Saturday, 30 April 2011

Z is for.....'ZERO HERO' (flash fiction)




So, we approach the finishing line! The April A-Z challenge is complete - wasn't sure I'd make it to the end, but here we are: 'Z'-day!

I've seen a lot of blogs and met some new and interesting bloggers on the journey - I'll save most of my comments for the May 2nd 'post-mortem' on Arlee Bird's blog!

I have to say, I admire those who had a theme and carried it through the full 26 letters - I just had an eclectic mix of fact, fiction and fancy! (although, I did consider writing 26 new stories.....maybe next time!)

I had planned a few other ideas for 'Z' but a couple of days ago I woke up with the word 'Zero' in my head. It rhymed with 'hero' and my brain went off on a tangent.......so, to end my A-Z challenge, I decided to create one more piece of flash fiction. Here you go!



ZERO HERO

It’s times like these you always get that itch you want to scratch. Like the itch I feel right now, around my nose. No amount of facial gymnastics seems to want to shift it. No. It’s hanging in there, right until the bitter end.

I would scratch it, oh, how I’d love to, but my hands are kinda 'busy' right at this moment. Hmmm...red runs here....black disappears around the back...

No good; gotta deal with this scratch. If I move slowly perhaps I can raise my shoulder and.....ah, that’s better! Phew! Right, let’s see what’s happening around the back.

Hmmm....that’s interesting! Now, are you a real 'dummy' wire, or are you just pretending? Gotta make up my mind - the clock’s ticking, literally.

Not that I can hear it, mind you; all I can hear is the whooshing sound in my ears as my heart pumps blood around my body. Surprisingly, it’s beating its monotonous, regular rhythm; strong and steady. Until I make a mistake, that is. Then, I think there’ll be an altogether different sound. Let’s not go there, shall we?

Cutting it fine, Jack. Going right to the wire. Again. Yup. Fifth time in a row. That’s why they call me the ‘Zero Hero’. Hah! They really think I wanna dice with death and hang about until the last minute before I pull the wire? I could say those last few times I just got lucky, is all. Lucky that I pulled the right wires in the nick of time and the bomb didn’t go off. But I don’t think of it as luck. When it’s my time to go, I’ll be ready.

‘Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door....” Thankyou, Mr Dylan, I don’t need you buzzing in my head right now. Not that knocking on heaven’s door is such a bad thing – I’m prepared – it’s the messy business of dying that bothers me. Especially in my line of work.

Man, this one’s a real doozy. Well, I can’t wait, lives depend on it. Me? I’m on borrowed time already; I’ve used up more ‘lives’ than your average cat.

Here goes.

Red, I win; black, I -


Phew.....don’t die today.

Seems You still have more for me to do in this life, God? Catch you later, then!

Friday, 29 April 2011

Y is for.....Yarn



Yarns interest me - both the 'physical' stuff (as in knitting, etc) and also in the sense of 'storytelling'! ;-)

Silly though it sounds, I can go quite weak at the knees when allowed to roam around yarn stores! On a recent trip to Maine, my daughter and I (and one of the cousins we were staying with!) visited Tess Designer Yarns - an amazing emporium of what I can only describe as 'yarn-heaven'!
It was a veritable feast for the eyes with rich and jewelled hues of cascading yarns! See what I mean:

....and down the next aisle it was:
It was a very cold day and the dear lady was about to shut up shop but allowed us in. An hour and a half later, we took our leave. (We won't go into exactly how much $$'s exchanged hands.......but the bags were bulging when we finally left!)


My own yarn 'stash' (believe me, every knitter has one!) has now been 'corralled' from it's various repositories (in bags and boxes, in cupboards and sheds) and re-housed in my 'newly accquired' craft room (aka son's former bedroom!) in large see-though plastic crates (so I can see instantly what goodies are in there!)

But I'm not quite as bad as this:
....and that's only part of what must surely be the
world's largest private yarn stash
!


As to the 'other' kind of yarn (the literary one) well, daughter and I have a dream of opening a bookshop/woolshop/teashop - three different 'bites' at the cherry would seem to be a viable prospect in these days of businesses failing due to the recession. We have it all planned (in our minds, anyway!) so that as well as opening during the day for purchasing, we'd have it open in the evenings as a venue for writers' and book groups, storytellers and poetry slams ......and what else could we call it but.....

'RIPPING YARNS' !


Oh well, we can dream can't we?

(investors walk this way, if you please!)

Thursday, 28 April 2011

X is for.......X-stitch!

...or more commonly called "counted-thread cross stitch".

I've done a number of these over the years - they are mind-numblingly easy to do, perfect relaxation, with something to show for your efforts when finished!

The most labour-intensive one was a Millenium sampler, bought as a kit by my in-laws for my birthday - finally completed a couple of years later!

I have all sorts of other little pieces of x-stitch around the house, but my favourite is this one, called 'Glacier Bay'
Worked on 32-count (threads per inch!) evenweave linen with stitches so tiny it could only be done in natural light, I have to admit it looks stunning. One friend even thought it was a photograph until she got up close to it!

It's been a while since I last did any and having thought about it for this post I'm itching to have a go at something else, but this time I'm going to create something new and unique - most definitely NOT from a kit!

I 'inherited' several large boxes of embroidery silks from my husband's Grandmother some years ago, so I have a plan to make 'in-roads' into that particular stockpile! Just need the idea for a picture.......!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

W is for ... 'Waiting' (flash fiction)




Another short story, inspired by the opening sentence, as part of a weekly fiction challenge last year.

