Friday, September 30, 2011

FFF55: The Professional

There really was no option, she thought as she plunged in the sharp knife. It had to be disposed of completely.
She watched the blood ooze away from the serrations along the edge and smiled.  She was good at this. There would be absolutely nothing left when she had finished.
Doreen just adored blue steak!


55 words for the G-Man. Go see what the others have done this week!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thursday extracts: McGough on Poems

A Good Poem

 I like a good poem
 one with lots of fighting
 in it. Blood, and the
 clanging of armour. Poems

 against Scotland are good,
 and poems that defeat
 the French with crossbows.
 I don't like poems that

 aren't about anything.
 Sonnets are wet and
 a waste of time.
 Also poems that don't

 know how to rhyme.
 If I was a poem
 I'd play football and
 get picked for England.

Roger McGough

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On-the-job training

Over at The Year of Writing Dangerously Michael G-G asked the question: "How have YOU learned to write?"

My answer was:
I'm a trained journalist and did a year's specialist college course before a three-year apprenticeship serving under some tough sub-editors who drilled style, accuracy and speed into their charges. 
It was only after completing a gruelling four-exams-in-a-day test that I was allowed to call myself a writer.
Since then I have worked to hone my skills (for 35 years!) both by writing and reading (not to mention listening to theatre productions, radio drama, lectures, etc.)
I write because I cannot imagine doing anything else. I earn my living that way (now as a communications officer) and when I get home I hit the keyboard as a creative writer.
I honestly think I'd die if I wasn't able to.

Die? Seriously? Well it wasn't until I wrote those words that I realised quite how important my writing is to me. It is all I have ever done and really all I ever want to do. I know that I get very depressed when I don't write regularly and that I probably would lose the will to live if I was ever told that I couldn't.

I've been getting despondent lately about my work because I entered a couple of contests and came nowhere. The winning entries were awful. Maybe the tales were good in themselves, but the writing was sloppy, the spelling was awful, the tense kept changing, there was very little technical ability in evidence.  It was a bit like giving first prize in a baking contest to the best looking cake, even though it was burned under the icing and tasted of gravy.

But do you know something?  It DOESN'T MATTER!  Because I know I'm better than that, and if the judges didn't value skill I don't really care what they thought of my work. Why would I bother what someone with such low standards thinks? It wouldn't mean much, even if they loved what I do.

So there it is. I shall go on writing and self-publishing and being read by just a few of my friends and that's OK because, I WRITE because I CAN write.
I don't need to be the next Ian Rankin or Terry Pratchett.
I just need to keep writing.

Michael's post was fascinating, by the way -  about a writing contest for military personnel. Make sure you go over there and read it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday 160. Oh dear!

As soon as I saw you I was besotted. Your eyes, your body, your smile, were all perfect. From the start I knew I was in love.
I also knew I was in big trouble.


160 characters (including spaces) for The Monkey Man

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pleasing myself

You might have noticed that a couple of things have disappeared from the Blog. If you don't know what they are, it doesn't matter. Think of it as a sort of online Kim's Game. (And if you don't understand that reference it REALLY doesn't matter).

If you HAVE noticed what's missing and you want to know why I'll tell you, if you insist. But otherwise I'll leave it at the fact that I'm looking after number 1 for a while. And I'm not going to beat myself up about it.

I don't do verbigeration. And I'm proud of that.

Friday, September 23, 2011

fff55. A question of tact

It had been a long and tiring hearing. The coroner said it was impossible to tell why the death happened, and so he had to return a verdict of misadventure. The evidence said he’d been cleaning his gun when it went off and shot him in the face.  But we all know what that means.

55 words for The G Man. I know it's depressing, but it's kind of extracted from a short story I'm working on. It struck me that the paragraph was about the right length - and I edited it accordingly.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday extracts: e.e.cummings on pest control

Me up at does
out of the floor
quietly Stare
a poisoned mouse
still who alive
is asking What
have i done that
You wouldn't have

No apologies.
You know what I do for a living.
This poem, and a similar photo, appeared this week in a journal I read for work.

