INSPIRATION: The Walls Have Ears (and Eyes)

(From a work in progress – ‘Appleheart’)

There is a saying: “The walls have ears.” It means that you should be careful of discussing secrets too loudly because you never know who is listening. I used to think it started in World War Two because of all the secret spies in dark, belted raincoats. But no… as early as 400BC in Ancient Greece they had listening posts installed in their palaces to eavesdrop on gossiping visitors.

But, sayings aside, walls really do have ears. And they have eyes too. The first time I learnt this I was five years old and at my grandma’s house. I was in trouble for stealing a biscuit from the cupboard without asking, and my punishment was to stand in the corner of the hallway facing the wall. That sounds strange, but Grandma was a retired Geography teacher and missed her job with all her heart. She would talk to my brother and I as if she was taking a class, and liked to test us on capital cities and river names.

Standing in the corner of my grandma’s hallway in my disgrace, the stolen shortbread still melting on my tongue, I placed my hands on the walls, closed my eyes and saw Grandad.

He stole in quietly from the garden in his gardening slacks, mud on the knees, holding a small bottle of golden liquid. Peering around like a burglar, he lifted the bottle, took a swig, and opened the hall cupboard. With supreme care the lid was screwed back on, the bottle lifted high and placed behind a tin of paint on the top shelf. Then he tiptoed back outside and came in again, this time full of noise. Stomping feet, sighing, swishing hands together. ‘Hey, Joan, put the kettle on, will you?”

When my grandma released me from the corner and I told her what I’d seen, her face drained of colour. She marched over to the hall cupboard, moved the tin of paint to one side and brought forth the half-empty bottle of golden liquid with a shaking hand. She surprised me with the force of the sobs that bent her in half.

When I saw Grandad that day, he had already been dead for two years from liver failure, and she continued to find hidden whisky all over the house for a long time to come, each bottle a painful slap in the face.


For more on ‘Appleheart’, which takes place in a haunted Art College :

APPLEHEART First Day Nerves

APPLEHEART Upside-Down

Thank you for reading!

A New Office, thanks to Australia

Because of the amount of heat coming off Australia, we have record November temperatures in New Zealand this week. Even with all the doors and windows open in the house, it’s too hot to be inside and too hot to be outside. It occurred to me that my messy carport would make an awesome ‘not-indoor but not-outdoor either’ office.

Aah, a nice, warm breeze, a beautiful view and starlings swooping up to their annual nest in the corner. Perfect. Cheers Australia!

How Music Can Help You Write

A lot of fiction writers find music a real distraction when writing, but here’s why I find it a real help…

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A Failed Experiment and (Almost) Another Cat

So, I’ve been experimenting because there was an expanse of shiny whiteness on my office wall with scribbles on it like ‘Get milk’, ‘Weed the garden (again)’ and ‘***Don’t rescue another cat; you have enough now***’.

But it would be so much better if it said things like:

Chapter 5 – Whenever he smells apples, he is overcome with a murderous rage.

OR, Chapter 12 – Astonishing mid-plot twist: The monkey was never meant to be there, but only the nun knew.

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Or Maybe Not…

It looks like someone may have been telling porkie-pies!

Well, remember yesterday, when I wrote about the exciting news of a Bristol academic cracking the code to the Oddest Book in the Worldthe Voynich Manuscript – and it only taking him a couple of weeks where many others have failed… including Alan Turing…

Now it turns out that Bristol University have backed away from the claims at a hundred miles an hour after hearing the doubts of another scholar who tried the same method years ago. It didn’t work.

So, sorry for the false alarm, but we’re not going to be reading a translated version of this mysterious book any time soon. I just hope that, when someone actually cracks it for real, it turns out to be worth all the time and effort and not just an extended shopping list.

Eggs, milk, baked beans, toothpaste…

Code Cracked to Oddest Book Ever!