This was quite hard to write - difficult to 'imagine' yourself in this person's shoes. However, with a lot of these fiction challenges the prompt usually conjures up an image in my mind and as soon as I read this sentence I was already there in Frank's office.......



WAITING

He walked in and slid the photograph across my desk. It was hard not to look but I was fighting that urge because looking at it might finally make me face up to something I’d been tying to avoid for the last few months.

“Frank, I need you to look at this for me.” The policeman’s voice was firm but there was a kindly edge to it. Or maybe I’d just grown used to it after all this time.

Since Debbie had gone missing six and a half months ago Detective Sergeant Peter Guidrey had been in contact with me in some form or another every few days. Lately he’d taken to calling into my office, sometimes with possible news, sometimes just touching base, as if to say ‘We’re still on the case’. It was a kindly gesture, rather than being summoned yet again to the police station.

In the first harrowing hours of her disappearance I’d seen the finger of suspicion waver in my direction. That was normal I suppose. I’ve read somewhere about the number of abduction cases involving a known family member, usually a parent, often a male. My alibi had checked out, but I wonder even to this day, if somewhere lurking below the surface of formal Police procedure, they still suspect my involvement.

Peter pushed the photo towards me, prompting a reaction. Trouble is, the reaction I might give would not help matters.

“Please, Frank. Let’s settle this. Take a look.”

Settle it? Doesn’t he understand how much I want it to be settled? To see my beautiful Debbie come springing into the room in all her teenage youthfulness, with her music playing way too loud and her pleading for a newer, smarter phone…..?

He doesn’t understand the hours I lay awake at night going over and over in my head the last time I saw Debbie. I’d dropped her at the station. She was meeting her friends and they were going into the city to shop for new clothes and spend far too much money and hang out together and whatever it is that teenage girls get up to these days.

I should have waited; made sure some of her friends were there, but she’d waved me away. I shouldn’t have looked at my watch. Perhaps that’s why she told me to go. She’s a good kid. She knows the business pays the bills and the pressure to keep the whole thing afloat takes every minute I have. I should have waited.

So when Peter asked me to look at the photo and settle it I really wanted to, believe me. But I also want to rage and curse because my little girl is missing. She walked out of our lives and just disappeared. No trace. No explanation.

Sometimes I imagine she’s walking down a street, carefree and happy. Other times, the imagination turns the opposite way, to a darker reality. In the moments when hope is at its lowest ebb I secretly wonder where her body lies, her soul crying for us to bring her home.

“Frank?”

My attention returns at the sound of Peter’s voice and my eyes focus on the white edge of the photo. I take a deep breath and reach out, my fingers tracing the corner of the print as I pull it towards me, like all the others I’ve pulled close to scrutinise before.

Slowly, I force my eyes to focus on the image. The air in my chest is frozen, hard, a leaden weight. Such beautiful hair. A cute, button nose. A fine bone structure. The picture blurs as my eyes fill with tears. The photo is obviously post mortem.

The heavy weight in my lungs escapes in one long, low groan as I push the photograph back.

“No,” I say quietly. It is not my beloved Debbie. Part of me is relieved. Glad to see that this is not my daughter, and yet somewhere her own parents will see this picture and their world of restrained agony will explode.

My relief is tinged with the pain of yet another day of uncertainty, another monochrome day in a world of technicolour, of putting one foot in front of another and working every hour God sends because to be at home is to be close to all that reminds me of Debbie. Stephanie, her mother, understands. She copes in her own way, seeking comfort from alcohol-induced inertia. What right have I to take that from her?

“No, it’s not Debbie,” I say, looking back towards the policeman who must now go back and cross her name off a list of missing girls, before the photo is circulated to other grieving, waiting families.

Peter retrieves the image and straightens up. We’ve had this conversation before and he knows not to pressure me to be sure.

“I’m sorry, Frank,” he replies. “You know we have to check each unidentified victim.” The word ‘victim’ cuts yet another sore in my heart.

“We will find her, I promise you,” he says as he turns towards the door. It’s a hollow promise, one he probably will never be able to make good on, but still he makes it, each and every bittersweet time we meet.
I raise a hand in acknowledgement as he opens the door and leaves, curbing my gut feeling that we will go through this charade again, sooner or later.

The clock has moved on ten minutes.

Another six hundred seconds of waiting.

As the empty, cavernous, fear of unknowing devours me yet again, how many more will there be, I wonder, until my daughter finally comes home?

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

V is for... Vapour trails



Here in the UK we have had almost unprecedented fine weather during April. The grey skies have disappeared for a while and there has been uninterrupted blue sky - the like of which is not usually seen here until Summer (and even then, it seems to be fleeting!)

So, sitting in my chair in the garden, wondering what to write for the letter 'V', I was gazing up into the blue for inspiration - and it arrived!

Scribbled on the sky were the vapour trails left by aircraft - some still sharp lines, with a tiny silver 'writing point' moving silently across the heavens; others 'feathered' and fuzzy, blown by the high-altitude air movement.

In history, this is a recent phenomenon - for countless centuries the skies were the domain of only natural cloud formations: cirrus, cumulus, nimbo-stratus....

The aerial 'dog-fights'of WW2 left hideous etchings on the skies - but even they inspired art.

Paul Nash 'Battle of Britain'

...and the real thing!
Battle of the Bulge, Europe 25/12/1944

Now, as I look back up at the sky, the earlier vapour trails I studied have almost disappeared, literally 'airbrushed' from existance!

Monday, 25 April 2011

U is for ....Unforgettable!


We all have moments (treasured, or otherwise!) in our lives that are unforgettable.