I recently had a mouse infestation at home that my lazy cats didn't seem to manage. (I still suspect it happened because Maisie thought I needed hunting practice and brought me a live one to work with!)

I use live capture traps and let the mice go a good distance from the house.  (It has to be at least a quarter mile or they come straight home.) I don't use spring traps and I refuse to use these cruel things. They're called glue traps and the mouse gets stuck to the card and slowly dies from poison, or in the worst cases, starvation.

I don't care how much stuff was spoiled and how much cleaning I had to do to remove all traces. There's no excuse for this.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

camera obscura

clear view
far off
from afar
twisted mind
converts reality
truth is
a black wall
a pinhole
admitting light
admitting guilt
in a dark room
I cannot leave


Inspired by the above photo, which appeared in New Scientist a couple of weeks ago. The picture is by Abelardo Morell and shows New York's Central Park, upside down, as revealed by a camera obscura.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday 160. Wistful

I’m missing my holiday. I remember every single day of it and it was only last week. But the restfulness and contentment are slipping away. When can I go back?

160 characters for The Monkey Man

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Tale of Jobina and Kay

Long ages ago, ere the dawn of Digital, a band of players made their way across the South lands to meet at a place called the White City. They were many and varied and represented all kinds of folk from bard to troubadour.

First they talked at length about the task they had been set. Each must play an arduous role that would require great stamina and adaptability. Far into the night discussions ranged until, at last, they agreed to meet in a dark and hidden cave where they would begin their work. Many hard hours it took until their mission was complete, and they passed their gem on to gnomish smiths to be wrought into 13 silver discs that bore strange sigils in black. And the discs were gathered in a hand-crafted box for safe keeping.

The box passed through many hands and many wondrous places until it came into the possession of a Princess of the East, Jobina, whose name meant ‘Morning’ in the old tongue. She kept the box a long while and played with it often, taking out the discs and cleaning them and passing them one by one through the Gate of Wires, that revealed their true beauty.

All was well until one day she opened her treasure box and found one of the discs was gone. She let out a cry that would waken the dragons of the West: “Argh my disc. My precious disc is gone!” and she continued to wail and weep until at last the pain of her tears reached the Knight Kay in the Middle Lands.

The bold and brave prince rushed at once to Jobina’s aid, and when he beheld her he knew instant love and fell to his knee and said: “Beautiful Princess. Until now I have perceived you only in my dreams, but now I see you are real and as beautiful and wonderful as I had imagined. I will find you a new disc as good as the one you have lost. Perhaps even better, if it is within my power.”

The Princess replied: “Then Sir Kay, if you are as good as your word, you shall be rewarded. You shall have my hand and henceforth your life will be a magical one. Go, find me a new disc, and I promise you happiness forever.”

And so Sir Kay searched through the mystic lands of Webbe; in the Forest of Pixil and the Mire of Bitz until he heard word of where such a disc could be found. There he travelled, and he struggled with the Wizard of Load Down until, after great toil, he wrenched the disc from the magician’s hand and bore it back in triumph to be placed in honour in the Treasure Box in the princess’s palace.

Jobina was overjoyed, and put her arms around Sir Kay and kissed him long, for he was handsome, and clever, and brave, and she knew he would be her champion for life. And the pair lived happy ever after.


Back in 1981 the BBC broadcast a dramatisation of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings in 13 episodes and some years later it was released, first on cassette and then on CD, both of which I bought. When I got the CDs I passed on the cassettes because I didn't think I'd ever need it again.  Sadly, I later lost one of the CDs (episode 13, where everything is sorted out at the end) and I've not been able to listen to it since.

