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


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 snowy moors


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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BIT BY BIT (Foxfires IV)


foxfires snowy moors


Chapter Three (Part One)

The young man awoke in the dark to the smell of burning. His head throbbed with an immense pressure, and his ears sang with the thundering pulse of blood. He opened his eyes to the mangled metal of the cockpit, scattered with an array of smashed instruments, nothing of which he recognised. An icy wind blew through the shattered windscreen, biting at the exposed skin of his face. Blinking, he peered out and was surprised to see that the world outside had not only turned completely white, but also turned upside-down.

There were straps biting into his shoulders and chest, holding him captive. He felt his way along them with gloved hands, searching for a release, and his fumbling dislodged the identity tags that hung around his neck. They fell down and hit him on the nose with a jangle, making him jump. It was then that he realised. It wasn’t the world that was upside-down; it was him.

Reaching for the identity tags, he scrutinised them. The letters swam before his eyes until, with effort, he managed to focus.

“J Fairchild, Pilot,” he read out loud.

He repeated the name a few times with a voice he didn’t recognise, and wondered why the tags said ‘J Fairchild’ when his name was… was…

Looking again at the twisted metal in front of him, it occurred to him that it might once have been a plane. The tags around his neck said ‘Pilot’. And as there was nobody else around…

“Hello?” he tried.

No answer.

… As there was nobody else around, he must have been flying the plane. But how could he possibly be a pilot? He didn’t know the first thing about planes or how to fly them. He sifted through his memory, searching for the merest scrap of knowledge about flying. And as he was sifting, it became clear that there was nothing to sift through; he didn’t seem to know anything at all about anything at all. Not about flying, not about his name, not about where he came from, or about how he’d ended up hanging upside-down in a crashed plane in the snow.

He hung there a while longer as he thought about this. There were suddenly questions everywhere, pecking at him like hens.

Who am I? How old am I? What am I doing here? What day is it? What did I have for breakfast? Will anyone miss me?

The last question seemed the most important, for with all these questions came a profound sense of loneliness. And above all else, what he needed right now was the feel of someone else’s arms around him, the whisper of comfort in his ear, the soft press of lips on his cheek. He closed his eyes and was horrified when a tear squeezed out and dripped down his forehead.

Was this the kind of man he was?

But he let the tears fall. He allowed himself the self-pity. After all, there was nobody around to see it. And if the sobs that escaped from his mouth were too loud, what did it matter?

When there were no more tears he sniffed loudly a few times, and then continued the search for the catch that would release him from his straps. He couldn’t remember how the harness worked so he tried everything he could think of. The last thing he wanted was the indignity of dying upside-down.

“At least let me walk a few paces so that they know I tried.”

Quite who ‘they’ would be, he didn’t know. He imagined some faceless creatures dressed in thick overcoats and hats trudging through the snow with a stretcher. They would find him, not in the cockpit, but stretched out as a frozen slab of flesh in the snow a hundred footsteps away, eyes closed, but jaw set with determination. ‘At least he tried,’ they said to each other, ‘We can tell his parents he was brave.’ If he had any parents.

Just when he was trying to picture what he looked like; what he would look like dead (he couldn’t), his gloves snagged on the release catch and the harness regurgitated him unceremoniously onto the shattered ceiling of the cockpit. The pilot discovered that he knew quite an impressive range of swear words, and also that he had broken his ankle.

Pain screamed up his left leg and a tidal wave of nausea caused him to retch. He swallowed hard, fighting the urge to vomit, aware that his body may need all the nutrition it could get. As the blood that had pooled in his head began to flow back down to where it should be, his ankle began to throb. The slightest movement was agony. The pilot gritted his teeth in an effort to control the pain and the panic that came with it. He wouldn’t be walking anywhere. He would be hopping. He would be lucky to get out of this alive.

INSPIRATION: Lottie’s Minefield

Eadweard Muybridge (he changed his name several times to come up with that) not only killed his wife’s lover, but also came up with the first ever motion photography. ‘The Horse in Motion’ was achieved by setting up a number of cameras along a distance to take photographs when the horse triggered a series of tripwires.

Horse in Motion


On Monday morning, Lottie walked into a minefield. She didn’t mean to. She didn’t even know it was there. But once in, she got so far and couldn’t turn back. If she turned back there would be even more explosions. Explosions that would ricochet through her whole life. And she wouldn’t be the only casualty.

Mum suggested it.

“Call Uncle Milo,” she said,” I don’t know why you’re so precious about it. He changed your nappies when you were tiny. He gave you your first taste of orange juice – you shuddered so hard when you swallowed it and then wanted more.”

“He’d feel obliged,” Lottie argued, “And I hate for people to feel obliged.”

“Take, take, take!” Her mum insisted, “If you don’t take for yourself, you’ll get nothing and end up like Helena.”

Helena was Lottie’s older – much older-sister. Helena lived in a one bedroom flat with three cats and a poster of Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic. Helena had a solitary job. She reshelved books at the British Library after hours. She lived in a world of silence. Except for incessant meowing.

Lottie thought about Helena and how their lives were different, and how their lives were the same. They both loved vanilla more than chocolate, and the smell of mown grass more than flowers. But that’s pretty much where the similarities ended.

When he came round, Uncle Milo was so very nice. He said ‘of course’ a lot, and ‘well, I do owe you, Maggie’. All of this to Lottie’s mother who had decided to do the taking on Lottie’s behalf, lest she end up with two useless daughters. Lottie sat, quietly thanking and nodding in the corner. She became so fixated on Uncle Milo changing her nappy that she almost missed the final planning.

A one week course from Monday 18th September. Greenwich School of Film. Accommodation and meals provided. Fee of £4,865 waived for Lottie. Of course.

Afterwards, Lottie’s mother washed the teacups and pressed her finger onto the biscuit plate to capture the crumbs and suck them up.

“You know how amazing this is?” she said.


“He’s one of the best.”

And he was. Milo Lorenzo. Film Director of 25 years. Winner of a Palm d’Or in 1998, an Oscar in 2001, and three Baftas in some other years that Lottie couldn’t quite remember.

“Don’t let me down, Lottie.”

“I… I’ll try not to.”


And so Uncle Milo felt obliged. And so Lottie walked into the minefield. Completely unprotected.