‘Do Not Mistake Love for Happiness…’

Valentines-day

Within a few moments, the kitchen hands had a fire lit. Free and unburdened by work, there seemed to be a magic about them tonight on the Eve of May. Sparks seemed to fly from their hands as if they were witches.

The kitchen girls produced food as if from nowhere. Their hands were empty and then suddenly full. Of things like a whole clove-studded ham, freshly baked loaves, mincemeat pies and honey cakes.

The washerwomen unfurled the largest of blankets, which seemed to float over the glade like a ship’s pennant before landing in the perfect picnic square.

The cleaning girls pulled wooden sticks from the fire and touched them to a million candles in a million lanterns. They peppered the clearing and hung about the trees, as bright as captured stars.

The village girls arrived bearing jars of jams and pickles, and jugs of ale from the tavern, their cheeks rosy and warm from the walk through the dark woods. They greeted the castle workers with whoops of joy and tender embraces. Most of them were related, after all. Mothers, daughters, aunts and cousins.

Catalina was awestruck. She had never seen anything so magical or so perfect. It was hard to connect these people with the downtrodden, subservient characters that ordinarily toiled in her world.

Someone showed her to a space on the blanket. Another handed her a silver goblet, full to the brim with ruby red wine. She drank half of it down immediately. The youngest serving girl, Joan, approached her, goaded by all the others. She brought out a crown of hawthorn blossom from behind her back.

Dropping a curtsy, she said: “We wish to crown you the May Queen, my lady.”

“Me?” Catalina replied, delighted. “It would be the greatest of honours.”

She rose up onto her knees and bowed her head solemnly. Joan placed the blossom crown on her head and everyone clapped.

“What do I have to do?” Catalina asked Maude, her nursemaid.

“You have to start the proceedings,” Maude replied. “Oh, look, my daughter’s here!”

And then Maude abandoned her. But Catalina had been waiting for many years for Maude to abandon her, so she didn’t care one bit.

“What do we do first?” she called out to the nearest girls. “And can we please do everything?”

But nobody had chance to answer her because, just then, there was a strange rumbling noise in the glade. There was a lot of ‘shushing’, and the women fell quickly silent, listening hard. Catalina stared along the hidden path to the right of The Tree as the rumbling came closer.

“It’s Boboli!” A washerwoman exclaimed.

She was greeted with disbelief.

“It can’t be…”

“Don’t be ridiculous…”

“He isn’t due this year…”

But the rumbling came nearer and, just as Catalina’s eyes were burning with the strain of staring, a black horse walked into the clearing pulling a black covered wagon, on which was written in gold the legend ‘Boboli ~ Who Knows All That Is Worth Knowing’. Continue reading

Begging Letter #4: Tree-Climbing Sheep

In the 15th Century, Blackwood is plagued by malicious faeries, as everyone who lives there knows. Everyone except the Lord of Blackwood, that is, who refuses to believe there is such a thing…

Petition presented to Thomas the Castellan by Marcus Meadows:

Mr Meadows lost three of his sheep while out grazing. When he returned through the woods he found all three sheep stuck high up on tree branches. It took him all afternoon to free them. He demanded a full investigation.

(The Lord of Blackwood was informed of this petition and dismissed the claim as foul play. Mr Meadows was asked to go away and think about whether he had recently offended anyone.)

Looking back through the archives, there are hundreds of petitions from the villagers to the Lord of Blackwood (via his Castellan), begging him do something to make their village a safer place. The Castellan does not even pass many of them on. We can read from this that he knows very well what his master would say if he presented them. The gravity of the matters mentioned in the petitions varies and, indeed, some could be attributed to vivid imaginations at work. Other, like the tragic case of the Crumb family in 1413 are harder to dismiss.