Until now. Thanks to my darling K (who really is brave and handsome and clever) I now have a copy of episode 13 again (albeit on a normal CD) and I have been listening to the series this week as I've driven to and from work. It's a measure of my journey times that I'm currently nearing the end of episode nine!

You might ask why I didn't just buy a replacement box set. Well, the version I bought isn't actually available any more and the replacement is retailing at £60 at the moment (that's about $100) with £20 off.  I think I paid about £40 when I bought it back in the early 90s.

Friday, September 16, 2011

FFF55. A long way

They say that there are more Manchester United supporters outside the city than there are residents in it. They come from all over the world and wear the red and white with pride.

But just how far can blue and maize spread? All the way across the ocean from Michigan to the UK.

Go Wolverines!


Given to us by our good friends in Ann Arbor, photographed specially for Galen, and worn with flair by my lovely K.
Check out more Friday 55s at the G-Man's blog!

PS. The photo was taken at the holiday cottage. Neither of us plays the guitar!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thursday extracts. Paul Gallico's war stories.

One of my favourite stories when I was growing up was The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico. I was introduced to it by my dad, who had been in the Royal Navy and served in WWII. A lot of Gallico's work was whimsical and gentle, although it never ignored the realities of life. The Snow Goose is about a recluse whose isolation is caused by a disfigurement. "For he was a hunchback and his left arm was crippled, thin and bent at the wrist, like the claw of a bird."
But he was a sailor, and the evacuation of Dunkirk gave him chance to prove he was also a hero. The goose of the title is one he adopts because it is hurt, and it chooses to stay with him, rather than rejoin its wild cousins.
Spoiler alert.... this extract is rather the point of the whole tale. But it's still worth reading, even when you know what's going to happen.
A naval-reserve officer, who had two Brixham trawlers and a Yarmouth drifter blasted out from under him in the last four days of the evacuation said: ‘Did you run across that queer sort of legend about a wild goose? It was all up and down the beaches. You know how those things spring up. Some of the men I brought back were talking about it. It was supposed to have appeared at intervals the last days between Dunkirk and La Panne. If you saw it, you were eventually saved. That sort of thing.’
‘H’m’m’m,’ said Brill-Oudener, ‘a wild goose. I saw a tame one. Dashed strange experience. Tragic in a way, too. And lucky for us. Tell you about it. Third trip back. Toward six o’clock we sighted a derelict small boat. Seemed to be a chap or a body in her. And a bird perched on the rail.
‘We changed our course when we got nearer, and went over for a look-see. By Gad, it was a chap. Or had been, poor fellow. Machine-gunned, you know. Badly. Face down in the water. Bird was a goose, a tame one.
‘We drifted dose, but when one of our chaps reached over, the bird hissed at him and struck at him with her wings. Couldn’t drive it off. Suddenly young Kettering, who was with me, gave a hail and pointed to starboard. Big mine floating by. One of Jerry’s beauties. If we’d kept on our course we’d have piled right into it. Ugh! Head on. We let it get a hundred yards astern of the last barge, and the men blew it up with rifle-fire.
‘When we turned our attention to the derelict again, she was gone. Sunk. Concussion, you know. Chap with her. He must have been lashed to her. The bird had got up and was circling. Three times, like a plane saluting. Dashed queer feeling. Then she flew off to the west. Lucky thing for us we went over to have a look, eh? Odd that you should mention a goose.’

The Snow Goose
Paul Gallico

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Holiday memory

The first joy is a glimpse of the menu, when you realise there are so many different flavours to choose from. What will it be today: chocolate, raspberry ripple, toffee banana or something more unusual like blackberry and apple crumble or liquorice?  Hard to pick - they all look so delectable.
Even when you know the one you want there is still the decision of how to have it served. Will it be an old-fashioned cornet, chocolate-covered cone, wafer, or an oyster? Decisions decisions! It used to be so simple. It was vanilla in a cone: the only difficulty was whether to have a flake in it, and that was usually determined by the cost. Ice cream is much more fun now.
I’ll have Turkish delight, please, in a tub.