Alongside the day I got married and the days our children were born (the first arriving 11 weeks early and catching us on the hop! :-o) one of my most unforgettable days occurred last year when I got to do some 'Stunt Driving'!

(yeah - I could have used this for 'S' but I already had something else planned for that letter!)

I'd always wanted to have a go at handbrake turns and 'wheelies' - so last June my family arranged for me to do a one-day Stunt Driving course at Northampton International Raceway, a few miles away from our home.

I'd decided that if I was going to (potentially) risk life and limb then someone should benefit from that and so I did the six-point challenge as a sponsored event to raise funds for the local Air Ambulance (also handy, I figured, if a stunt went wrong!)

I'm only 5'3" and at the time I worked in a library so it was also a bit of stereotype-busting - library workers, boring? ;-p


It all got a bit 'real' when I'd signed in and had to get changed into a fireproof driving suit and wave goodbye to my husband and kids as they were ushered off to the spectator's enclosure.

No turning back now! (gulp!)




There were six stunts to learn and accomplish - here's the proof! (OK, so maybe I was a bit wary, but at least I can say I did it!)

1. Handbrake turn:


2. 'J' turn (reverse at speed, throw the car through 180deg and drive off again):


3. 'wheelie' a transit van:


4. 'double-decker' slalom (one car welded on top of another, the upper one controls steering, the bottom one controls power):

This was my personal favourite!!

5. 'push-me-pull-you' obstacle course (fronts of two cars welded together - two drivers, two gearboxes and two steering wheels!)



...and finally,

6. the 'action speed and shoot chase' (chasing a car round a course and firing a paintgun)! Welcome to the world's slowest car chase ;-p - that course was scary with sand-traps everywhere and elevated cambers that threatened to roll the car if you went too fast!


It was an excellent and most unforgettable day! And I came away with a prize - for the 'push-me-pull-you obstacle course' - see, slow and cautious wins the day as my co-driver team mate and I picked up the only run of the day without incurring any penalties! :-)

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Easter Sunday - 'The Birdcage'

Today is the day Christians all over the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So many people have tried to convey this in countless ways: music, art, dance, acting......

Here's one I'd like to share - the Skit Guys demonstrate the sacrifice of Jesus - in rather an unusual way!



In amongst the chocolate eggs and general holiday atmosphere, I hope you'll spare time to watch this!

HAPPY EASTER! :-)

Saturday, 23 April 2011

T is for ....Television Comedy





My favourite TV sit-com of all time has to be 'The Good Life'! Any of you reading this from outside the UK may not be aware of this TV series but it was a real gem.

First broadcast on the BBC in the 1970's, it centres on a couple called Tom and Barbara Good who embark on a different way of life - hence the title.

With Tom reaching his 40th birthday he yearns to slip loose the shackles of work and they resolve to become self-sufficient. They dig up their immaculate front and back gardens and plant vegetables, accquire some livestock and rise to the challenge of 'make do and mend'. All this in the days before most of us even knew about recycling!

Their extremely well-heeled next door neighbours, Margo and Jerry Leadbetter, find their friendship stretched almost to breaking point by the couple's 'alternative' lifestyle. In fact, snobbish Margo becomes the butt of many of the Good's jokes!

Tom is a bit of an 'armchair revolutionary' - he has big ideas, but usually poor Barbara has to bear the brunt of things.

This is my favourite clip - their telephone service is terminated and an engineer removes the phone. At about two and a half minutes into the clip - he utters an immortal line which, in today's world of mobile phones, seems even more humorous than when it was first written. (If you can hang on to the end of the clip, watch as the 'worm turns' and Barbara blows her top!)



If you ever get the chance to watch any of the series you are in for a treat !

(YouTube seems to have most of it, anyway!)

Friday, 22 April 2011

S is for Sacrifice



Today of all days seems the right time to re-post this story. Although I wrote it last year, it's still appropriate, I feel, on this particular and special Friday.


FRIDAY, FRIDAY


I’m cold.

Despite the pain I’m in it’s strange, but I can feel the cold. Like when you sweat and feel that coolness on your skin as it evaporates.

I can feel that, now. But it’s not sweat. It’s blood.

There are so many puncture wounds and rips in my flesh that at times I can’t really tell exactly where the pain is coming from.

My muscles ache. I want to lie down and rest but they won’t let me. Just when I think they’ve finished they start all over again. But I know this is just the beginning.

What a difference a week makes. A few days ago I was in a very different place. Not geographically. In fact, I was just a few hundred yards from this building. But it was a world away from the present reality.

That was when people wanted to be with me. I had some very good friends, but this – this has driven most of them away. The fear of this happening to them has made them run.

It’s dark. There are still a few hours to go before daylight. More time to rip more flesh.

It could have been so different. But this is all part of the plan. I can’t change it. I can't back out now. I don’t want to, even with all this pain and terror. It is…..necessary.

It’s tempting knowing that I could clap my hands and have done with it. If it was just me, perhaps I would. But it isn’t just me. And so much depends on carrying this through, right to the bitter end.

I can hear them coming. What’s already gone is nothing to what’s coming up, I know that. But I have to look beyond it.

The pain will pass.

Eventually.

They only see the here and now, but I know the bigger picture. They think this will finish it. How wrong can they be?

It’s Friday.

But Sunday’s coming.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

R is for ....Rugby




No, not the game, but the town where the game was invented!

Rugby lies to the east of the county of Warwickshire, right in the heart of England and is where I was born and raised. Having moved to London to work, I returned to my roots over twenty years ago, bringing my husband and our two children – so Rugby is very much ‘home’!

