The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook: Tip #3

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‘How to Save a Life (with just your curtains).’ by Daisy May

In a life-saving situation it is acceptable for the Curtain-Twitcher to give away their position. The person being saved will be so grateful they will forget to be suspicious.

I watched the passenger door of the red Alfa open and my archenemy, Willy McKenzie, got out. He put a hand up to smooth his unruly curls back as they blew into his eyes, and reached into the car to get his schoolbag out. I hid behind my curtain so he didn’t spot me, and grimaced at my subterfuge. It was fast becoming a record Curtain-Twitching week, and I was only a young novice. My grandma would have been proud.

As Willy McKenzie pushed the car door shut there was a sudden gust of wind. It rattled my windows and flung the trees around in the woods at the back. A movement on the McKenzie’s roof caught my attention. The wind had loosened a grey slate. It slid a few inches before coming to rest on the edge of the guttering at the front of the house, where it rocked precariously. Willy McKenzie walked towards his front door. The wind blew again.

I hammered on my window as loud as I could without breaking it. In the spilt second that followed, Willy McKenzie glanced round, I pointed frantically at the roof, he followed the direction of my finger, and the roof slate tipped and started to fall.

Willy jumped back, and the heavy slab of stone smashed into the ground just centimetres from his yellow-clad feet. If he hadn’t moved, it would have smashed directly into his head instead. Maybe it would even have killed him. People died from lesser head injuries.

It occurred to me I may have just saved the life of Willy McKenzie.

He stared blankly at the shards of slate surrounding him, then back up at my window. Smiling shakily, he gave me a small nod, but I gave him nothing in return, watching as his mother rushed up in a sudden panic. Her flowered skirts were blowing a little too high in the breeze.

I saw him tell her ‘I’m fine’, but he was looking at me the whole time. Backing away from the window, I sat on my bed feeling enormously strange. What if I hadn’t hammered on the window? What if I hadn’t been Curtain-Twitching? What if Willy McKenzie had died? Would I be happy about that?

Of course not.

But just because I wouldn’t wish him dead didn’t mean I’d suddenly forgiven him, did it?

Of course not.

Fun, isn’t it?” whispered the god.

“No, actually,” I replied, but out loud this time, and then clamped a hand over my mouth.


Taken from The Curtain-Twitcher’s Handbook, in which Daisy discovers the dying art of curtain-twitching is not just for old, nosy people.

The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook on Amazon.co.uk

amazon

The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook on Amazon.com

amazon

 

INSPIRATION : The Perfect Gift

This time the inspiration is not a picture, but a whole chapter of history. This story is dedicated to all those who breathed their last breath in ‘the war to end all wars’ – if only that were true – and to the memory of Harry Redman, my great-grandfather, who managed to live through it all. Unlike so many of his fellow soldiers.

War-Silhouette

INSPIRED

Half light. A mist shrouds the muddy trenches and banks in Harry’s small corner of France. In the perfect silence, skeletal trees stand still, holding their breath and playing dead. Like we all should be, thinks Harry. Especially today.

Harry is awake with only an inch of a cigarette and the relentless itch of lice for company. He is first up that day and every day, but only because he can’t sleep. Sixteen nights in a row now, with barely more than an hour or two at the most. And those fractured hours are filled with dreams. Whole passages of the day re-enacted in the dark theatre behind his eyelids. Last night it was Johnson, thrown six feet into the air by a shell, and landing, with his head missing, right on top of Harry. Again and again. Over and over. In his dreams, Harry has time to appreciate the precision of the shrapnel’s surgery, but when he wakes he is horrified by his unconscious thoughts. He misses Johnson’s smiling head, so full of jokes. They all do.

It’s not long before they go over the top into No Man’s Land, the playground of fate. Every time he climbs the ladder he says goodbye to his life, but it doesn’t seem to want to say goodbye back. His thoughts drift from family to sweetheart to all the friends he has lost on these battered fields, and all the friends he still will lose.