PS. I'd like to give an honourable mention to Cadwalader's liquorice and blackcurrant flavour. It's just that I didn't take a photo of that! This is Glaslyn ices at Beddgelert

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday 160: Vegetables

What is the difference between making dinner and driving on the motorway? Well, when you cook dinner,  it’s you that cuts up the vegetables!

On the motorway most of the vegetables drive BMWs!

Sunday 160 is a weekly challenge to write a short story in 160 characters. It's hosted by The Monkey Man.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

FFF55. Do not feed the birds

Do not feed the birds, the sign said. Flying pests are a health hazard and you could face a fine of up to £5000. But the gulls could catch chips in flight. And Mary could not resist watching their aerobatics.  Besides, they would have trouble finding £5000 from her anyway. Let them try to sue!


It wasn't until after we fed our fish and chips to the gulls that we saw the notices. Ah well. The photos were good.

FFF55 is a weekly challenge set by the G-Man for a 55 word flash fiction story.

Thursday extracts. Keats's Autumnwatch

We did this as part of our O level course. (Age 16 exams - for my US readers) It's sort of haunted me ever since. Just pick a line - any line - and it oozes Autumn, like the cider-press, or the bees' clammy cells.


Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats

Posted automatically in absentia.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

*Diolch a nos da. A consideration of language

As a writer I pride myself on my use of language and extensive vocabulary. I have had a series of good teachers in the past, not just at school but also during my career as a journalist. When I am faced with a different country I am determined to try a few words, at least, of the local tongue. I can say hello, please, thank you and two beers in several languages, and I was even taught, one unusual Christmas Eve, to say Merry Christmas in Icelandic. (Gleðileg jól)

But I'm in Wales, and I have to admit that the local language is totally baffling. Not only are individual letters pronounced completely differently from English (For Rhug, hear Rig) but even within Welsh some letters are interchangeable. C and G, for example, often sound and mean exactly the same. So the Cymraeg live in Cymru, or Gymru (pronounced Cummri) depending on what appears to be the whim of the writer.

Yesterday I tried my first ever foray into Welsh speaking. (I can't say that the North Walian attitude towards my Englishness has encouraged me to try to be friendly to the locals, but ...) The nice lady in the pub at Llechwedd Slate Caverns  (I was proud of my attempt to say Llechwedd because I wasn't TOO far off) was kind and so when she brought my bowl of lobscows (pronounced surprisingly like it looks) I said 'diolch', to which she replied 'croeso'. When I admitted that it was my first attempt at speaking Welsh she said it sounded right and I'd done well.

It's a start. But I'm a long way off mastering Welsh and I doubt if I'll be doing any writing in it any time soon.

*Thank you and good night.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


Below ground, deep beneath the slate mountain, with only a candle for light. Hacking, pounding at the rock for hours on end, breathing the dust that cakes lungs and steals air. Life expectancy little over forty and all for a few pence a day. It was a living. It was a life. But not much of one.


We've been to a Welsh slate mine today and learned about working conditions in the 1860s. I'll have more respect for my roof from now on.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Campaigner Challenge 1. The door swung open.

I'm taking part in Rachel Harrie's Platform Building Campaign (See the shield on the left. Click on it to get the details) and the first challenge is out today.  Here's my entry: (to save you counting, it's exactly 200 words)


The door swung open and I could see outside for the first time.  I had lived with the darkness for so long that at first I was blinded and it was difficult to make out shapes, only blurs of colour that represented another world.  A long, cold winter I had slept, dreaming of the other side, the out side, knowing that I would have to face it again eventually, but unsure of what I would discover when I did.
My eyes slowly became accustomed to the day and I began to stretch, to make ready for my foray into the unknown.  I was stiff from hibernation and at first my legs were as reluctant as my sight, but gradually sensation returned and I took a few hesitant steps toward the rectangle of light. I had no idea how I would cope, only that I had to go and play my part.
The majority of my kind would not have survived; victims of cold, predators, or just weary old age. So it was my task to find another, to mate and to lay the eggs of the next butterfly generation.  Determined, I flew out, and behind me the door swung shut.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sunday 160. Fall or autumn? Means the same.