So allow me to share with you a few pictures and facts!

The game of Rugby was ‘created’ in 1832 when one of the pupils at the public (fee paying) Rugby School, named William Webb Ellis, is reputed to have picked up a football during a game and run with it. This statue, commemorating the great event, stands beside the school.


St Andrew’s church - apparently the only church in the world with two ringable sets of bells, it is also rare as it has both a tower (dating back to the fifteenth century) and a separate steeple, added in Victorian times.


The Oxford and Grand Union canals run around the town – the Oxford Canal runs quite near our house. We’ve spent many pleasant hours dog-walking along the towpaths, watching the beautifully painted narrowboats chugging along.


Even in the depths of winter, they look beautiful - this was taken near the house on a bright, though frosty, morning last December. The weather had been very cold for days and the boats were locked in the ice!


Other interesting facts:

Dennis Gabor, scientist, created the ‘hologram’ in 1947, during his time in Rugby.

Sir Frank Whittle invented the jet engine, working at an experimental facility in Rugby in 1937.

Lewis Carroll (aka Charles L Dodgson), author of 'Alice in Wonderland' was educated at Rugby School, as was Salman Rushdie! (though not at the same time :-p)

Rupert Brooke, poet, was born here in 1887
Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson) author of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ educated at Rugby School

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Q is for .......Quotes




I spent quite bit of time querying the possibilities of the letter 'Q' in this series. I considered 'quaint', 'quintessential' - even thought about writing about HM the Queen!

In the end I've settled on sharing a few of my favourite quotes, limiting myself to the subjects of reading, writing and literature!



"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." Henry David Thoreau



"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again." Oscar Wilde



"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." Dorothy Parker



"The first step in blogging is not writing them but reading them." Jeff Jarvis


"Never judge a book by its movie." J.W.Eagan




...and finally - my absolute favourite:

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx


;-)

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

P is for.......Pubs

"Land of Liberty, Peace & Plenty", Chorley Wood, Hertfordshire


Being married to someone who works for CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) one quickly learns that frequent visits to public houses may become a necessity! (all in the interests of research, you understand!)


"The Harp", Covent Garden, London. CAMRA National Pub of the Year, 2010


British pubs are so varied that the CAMRA 'Pub of the Year' awards often produce quite an eclectic short-listing! Quaint, thatched-roofed 'country' pubs jostle with inner city hostelries and Victorian 'watering holes'! However, the 'ambience' is only one criteria on which the contesting pubs are marked - after all, it is the ale in question that is supremely important. Quality and variety of product has to be of the highest standard, along with with the manner of service and a welcoming attitude.

"Half Moon", Belchamp St Paul, Essex

Along with visits to pubs my OH travels to many of the regional CAMRA Beer Exhibtions (you could say he gets paid to go to beer festivals!) - and though it's an onerous task I sometimes have to accompany him. It is, indeed, a hard life! ;-p

Aside from encouraging pubs great and small aound the UK, CAMRA is priviledged to run what has been termed the 'biggest bar in the world' when it holds its annual Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court, London, with over 700 ales from the UK and some from abroad!

Our latest beer festival trip was yesterday - our favourite 'local', The Merchants Inn, is running a themed event called 'On The Farm'. Not only have they decorated the whole of the pub floor with real grass (yup, turf freshly laid yesterday morning! see pic)

but they painted the exterior like a Freisian cow!


And the beer names have an 'agicultural' tone - including 'Reservoir Hogs', 'Ploughmans Bitter' and 'Pig in a Bottle'. Totally mad - but fun!

Monday, 18 April 2011

O is for 'On Ice' (flash fiction)



After a very busy weekend I'm faced with what to provide for the letter 'O' - so forgive me if I delve into some stuff I had stashed away!

I wrote this short piece of fiction (366 words) just over a year ago for a weekly fiction challenge. The requirement was to use, in any random order, the words SCULPTURE, CULTURE, CULT & COHESIVE and create a story.

The term 'hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' came to mind - but this time, a little role reversal, perhaps? Hope you enjoy this (purely!) fictional account!



ON ICE


‘Ice Sculpture for Beginners.’ That’s what the sign said on the notice board. It had seemed a bit 'off the wall' but I thought – why not?

When Marilyn had said I ought to do something with my spare time, I expect she had something rather worthy in mind. “Join an art class,” she had suggested. What she really meant was “Get a bit of culture, you ignorant bum!”

Ever since she’d signed up for a literary course at the local college she’d changed. Now she was more interested in meeting up with her new social circle of friends at her book club. They seemed to congregate in coffee shops and wax lyrical about the latest book, picking it to pieces and psycho-analysing the author’s writing style, digging deep to find issues that probably weren’t there in the first place.

If you ask me, it’s almost like a cult – the cult of ‘let’s pick the book to pieces and forget about whether we enjoyed it or not’.

Me? Oh, I like to read, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I like to be entertained – I don’t need to be constantly looking for subtext, I just want to escape into someone else’s fantasy.

So, she reads; I chip away at blocks of ice.

It was meant to make us more cohesive; give us something more to talk about. When you’ve been married as long as we have you’ve just about run out of something new to say to each other.

Except – she didn’t want to hear about controlling ice-drips or fractures. On the other hand, she expected me to listen to her incessant babble about how she’d scored points over one of the other literary snobs.

Well, she's missed her last couple of club meetings, but I don’t think they’ll notice. Some new Queen Bee will assume her place, I'm sure.

So, now I have her undivided attention. Now she’s ready to understand; to listen to what I have to say. Let’s get this baby rollin’. She’s been in the deep freeze long enough.