Now everyone is awake, and the stench of nervous sweat and cigarette smoke mixes with the sweat smell of death. Time has passed him by again. Maybe he slept after all. The soldiers are wide-eyed and scared. They smoke madly and talk about what they will do when they get back to England. It’s meant to be a lucky thing to do, but Harry can’t see how it makes any difference, so he never joins in.

“It’s my birthday today,” he tells them, uncomfortably aware of a nervous twitch just starting up in under his left eye. “I’m nineteen.”

They pass him a cigarette and clap him on the back. Pearce begins to sing the ritual song, but has trouble with the word ‘happy’, so only manages a couple of lines. Steadman’s watch still works, and he is glancing at it so frequently it must soon be time. Harry blinks hard, his twitchy eye becoming unbearable. He sucks the very last of the warm smoke from the birthday cigarette into his lungs, and stamps the butt into the mud. Perhaps the last butt.

“Right, men. Space out and wait for the signal. Steady pace. No running,” the officer calls out from the far end.

His voice is shaky and Harry thinks what a hard job he has, leading his men into such uncertainty. And for what? A few feet of land? Another hole in the ground?

“I don’t care about England anymore. I just want to live,” Pearce whispers to him.

“I don’t think this is about England anymore.”

“Then why are we here?”

Harry shrugs. He doesn’t know.

And then the officer is raising his hand and the first soldiers are on the ladders and up over the bank, exposing themselves bit by bit to the German guns. Heads, then shoulder, then torsos. ‘Shoot at me!’

Harry’s legs refuse to obey. This always happens. Every time. Pearce has to give him a gentle shove. He’s not sure what he will do if he loses Pearce, because he needs that shove. The momentum carries his body while his mind screams at him to stop. He feels naked as he walks fast, so keenly aware of being breakable. With his rifle clutched to his chest, he concentrates hard on the ice-cold metal of the weapon and tries to forget where he is. With one step he stumbles into a shell crater, with another he nearly falls over a rotting corpse. The sound of the guns is deafening and bullets zip past like angry hornets, inches from his ears.

The fog swirls and shifts, and Harry can see where it’s all coming from in the distance. The German trench, and the brigade’s objective, nearing rapidly. He stares around him. They have never got this far before. How far are they supposed to go? Are they meant to jump down into the German trenches? Of course they are – it’s the whole point of the exercise. And if so, then dear God, let him be hit now. Pounded with bullets is infinitely better than being bayoneted to death. Having to look the enemy in the eyes and discover they are just like you. Scared and shell-shocked, with a heart that beats like any English heart.

He begins to slow.

“It’s my bloody birthday,” he complains to himself.

He wants to put a hand up to the Germans and tell them what an important day it is. Perhaps they will invite him in for sausages and sauerkraut. A mug of beer.

He is smiling when his bullet finds him. It rips through the skin and muscle of his thigh and tears through his femur. It wipes the smile off his face. He feels it go in, looks down and sees a spurt of blood, falls over when his leg buckles. But he doesn’t feel any of the pain. After the initial surprise, he holds onto his tin hat and edges his way backwards, away from the German lines, on his bottom. As he does, his trousers start to work their way down. He stops to ease them up, and laughs out loud. Even when the pain comes, he laughs, flaked out with his head in a puddle of mud.

Pearce is suddenly beside him, crouched as low as he can get. He grabs Harry under the armpits and hauls him backwards. It’s a long way and the shells are screaming all around them, but they make it. Pearce, exhausted, almost throws him down into the trench, and into safety. They look at each other for a long while until the stretcher bearers come to take Harry away. Then Pearce, unable to delay any longer, climbs the ladder back into hell. He turns near the top.

“Happy birthday,” he grins.

Now he can say the ‘happy’ word. Now Harry is homeward-bound.

Harry closes his eyes as the stretcher rocks him back and forth, a baby in a cradle. He feels the fatigue borne of sixteen long nights lap over his body. Finally, he can sleep. His enemies have given him the most perfect of gifts.