I will be sharing some of the appeals with you here (edited for the modern reader). You can make up your own mind.

by Dr Melchior Williams (Co-Author of ‘The Blackwood Crusade’ a medieval fairytale based on his discovery of the intriguing Blackwood Archives)

Engraving: ‘The Lost Sheep’ by Sir John Everett Millais


‘THE BLACKWOOD CRUSADE’

(Paperback and Kindle) is available at AMAZON.COM and AMAZON.CO.UK

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Writing and Cucumbers

Cucumber Fail

This is a picture of my cucumber crop so far. Impressed? In all my years on this planet, I have never seen such a curved cucumber. It’s a definite cucumber fail.

A while ago, I started to write a story that appeared, half-formed, in my head. And it was SO good. At least, the SEED of it was. I worked on it on and off for a few days and then it began to mutate into something that barely resembled the original idea. Suddenly I didn’t know where it was going, or even how to take it back. I was forced to abandon it.

But the thing is, you never need to throw writing away, because every piece of writing contains something useful. In the same way that the mutant cucumber can be turned into compost, I can add the disastrous story into the rich mix of practise and imagination that will nourish future stories.

As long as you keep on doing, nothing is wasted.

“Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”Denis Waitley

Can a Witch REALLY Turn You into a Toad?

Toad

Witches don’t exist. Not the ones who fly around on broomsticks cackling at the moon and turning people into frogs. That was all made up by some nasty men to get rid of little old ladies who knew a lot about plants and healing, but not much about the Lord. Of course, that’s a very broad sweep over the subject because I can’t go into it now. Continue reading

What was your Oddest Job?

oddjob

I want to hear about it… the odder the better!

I’ll start you off…

Most odd jobs are summer holiday jobs. Students with a chocolate addiction, like me, had to make enough money to feed their habit with Cadbury’s Buttons, Mars Bars and Double-Deckers. They are generally not fussy about what they do because it’s only for six weeks, after all.

Funnily enough, I often get a bit nostalgic about my summer jobs simply because a few of them were so very odd, and odd things don’t happen quite as much any more.

Here are a couple of my oddest jobs:

Continue reading

The Protest: A Short Story

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“Mummy, what’s that lady doing?”

“She’s protesting.”

Jenny pushed Tom before her, guiding him past the other shoppers with a gentle, but insistent, hand on his shoulder. The sports shop closed in five minutes, and she had to make sure she got the right golf balls. She bought the wrong ones last time, and Mark had not been happy.

Tom craned his neck to look at the woman as they passed her by. She was holding a sign he couldn’t read, and shouting, her face determined.

“What does… ‘por-testing’ mean?”

The first spots of rain fell, and one landed on Jenny’s nose and made her jump. She reached out and pulled Tom’s hood over his head. Why hadn’t she brought the pushchair? At three and a half he was getting too old for it, but it sure made shopping trips quicker.

Pro-testing,” Jenny corrected. “When you’re annoyed about something, you can tell everyone why and ask them to help you change it.”

“Like when Daddy is annoyed with you?”

Jenny smiled and shook her head. “Not quite, Tom. Bigger things than that. Come on, we need to hurry.”

The shop was in sight now, in the distance. As she herded Tom towards it, she saw a fit-looking guy in a polo shirt come to the door and flip the sign from Open to Closed.

“Shit!” Jenny couldn’t help herself.

“Mummy!”

“Sorry Tom.”

She picked him up now and swung him into her arms, ignoring the sharp pain in her back from her fall down the stairs the week before. Mark didn’t want her to go to the doctors, but she might have to, because it was getting worse. Tom gave a cry of surprise as she began to run towards the shop, every step making her gasp.

The guy was outside the sports shop locking the door now.

“Wait!” called Jenny, “Please…”

Continue reading

‘Write What You Know is the Stupidest Thing I Ever Heard’

And when it’s someone like Kazuo Ishiguro who’s telling you that, it’s definitely worth listening.

Kazuo

There was a great article on LitHub this week, with writing tips from the Nobel prize-winning author. Not only does he stick two fingers up at writing what you know – yay! – but he also tells of the CRASH approach to writing, which enabled him to write ‘Remains of the Day’ in just four weeks!