A little remodelling, Marilyn? Last week we did something new in ice-sculpting – did I ever tell you about the hazards of chainsaw kickback?

Saturday, 16 April 2011

N is for .....Norman Rockwell

I have always loved the paintings of Norman Rockwell - there's such a wealth of detail and more than meets the eye!

Take, for instance, 'Girl with a Black Eye' - painted in 1953.
I'd like to know how she got that black eye in the first place? She looks mighty pleased with herself - but after a spell in the principal's office I think she'll change her tune!

This next one has so much going on I could look at it for hours.
It's called "April Fool: Girl with Shopkeeper", painted in 1948. It has a whimsical air about it; just look at the 'doll' she's holding! There's an 'Alice Through the Looking-glass' quality - almost dreamlike, as everyday objects have something not quite 'normal' about them.


"Freedom of Speech", from 1943, has such finely painted characters, they almost seem to 'speak' from the page. I wonder what question the man was asking?

My absolute favourite is another 'single-frame' story - "The Runaway", 1958.
I wonder how far the would-be 'adventurer' managed to get? How long did the Police officer and diner proprietor spend convincing him it'd be better to go back home?

Rockwell's paintings capture a time gone by, a nostalgic portfolio of 'small town' America and simple values that, in today's world, seem to have been replaced with others a good deal less wholesome!

Friday, 15 April 2011

M is for ....Music




Music plays quite a large part in my family's life, we all play at least one instrument or another. We currently have a piano, several guitars (including basses), violins, an acordian, an auto-harp and several recorders. Until recently, when our son was in the process of relocating some of his instruments, we also had a drum kit, several more guitars, amplifiers, a PA system and sound desk......

So, now we have arrived at the letter 'M' in the April A-Z challenge, of course I'm going to opt for MUSIC!

But rather than 'blow my own trumpet' ( ;-p ) - here's just a few 'interesting' clips for you to peruse! Enjoy!






Thursday, 14 April 2011

L is for ..... Libraries

(Longroom, Library, Trinity College, Dublin)


Up until a couple of months ago, I used to work in a town library.

Unlike this picture, from Trinity College, Dublin, it was quite modern design, all curved walls and glass. It had the distinction of being the first library of the new millenium opened in England, in March 2000, and was the busiest in the county with around two thousand visitors per day.

The public library of yesteryear has changed beyond recognition, at least here in the UK, anyway! Now they are one-stop-shops for all manner of things! My former work place had thirty public-use computers; housed the local Tax Office; offered Adult Career guidance and supplied CDs, audio-novels, DVDs……….and books!

Libraries, however, are under threat in the UK. Budget cuts are forcing some councils to close them, due to lack of use. There may be a number of reasons for this including the fact that books are relatively cheap to buy, especially via online services or that people have more leisure pursuits and ‘reading’ has to compete with a variety of other interests.

In the last three months before I left, we also had to cope with the introduction of self-service issue and return machines! Some customers were not impressed – and voted with their feet! I wished I had £1 for every time someone said “Oh, I suppose that’ll be you out of a job!” Thanks – that really made my day! 

Libraries, I hope, will still be around for some time to come – but they may not look or function as they once did. In the meantime, we need to keep them in use, now – or the free public library service may be taken away from us forever!

So if you are a member of a library please visit regularly and if you’re not, then why not join? You’ll find information on everything from ‘Aardvarks’ to ‘Zymurgy’ – maybe even in the fiction section!

(after all, when the oil runs out and our electronic-based society has to be rationed, you’ll be glad of a good book!)

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

K is for .....Knitting



I learned to knit as a child, having excellent role models in my Mother, Aunt and Grandmother. In those days it was not so much about ‘fashion’ as ‘frugality’!

Over the years I've tried knitting most things - I knitted baby clothes as and when they were required for work colleagues and friends and when my own babies arrived they had their fair share of ‘picture’ jumpers!

Also a 'Thomas the Tank Engine' for my son - he had a TT plastic shape-sorter that he would try to take to bed, so I measured it up and recreated it in wool - much more snuggly.
Recently, when my Great nephew was born, (named Thomas, of course!) I decided to create TT#2 - much to my son's horror! (he's 24, for goodness sake - you'd think I'd given his original away!)

As a joke, I knitted a pair of 'ruby slippers' for my 'Wizard of Oz'-mad daughter, in sparkly red 'eyelash' yarn, complete with anti-slip soles especially for the laminate flooring in her flat!

A couple of years ago I decided to have a go at sock knitting.
I read on a lot of knitting forums that once you knit socks that’s all you seem to ever knit. Rubbish, I thought. Now, with a drawer full of knitted foot-apparel, I can see why!! (no seams to sew and just the cast-on and cast-off ends to darn in!)

I frequently have several projects on the ‘go’ - currently: baby clothes for a Chinese orphanage, a jacket for myself, a pair of socks (something easy to take to ‘knitting club’!), and my son wants a hat with earflaps!!

Knitting is a great way of freeing my mind to think through plots – if I’m not knitting, then I’m usually writing, often crime/thriller fiction. This earned me the nickname ‘Knitting Assassin' (thankyou David Barber!) and by way of a tie-in, here’s a knitting-themed short story 'Stitch and Bitch' - hope you enjoy it!

Now, where did I put those needles.......? ;-p

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

J is for........ (Peter) James




As I've already said, I'm partial to 'Police procedural' novels and one of my favourite exponents of this genre is Peter James.

His series featuring Detective Superintendant Roy Grace have held me in thrall - but thankfully I still have one or two to read before I catch up with Mr James' current output!