(Photo by Frank Hurley)

Odd Writers #4 : Robert Shields & His Enormous Diary

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Diaries are supposed to be full of secrets and intrigue. They are a place to store our wildest dreams, and crazy thoughts we would never let out of our confused little heads in a million years. The idea of someone discovering your diary should be an unthinkable thought, filled with icy horror.

Rev. Robert Shields’ diary was absolutely not one of those diaries. It was a whopping 37.5 million words long and filled 94 boxes – the equivalent of 500 good-sized novels. How did it get so big? He simply documented his life every five minutes of every day for a quarter of a century.

There may well be secrets and intrigue hidden within those pages, but the six pages available to the public contain treasures like these:

“7 a.m.: I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin.”

“7:05 a.m.: Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine. Used five sheets of paper.”

“6:30-6:35 p.m.: I put in the oven two Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese at 350 degrees.”

“6:50-7:30 p.m.: I ate the Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese and Cornelia ate the other one. Grace decided she didn’t want one.”

Out of all my ‘Odd Writers’ so far, Robert Shields has to be the oddest!

Little Heartbeats at my Feet

Edith Wharton described her dog as ‘a little heartbeat at my feet’. The steady presence of animals is very comforting when you’re writing. Here are my own two little heartbeats.

Buddies

There is another one, but she is less helpful, falling fast asleep stretched over my chair so I can’t sit down and start work without feeling bad for disturbing her!

When characters have to get their own bloody way…

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I was a third of the way through writing ‘Blackwood’ when this woman galloped into the book holding a bloody sword. I tried to ignore her but she kept waving her sword around until I was forced to write her in. Such was her nature that she immediately took over and asserted herself as a main character without even a polite ‘hello’. She went on to become the essence and meaning of the whole book, and completely altered the plot.

For the better, I should add. Thank you, Christina.

Above is the plot map before Christina the Crusader scribbled her name all over it!

 

‘Blackwood’ is due for release on November 5th  (Bread&Butter Publishing)

For more on ‘Blackwood’, going here would be the thing to do 🙂

The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook: Tip #1

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‘Selecting the Tools of the Trade’ by Daisy May

It doesn’t matter what kind of curtains you have. They don’t have to be the traditional net or lace ones. Cotton, velvet, organza, polyester, silk… all work just as well. The main thing is to actually have curtains. Blinds can be discounted immediately. They are too noisy and do not have the required elegance. Blinds do not ‘twitch’; they clatter.

Taken from The Curtain-Twitcher’s Handbook, in which Daisy discovers the dying art of curtain-twitching is not just for old, nosy people.

The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook on Amazon.co.uk

amazon

The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook on Amazon.com

amazon

 

 

INSPIRATION: The Saturday Girl

I was a Saturday Girl once. There was a small cafe in our small town, made popular by a long-running TV series. So many girls from school undertook their job-baptism of fire here, and the kitchen was a seething microcosm of alliances, hostilities and hormones, interspersed with coke floats and cheese and pickle sandwiches.

Saturday Girl

INSPIRED

They pushed me to the top of the stairs and handed me a torch.

“Go on,” said the girl called Suzanna, “They’re on the top shelf.”

I peered down. It was pitch black at the bottom. The light from the cafe filtered down, reducing with every step. I flicked the torch on and gritted my teeth.

This was clearly the beginning of some kind of war.

“Come on, new girl.”

An hour into the job and I was already losing.

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BIT BY BIT (Foxfires VI)

Foxfires

foxfires snowy moors

FOXFIRES I      FOXFIRES II    FOXFIRES III   FOXFIRES IV   FOXFIRES V

Chapter Four

Tuesday Night

“The stew’s ruined, but you should have been home a half hour ago.”

“Sorry, love.”

“Sorry, Gran.”

Emily sat near the Rayburn, the clothes on her back so warm they were almost burning her chilled skin. Her thawing fingers tingled as she dug a fork into her heaped plate. The stew wasn’t ruined. It was delicious. Grandma was full of false threats. She was incapable of handing out punishments to her loved ones. Even now, full of her own family’s betrayal, she was helping Granddad to more cabbage.