Many years ago, I took a writing night-class. I was about twenty years old and had a lot to learn about writing. Unfortunately, the people in the class were not the sort to learn lessons from. We were given a story prompt. Something innocuous like ‘The best day of my life’.

After listening to one elderly ladies story (the average age of the class was about sixty-five) about her trip to a sweet shop when she was a little girl, it was my turn. I stood up, absolutely petrified about reading out loud, and immersed them in a story of a first world war aeroplane designer who suddenly realised he was in love with his (male) mechanic.

When I finished, there was silence in the room. I balked and sat down, thinking I must have done it all wrong. And then one of the ladies coughed and said:

“It’s better to write about what you know, dear.”

 


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Creatives with Claws.. Gggrrr!

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PublishThe ‘Publish My Book’ button seems to be a multitasking piece of HTML. Not only does it somehow transfer all your words and pages into a proper book that people can buy on the other side of the world – wow! – BUT it also opens some kind of hidden tap in your brain through which all your creativity magically begins to drain away.

There you are thinking, ‘right then, onto the next book’… You have so many awesome ideas, all written down in a pile of ragged notebooks. There is even the odd chapter or three of a shiny, new project hidden away in your computer. It’s calling to you in a polite ‘excuse me’ kind of voice. You look at it. It doesn’t look quite as good as you thought it did, but you read to the end. You raise your fingers above the keyboard, ready to carry on. And…

Continue reading

Odd Books #3: Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop

If you are writing a book and want it to stand out amongst the stiff competition, you could do worse than give it a really bizarre title.

The Diagram Prize is an annual literary award which recognises and rewards unusual book titles. It started originally as a sideshow at the 1978 Frankfurt Book Fair, and is now a much-anticipated competition, decided by public vote. Occasionally there have been years when no winner has been announced, due to the entries not being ‘odd enough’!

Past winners include:

Strangers have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Shulte (2015)

Managing a Dental Practise: The Genghis Khan Way by Michael Young (2010)

The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America by Julian Montague (2006)

Bombproof your Horse by Rick Pelicano (2004)

How to Avoid Huge Ships by John W. Trimmer (1992)

But my personal favourite has to be Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop by Reginald Bakeley (2013)

from the Amazon description:goblinproofing2

Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop is the only complete manual on how to identify, track, defend, and destroy those bothersome brownies, goblins, dwarves, scheming flower-fairies, and other nasty members of the fairy realm.

The Editor said of the triumphant win: “Reginald and I take this as a clear sign that people have had enough of goblins in their chicken coops. Our campaign against the fairy kingdom continues.”

A very deserving (and useful) winner! 🙂

Begging Letter #3: What shall we do with the Drunken Soldier?

fairie-funeral.jpg

by Dr Melchior Williams (Co-Author of ‘The Blackwood Crusade’ a medieval fairytale based on his discovery of the intriguing Blackwood Archives)


In the 15th Century, Blackwood is plagued by malicious faeries, as everyone who lives there knows. Everyone except the Lord of Blackwood, that is, who refuses to believe there is such a thing.

Looking back through the archives, there are hundreds of petitions from the villagers to the Lord of Blackwood (via his Castellan), begging him do something to make their village a safer place. The Castellan does not even pass many of them on. We can read from this that he knows very well what his master would say if he presented them. The gravity of the matters mentioned in the petitions varies and, indeed, some could be attributed to vivid imaginations at work. Other, like the tragic case of the Crumb family in 1413 are harder to dismiss.

I will be sharing some of the appeals with you here (edited for the modern reader). You can make up your own mind.

Petition presented to Thomas the Castellan by Balrick Broadback:

Soldier Broadback reported seeing strange lights flashing in the Black Wood whilst on watch on Monday eve. The lights continued all through the night. He requests a patrol of the surrounding area.

(The Lord of Blackwood was informed of this petition and Soldier Broadback was dismissed from service for drunkenness.)

Painting by John Anster Fitzgerald


‘THE BLACKWOOD CRUSADE’

(Paperback and Kindle) is available at AMAZON.COM and AMAZON.CO.UK

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