The 'Grace' books are set in and around Brighton - which makes reading them very interesting as it's a place I'm familiar with, so there's the added mental stimulus of being able to accurately 'picture' the settings of the various scenes.

I love the way Peter James draws out the story line, seeing the crime from several viewpoints - victim, perpetrator and investigator.

An added charm is that all the books in the series carry the word 'Dead' in the title.

Check them out
here
- it's 'dead' easy!

Monday, 11 April 2011

I is for 'Impasse' (flash fiction)


I decided I would create some new unseen fiction for this A-Z series, so grab a coffee and take 'five', here you go - hope you enjoy it!



IMPASSE

Kramer climbed the stairs. The treads were old but the plush carpeting muffled any creaking. He leaned back against the wall and craned his head upwards, staring into the gloom. A thin shaft of light cut across the ceiling on the landing, tracing a line diagonally from the closed door. From behind that same door came a noise that Kramer recognised. Indeed, it was a noise he had come to loathe; it echoed around him, invading his dreams and his waking thoughts alike.

“Now I’ll have you,” he thought, a smile puckering deep inside his cheek, his jaw clenched tight in determination. “It ends tonight.”

He stepped higher, his head adjusting to the new angle as he kept his eyes on the line of light that pointed towards his target.

He progressed up the stairs, reaching the open landing and inched his way along the wall. He knew the layout. The floor plan was ingrained in his memory. Three paces brought him level with a bathroom. The door was slightly ajar, but the dimness assured him it was unoccupied. Kramer knew that. The woman was away, and Medway was the sole occupant of the house.

He passed the bathroom and moved on, silent footsteps giving no hint of his presence.

Now he stood at the doorway, a thin strip of light that escaped along its opened edge giving a brief description of the shapes and colours that lay beyond.

Again, that staccato noise interrupted the silence.

He laid his hand gently on the door, counting the beats of his heart, waiting until he sensed the moment was right, and closed his other hand firmly around the gun. On the third beat he pushed the door smartly open, raising the gun swiftly, locating the back of the man’s head.

Inside, the bright light made his eyes smart slightly, but he quickly adjusted his vision to compensate. He focused on Medway’s collar, his gun tracing a bead two or three inches higher, his hand tightening its grip, caressing the trigger.

“You’d better come in, Kramer.” Medway’s voice was clear and concise, but his head remained turned away from the doorway, as if he was preoccupied with matters more pressing than the gun that was aimed at his own head.

Kramer was slightly bemused, but his experience had taught him that giving over too much brainpower to deal with the unexpected often resulted in making unwise decisions. Snap judgements and gut feelings moved the action along – hesitance inevitably brought too many variables to consider and with them, too many chances for failure.

He stepped into the room, continuing to train his gun on the back of Medway’s scalp.

“I’ve been expecting you,” said Medway, the staccato tapping from his fingers pausing slightly in hesitation before briefly continuing. The last sharp rap on the keys hinted at the finality of a sentence or a paragraph and he turned his leather desk chair round to give his attention to the intruder.


Kramer squinted. He’d been planning this for a while and shared the details with no one. Just how Medway could have had an inkling about this latest development was anyone’s guess, but now he thought about it Kramer realised it wasn’t the first time Medway had surprised him.

“Put the gun down, there’s a good chap.” Medway relaxed back into his chair, idly twisting a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles between his fingers as he concentrated on the would-be assassin. He noticed the drab grey raincoat the man wore, the soft brown leather gloves encasing powerful hands. He knew exactly what those hands had been required to do over the last few years. Even the hat sat at its usual rakish and slightly off-centre style.

Kramer focussed on Medway’s portly figure slumped in the chair, noting the yellow stained hands that bore witness to the many years of devotion to nicotine. Even now, a tall column of grey-blue smoke drifted upwards from the cigarette wedged between his chubby, sausage-like fingers. Kramer wondered, again, how such stubby digits could have the dexterity to pound out chapter after chapter at such speed. Yet now, there was an uncomfortable silence.

“I know you won’t be able to fire, so you might as well put the gun away,” said Medway matter-of-factly. “I’ve known since the minute you decided to call here tonight. Like I’ve known all along that this time would come.”

Kramer lifted the gun slightly and tried to squeeze the trigger. To his surprise, nothing happened.

Medway gave the smallest of chuckles. “We’ve had a grand old time haven’t we, but now we’ve reached the end, you and I,” he said, lifting the bottle of Bushmills and pouring himself a congratulatory drink. “I’d offer you one, but…..”

“Oh yes,” replied Kramer. A self satisfied smile replaced the unforeseen inability to just pull the trigger and have Medway’s brains spattered across the keys of his beloved antique Remington Deluxe. “We’ve reached the end alright; I’m not going to carry on doing as you want, acting the way you dictate. I’ve been taking this crap for the last thirty years but it ends tonight; a parting of the ways, you might say. It’s the final chapter for you”

Medway lifted his glass in salute. “Well said – mind if I use that?” he smiled, turning in his chair. “I was just looking for the right words to round things off.” Truth be told, Kramer had hung around far too long. There were new ideas Medway wanted to explore but he’d reached an impasse with Kramer; the guy bored him rigid.

With that thought, Kramer found himself rooted to the spot as Medway resumed his position over the keyboard and the final clacking of the keys sealed his fate.

But Kramer had learned well. Just when the reader thought they’d got to the end of the story there was always that last, subtle, unexpected twist from Kelvin Medway -the master of suspense.