One thing Emily didn’t miss about home was her mother’s cooking. Her mother wasn’t built for cooking. She was designed for looking pretty and saying witty things, but those rare skills definitely had their place. Emily got the impression that her grandparents did not wholly approve of the match their son had made. The odd remark here and there about homemaking and ‘don’t cry over anything that can’t cry over you’. But, though the cooking hadn’t been great at home, Emily felt she hadn’t missed out on anything. The social whirl of her girlhood was something she treasured. Especially now, stuck in the middle of nowhere.

“Any news from the village? I haven’t had the time to go down for three days.” Grandma said.

It was one of her pointed ‘poor me’ remarks that generally passed uncommented, much to Grandma’s chagrin. Emily opened her mouth to tell everything and Granddad fixed her with a meaningful stare.

“Not really,” she said, and shoved another mouthful of stew in to stop any more words coming out.

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INSPIRATION: The Death of a Tree

My family tree is in a poor state. Over the years, and every so often, I attempt to revive it. I pull my gloves on – you need gloves with my tree – and rummage through the sparse leaves, searching for a promising new bud or some forgotten fruit. Instead, I pull out clothes manglers, salt miners and poachers…

Aah, yes, the poachers. Two great-great (and maybe another great or two) uncles, Matthias and William, nice young lads but hungry, who were caught and hanged in a notorious case at the time. You can read about it here if you like that sort of thing.

Anyway, I started thinking about the people who could trace every inch of their heavily- laden branches. The people who have dates and photos and paintings and diaries going back centuries. What must it be like to be so aware of where you came from? To live with the weight of their own tree?

This is part of a little novelette I’m writing…

Megundra sml

INSPIRED

My brother, Tam, was born when I was already two. We were close in age, but he was born a boy and I was not. His official title was Tamerathen, Prince of the Five Towers. One day, when he became king, he would be King Tamerathen XX, the twentieth of his name. When I wanted to annoy him, which was most of the time, I called him Number Twenty.

“Dinner’s ready, Number Twenty.”

Or: “You could grow turnips behind those ears, Number Twenty.” This, always, in front of his friends.

At sixteen he was taller than me. More handsome than I would ever be pretty. He had a sweet nature, and a way with people and animals that I did not have. He would make the best of kings – a hundred times better than my father – and I would be proud to serve him. But, until that time came, it was best he didn’t know that.

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BIT BY BIT (Foxfires V)

Foxfires

foxfires snowy moors

FOXFIRES I      FOXFIRES II    FOXFIRES III   FOXFIRES IV   

Chapter Three (Part Two)

“They’re coming. They’re coming. Everything will be alright.” The pilot tried to console himself, but it wasn’t the same as having someone else consoling you. It was much harder to believe.

He found his way onto his hands and knees and bashed his fists against the cockpit door to get out. The way the plane had turned over meant that the door was angled more towards the sky and had not been buried in the snow. It was a small consolation. The door opened easily and the pilot swung it open and hauled himself out, careful not to put pressure on his broken ankle.

The snow was deep and getting deeper. When the pilot put his gloves down into the snow, his arms were buried almost to the elbow. On all fours, he surveyed the blank canvas that stretched before him. The dark sky whirled with millions upon millions of white dots, and the snow-blanketed moors below it rose and fell forever, it seemed, into the distance. Though all his memories had been bashed from his head, he still knew that light was a good thing… Light = People + Help. But, unfortunately, Number of Lights = 0. There was nothing to guide him in a particular direction. He would have to take a risk.

“Eeny meeny miny mo,” he chanted, thinking it was a method as good as any.

Once he had chosen a direction, the pilot spent a bit of time looking for a makeshift crutch, and found one of the support struts hanging off the damaged framework of the plane. With a twist and a pull the metal tubing fell away. It was a bit sharp, but his flying jacket was so thick with sheepskin that it wasn’t too uncomfortable underneath his arm. He practised hopping about, forced to lift his ankle high to avoid the thick snow, but he seemed to be quite accomplished with a crutch. Maybe he’d used one before. It was the first positive thing to happen so far, and for a second he even felt a little hopeful.

Then the strangest thing…

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