiction 55 though. And it's hosted by the G-Man. Go see him for more examples.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Thursday extracts. Walt Whitman on love...

Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) American poet, was a man ahead of his time. He wrote some of the sexiest poetry ever put on paper - and it got him into trouble.
His collection Leaves of Grass was deemed obscene because of its overtly sexual nature. Here's a taster of why.

From Spontaneous Me

The real poems, (what we call poems being merely pictures,)
The poems of the privacy of the night, and of men like me,
This poem drooping shy and unseen that I always carry, and that all men carry,
(Know once for all, avow'd on purpose, wherever are men like me, are our lusty lurking masculine poems,)
Love-thoughts, love-juice, love-odor, love-yielding, love-climbers,
and the climbing sap,
Arms and hands of love, lips of love, phallic thumb of love, breasts
of love, bellies press'd and glued together with love,
Earth of chaste love, life that is only life after love,
The body of my love, the body of the woman I love, the body of the
man, the body of the earth,
Soft forenoon airs that blow from the south-west,
The hairy wild-bee that murmurs and hankers up and down, that gripes the
full-grown lady-flower, curves upon her with amorous firm legs, takes
his will of her, and holds himself tremulous and tight till he is satisfied;


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Real small stones

Tumbled stones glitter from baskets on the market stall; quartz, citrine, fluorspar, opalite. Alongside each small cairn is a sign that promises good health and fortune. The rainbow of colours is linked to something called chakras. There is no explanation and I am forced to assume that those who believe in the power of stones will understand the strange word. Creased, pink cards offer good luck and balance from agate; relief from loneliness through dolomite; power over depression from smoky quartz. Hard to choose: do I need jade’s promise of longevity, energy from obsidian, or peridot’s ability to attract wealth? In the end I pick a small, pointed, purple one, because I think it is pretty.

Not a small stone of the literary kind. If you want to read my examples of those click on the tab at the top of the page.

Monday, July 04, 2011


Everything I want to write about today is on my pages and not in the main posts of the blog. No-one gets updates when I change pages, only when I put in a new post. So I'm posting some links here. They aren't all about my blog(s).

What I am reading/have just read
My entries for the July River of Stones project
Someone you should meet
Someone you might like
Useful information

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Sunday 160. Double take.

Henry Smith could hardly believe his eyes.  It looked like -surely not - a Dalmatian dog driving the car in front! Then he realised – it was a left hand drive. 

Just a bit of nonsense this week. For the Sunday 160 - a story in exactly 160 characters. Hosted by The Monkey Man. Go see what other people have to offer.

Friday, July 01, 2011

FFF55. Impress me

You want to impress me?  Bring me flowers. Not boring roses but bright daffodils. Clove-scented pinks. Feed me well. French bread, salty butter, crisp salad leaves. Fresh crab and a bottle of bone dry Chablis. Follow it with a good blue cheese; Roquefort with pears, and a glass of fine port.
Read me Walt Whitman.


Fortunately the person who needs to know this advice has got it pretty well sorted!  (xx K. )

FFF55 is a weekly challenge to write a story in just 55 words.  It's hosted over at the G-Man's blog.  Go visit!