As Medway typed the closing sentence, the final full stop resonated in echo with the discharge from the gun. For a second he slumped slightly forward, his face slowly turning towards the smoking barrel. He watched in slow-motion surprise as Kramer’s face changed, taking on an elated look as, for once, he experienced independent thought. His finger released its pressure on the trigger and Medway saw his form slowly diffuse into thin air, exiting with an ethereal echoing laugh.

In the final seconds before his heart gave up trying to cope with the loss of blood from the wound inflicted by his own his creation, Medway realised neither of them could have survived. His eyes tracked sideward to the note he’d scribbled down earlier and he smiled. It was the title for the final book in his ‘Kramer: PI’ series. “Impasse”

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A Crime Writer's Treasury!

I'm interrupting the A-Z for April with this 'extra' post to my daily offering. ('H is for ... Hilton' is already 'up' for viewing so if you arrived here to read that, just scroll down to the previous post. Normal sevice, ie.'I is for...?' will resume on Monday 11th April!)

Anyway, someone sent me this clip and I had to share it with the other crimewriters amongst you who follow this blog! Pure magic ;-)

- but the challenge is: can you name ALL the films?

H is for ......Hilton



I first came across Matt Hilton when I was on a forum discussing Lee Child's protagonist, Jack Reacher. Someone made a throwaway comment about another Brit writer with a similar main character.

So it was, that I picked up a copy of Matt's book "Dead Mens Dust". What I'd half expected to be a pastiche of Reacher was swiftly knocked into touch by Matt's deft construction of former soldier Joe Hunter, a man who "dislikes injustice, hates bullies and will stand up to defend others in need of help". Now five books into the series, Hunter still packs plenty of surprises, but there are elements of backstory that weave through each new instalment.

Unlike Reacher, Hunter seems more natural. He's no saint, but he appreciates his creature comforts, when he's allowed to have them! He's not averse to doing the normal things that most of us do - like having bank accounts and mobile phones. This contrasts with Reacher's determination to live 'off grid' which is almost a form of OCD!

Go here to catch up with the latest news of Matt's forthcoming titles

.....and for everything you need to know about Joe Hunter (bar reading the books, of course) try here.

Friday, 8 April 2011

G is for .....Genealogy



In 2001 we got a new PC with internet facilities and I vowed, as a New Year resolution, that I would stop talking about tracing my family history and actually get on with it!
I started with asking my siblings to dredge up any old documents and photos and having ascertained a few facts about my Grandfather's place and date of birth I began tracing clues through Genealogy websites. Within 24 hours I’d managed to track back 250 years!!!

Genealogy is not an exact science, though - the historical documents such as Census Returns, Parish Records and Birth, Marriage & Death Certificates are accurate only in-so-much that they record what the scribe 'heard' and what the informant 'said'! In some cases those informants may have imparted the facts to the best of their knowledge - others may have had a reason to be 'economical' with the truth! (as in the case of my own father.....but that's another story!)

This is the oldest photograph we have uncovered so far, my 2XGreat Grandparents, William and Mary Routledge, with some of their children.


To research my Family Tree I've had to combine two skills - the ability to do 'mental' jigsaw puzzles, coupled with a hefty bit of detective work! There are family 'myths' that have been, so far, unproved - and a few which most certainly have!! Sadly, I’ve not uncovered any millionaires but, thankfully, no axe-murderers either!

The branches continue to spread out further into the future - new generations of 'twigs' flourish and grow! So far, we have managed to get back to 1651, with the birth of my 7XGreat Grandfather, John Hounam!

This is a work which, to some extent will never be completed! The roots of the tree are firmly embedded in the past - only the lack of recorded information halts the proceedings. This is just the start and hopefully when I'm long gone others will continue to add to it!

(BTW - the charming man with the jauntily styled hat at the head of this blog post is my Great Grandfather, Joseph Edward Beattie. We have no idea if he owned the 'boneshaker' bicycle or it was just a photographer's 'prop'!)

Thursday, 7 April 2011

F is for .....Fiction Challenges




Since I was a child I have always scribbled away at stories. Like many other would-be writers, I’ve harboured the dream of what it would be like to be a published author, yet at the same time I’ve been wary of actually showing my work to others. I suppose it comes down to the fear of rejection!

Well, thanks to two people in particular, Matt Hilton and David Barber, I have been encouraged to be brave and at least share my work amid the blogosphere!

It was Matt’s idea for me to submit some work for an Ezine he co-hosts, called ‘Thrillers, Killers and Chillers’. Warily, I ‘stepped up to the plate’ and sent him a short story entitled ‘Your Worst Nightmare' – then sat and chewed my fingernails back to the quick; after all, he’s a ‘proper’ published author! I didn’t expect much other than a ‘that’s good, but not exactly what we’re looking for…..’ response, so you can imagine my shock when my story appeared on the T,K&C site along with some very nice comments and advice by the readers! Not just a 'one off' either, as a few more found their way onto T,K&C!

David Barber encouraged me greatly by pushing me in the direction of a weekly fiction challenge, originally called ‘Friday Flash Fiction’ (now renamed “Icarus’ Flight to Perfection”) where a starter sentence was polled or a number of words were designated to be used for contenders to create a story within a deadline. I was quickly hooked! I looked forward to this weekly outlet for creativity!

Still more and more challenges have been discovered as I hop from blog to blog. Some require the use of starter sentences, or themes or a restricted word-count (like Lily Childs' weekly prediction set at 100 words max!) I could fill each and every day just entering different stories…..but I’m always keen to hear about new ones, especially for different genres, so if you come across any please let me know!