They tell me that Autumn is a beautiful time of year. All the colour and the fresh, crisp mornings and rustling leaves. I guess it is – if you’re not a tree. 


It's for the Monkey Man's Sunday 160 challenge.

Prepared in advance because I'm away from my computer right now. Not sure if I'll have web access so could someone please fill in the Linky for me? Thanks.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Welcome to new readers

Hello everyone. As you can see from the wonderful shield-shaped badge on the left I'm taking part in the platform-building campaign. As a result I'm gaining lots of new followers. So for their sake I thought I'd do a short introduction to me.
Please note I'm extremely grateful to all of my existing followers and I want you all to know that I'm glad to have you on board.
This blogging thing is a great way to make friends all over the world. Where else could you have a chat with people as far apart as North America, Australia, India and Hull (or even Wolverhampton!) all at the same time?

So. What is there about me that might be vaguely interesting?

I'm an ex-journalist and still earn my living with words, only now I'm PR officer for a charity.
Born in Essex but moved to seaside Yorkshire while still a babe in arms so I consider myself a tyke by default.
Nuts about history and historical places.
I have a degree in archaeology.
Read lots of crime fiction.
I'm owned by a pride of cats.
I live with a wonderful IT geek called K*****.
Write mostly short stories and flash fiction but have a couple of novels underway.
Have a number of online personae besides MorningAJ.
I make excellent soup.
I also make good jam and pickle.
If I hadn't become a journalist I have no idea what else I could have done. I don't like kids so I could never be a teacher.
I draw and paint (badly) and sew (even worse)
Can't sing to save my life.
Can order a beer in six different languages.

Friday, September 02, 2011

FFF55: September

Look, how did it get to be September?
It can’t be September just yet.
I know the year started and went through a series of eight other months and it probably did it a day at a time
(like a good year should – take everything a day at a time)
But where was I?


FFF55 is a weekly challenge run by the G-Man. Go and see what others have to offer this Friday.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Thursday extracts: A lesson in forensics – and suspense – from Jeffery Deaver

Crime fiction is one of my little indulgences. I love reading a good murder story, and one of my favourite authors is Jeffery Deaver. He has a number of regular characters but maybe his best known is Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic detective (played by Denzel Washington in the film The Bone Collector). Rhyme is not only a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, who can determine the most obscure facts from the least obvious observations, but he is also a forensics master.

Deaver loves to pass on the how and why of crime science and relates his lectures to the relevant stage in whatever investigation Rhyme is running. In this extract the crime scene technicians have removed a complete door and its frame from a site where a bomb was supposed to have gone off and destroyed all the evidence - except it failed to explode. The detectives assume that the perpetrator would not have bothered to use gloves because he was not expecting the door to survive. They are hoping to lift fingerprints.


Fingerprints fall into one of three categories. Visible (the sort left by a bloody thumb on a white wall), impressible (left in pliable material like plastic explosive), and latent (hidden to the unaided eye). There were dozens of good ways to raise latent prints but one of the best, on metal surfaces, was simply to use store-bought Super Glue, cyanoacrylate. The object would be put in an airtight enclosure with a container f the glue, which would then be heated until it turned gaseous. The vapors would bond with any number of substances left by the finger – amino and lactic acids, glucose, potassium and carbon trioxide – and the resulting reaction created a visible print.

The process could work miracles, raising prints that were completely invisible before.

Except not in this case.

"Nothing," Pulaski said, discouraged, "Only glove smudges."

Jeffery Deaver. The Burning Wire. 2010. Hodder & Stoughton.