BREAKING NEWS: Further to my article a few weeks ago about the Voynich Manuscript, otherwise known as The Oddest Book in the World, this has happened …

Although the purpose and meaning of the manuscript had eluded scholars for over a century, it took Dr. Gerard Cheshire two weeks, using a combination of lateral thinking and ingenuity, to identify the language and writing system of the famously inscrutable document.

University of Bristol

Says Dr. Cheshire:

“I experienced a series of ‘eureka’ moments whilst deciphering the code, followed by a sense of disbelief and excitement when I realised the magnitude of the achievement, both in terms of its linguistic importance and the revelations about the origin and content of the manuscript.

“What it reveals is even more amazing than the myths and fantasies it has generated. For example, the manuscript was compiled by Dominican nuns as a source of reference for Maria of Castile, Queen of Aragon, who happens to have been great aunt to Catherine of Aragon.

To find out more about how he did it, and what he discovered, read the University of Bristol Article:

Look Out for the Shiny Things

After years of sticking rigidly to that long term goal, I started saying yes instead of no to those wonderful, fleeting opportunities on the periphery, and this is what happened…

I listened to Tim Minchin’s inspirational address, ‘Nine Life Lessons’, again a few weeks ago, and keep coming back to one thing in particular (and those of you who know me won’t be surprised that it wasn’t the ‘do more exercise’ one :-D)

It was concerning goals, and the realisation that his words didn’t strike a chord with me the first time I heard the speech, years ago. And that’s because of things that have happened between now and then to make me realise he’s absolutely right. Here’s what he said:

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Building up a History for ‘Foxfires’

When I’m writing a larger piece of work, one of the fun parts is the conjuring of odd snippets to add to the history or background of the story. Sometimes these snippets end up in the book (like the chapter headings in The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook and the petitions in Blackwood), and sometimes they initiate a complete change of direction.

This snippet will be part of the book ‘Foxfires’. The protagonist, trapped in a snowbound farmhouse with strangers, will come across the thin volume of curious tales with this particular page corner turned down. He is already in fear of his life, so this’ll really make him freak out. Hee hee! (Sorry Jack!)

‘Curious Tales from Travels in Yorkshire’ by M.Nesbitt

Chapter 8: A Disturbance at an Inn on the Edge of the Moors

“In the autumn of 1905, the author was passing through a village on the edge of Saddleworth Moor when he decided to rest and take refreshment at a small inn. At first glance, the inn seemed peaceful and emanated a warm glow from a lit fireplace but, upon entering, I was alarmed to find several weeping women and angry men. A number of the gentlemen were arming themselves as if for battle, though the distressed ladies pleaded with them to reconsider. They made no allowance for a stranger in their midst and continued with their heated discussion.

I asked the innkeeper if I could partake of a brandy as the weather was inclement, and it appeared winter was arriving before its time. He poured me my drink with one ear on the growing dispute behind me. I wondered out loud what was happening and he shook his head with a grimace and told me that Mr Hawkins, a young farmer, had not returned from tending his sheep in the hills. His sheepdog, Bess, came home without him and in a dreadful state, covered nose to tail in mud and bleeding from numerous lacerations. Clearly agitated, she set off again after just a few hours rest, presumably to find her master, and she had not come back. Continue reading

The Oddest Book in the World

Written by a philosopher, a mystic, a coven of witches, or a muddle of martians? We may never know…

Carbon-dated to 1420, this enigmatic 240 page creation seems to document a forgotten culture in an unrecognisable language with dream-like illustrations. Some of the world’s most prominent cryptologists have tried—and failed—to decode the text.

If you’d like to have a go yourself, the whole thing is available online.

Take a look at this short film about why the Voynich Manuscript is truly a really Odd Bit of Writing!
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The Odd Disappearance of Violet D’Ath and New Zealand’s First Gothic Novel

whale

I’m currently working on a top secret, wonderful project and was deep into some research when something quite odd happened… I stumbled upon an obscure article referencing New Zealand’s first Gothic Novel ‘The Ice Station’, written in 1912 by Violet D’Ath.

The storyline sounded so good I immediately decided to find a copy and read it. But it wasn’t that easy, as you can probably tell by my title. Continue reading