Thanks to these challenges I’ve been privileged to meet and read the work of some amazingly talented writers. In return, their comments have encouraged and challenged me to explore the way I write (and hopefully make improvements!)

Sometimes, though, I wonder if all this flash fiction is detrimental to creating longer work – as I find myself wanting to hurry along the action! ;-)

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

E is for .....Entertainers

Dancers, musicians, singers - they perfect their art to entertain us - and some of them do it so well!

Just a few off the top of my head:

Gene Kelly- often remembered for the iconic "Singin' In The Rain" dance sequence (from the film of the same name), but here's a clip my daughter showed me a while back - mindboggling!




Arturo Brachetti- surely the quickest of quick-change artists!





Tom Noddy- the 'Bubble-magic' man!



(OK - how many of you are going to raid the kids' toyboxes to have a go at blowing bubbles?) ;-)


....and of course, the magic of the Musical!

Here's Ramin Karimloo as The Phantom in 'Love Never Dies' - the sequel to 'The Phantom of the Opera' - fast becoming my favourite stage musical!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

D is for ......Dogs



OK - first non-literary item for this series!

I love all kinds of dogs, all shapes and sizes, but I’m really fond of mongrels – they are, in essence, such ‘original’ one-offs!

I grew up with a canine companion, a collie crossbreed, and it spoiled me for dogs ever afterwards so after I was married and at home with my first baby we embarked on adopting a dog from the RSPCA and a wonderful Whippet crossbreed called Cindy entered our lives. She was a delightful companion and her long-suffering maternal instincts meant that our two kids grew up without ever hearing her snarl or snap! Even when I caught our son, as a toddler, sitting beside her on a rug trying to chew her tail – she simply closed her eyes and waited for him to stop then when I managed to grab him she simply got up and went to her basket for a sleep!

She left a big hole in our lives when we finally had to let her go, nearly twelve years later. I vowed – never again! It was just too painful to have to say goodbye.

But, about eighteen months later we found ourselves bringing home another stray from the Dogs Trust – this time it was a German Shepherd/Whippet crossbreed and we named him Bruce. It was strange to go back to having a bouncy youngster after the staid and placid old lady that we remembered when we thought of Cindy!

He wasn’t stupid – soon worked out how to open doors and cupboards so food had to be kept under lock and key! He had ‘mad’ half-hours when he used to tear about the house then dash outside and do laps around the garden, with a wild look in his eye as if to say “I don’t know how to stop….!” He was a bit odd-looking, I suppose – German Shepherd colouring and feathery tail, whippet ribcage and long legs and floppy ears and he seemed to ‘bounce’ when he walked along. I suppose the best way to describe him would be the ‘real life’ version of Mickey Mouse’s cartoon dog, Pluto!

But now, we have another doggy-shaped hole in our lives, as we said our final goodbyes to Brucie twelve months ago. The house is strangely quiet. With the kids grown and gone the usual ‘welcome home’ on returning from work had been the clitter-clatter of claws on the hard flooring. The sunny spot on the path(see pic) where he would go to sunbathe (curiously, the exact same spot Cindy had picked out for herself years previously!) will be vacant this summer.

....or maybe, not!

My daughter would love to have a dog but working full time would be an obstacle as far as the local rescue centres are concerned. However, rumour has it that my daughter has come up with a cunning plan whereby we could dog-share! As she lives about ten minutes’ walk from us she proposes that she would rehome a dog and I’d be able to walk it during the day………it is a plan with possibilities!

Monday, 4 April 2011

C is for ......Children's Fiction




As a child I was an avid reader but there were a few favourites that were read and re-read frequently. As my own children grew I rediscovered the magic as I shared my favourites with them.

Alas, one book I’d not been able to find to re-live with them was Enid Blyton’s ‘The Treasure Hunters'.
However, a recent trip to the delightful ‘town of bookshops’, Hay on Wye, brought me face to face with my past – well, a small part of it, anyway! Rummaging through the shelves in the largest bookshop in the town, my daughter handed me a copy of the aforementioned title and straight away I was transported back to my youth! (And an interesting aside, Enid Blyton wrote this tale under the pseudonym of Mary Pollock – never knew that!)

OK, so it was a paperback binding and my original had been a cloth and board bound gem picked up at a jumble sale, but flicking through the pages I was right back there with Jeffrey, John and Susan Greyling, attempting to decipher an old treasure map and trying to thwart the intentions of the ‘baddie’ Mr Potts, who wanted to con the family out of it’s stately family ‘pile’! It matters not to me that it is very much set in a time when values of loyalty, obedience and honour were so different to children’s fiction today – I think it’s quirky and nostalgic and I love it!

Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and the companion novel of ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ were beloved bed-time reading. I looked forward to re-acquainting myself with all the various characters - my favourite was the snooty caterpillar! (I loved this so much that a recent fiction challenge inspired this story called “Seeing’s Believing”)


The ‘Katy’ stories by Susan Coolidge fascinated me and I never grew tired of reading what she ‘did’, what she did ‘at school’ and what she did ‘next’. It was interesting to read about home and family life in nineteenth century America – a world away from 1960’s Britain! I’ve not been able to track down the two later books in the series – Clover and In the High Valley – I wonder what they were like?

There were many other books I read, usually junkshop and jumble sale ‘finds’ plus my weekly trawl of the local library shelves, but I inevitably returned to my favourites - perhaps they were my literary equivalent of a ‘Linus’ blanket?

Now, appetite whetted, I’m off to join the Treasure Hunters and see how the Greyling children aim to defy the nasty Mr Potts…..!