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

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

How long does a book take to cook?

The previous post – ‘First Day Nerves’ is connected to this one. Both come from the same story, which will probably be called APPLEHEART.

It will be a long time before I can call it a book, and, to be honest, it’s already been stewing for a good number of years. Checking back, I wrote the Appleheart excerpt in 2014, and First Day Nerves is from 2016. It’s now almost 2018 and I have the best part of four chapters. Four years to write four chapters!?

This is what I like to call a ‘slow-cook book’, and they’re often the best. I’ll keep adding to it, and all sorts of ideas will get mixed in along the way. It should make for lots of flavour, just like a long-simmered stew!

Appleheart

APPLEHEART

My mother said I would regret choosing art as a career. My father couldn’t care less what I chose. He was, however, worried about Ned and drama. If he’d ever seen any of Ned’s acting; if he’d bothered to go to the school plays or the drama group productions like I had, he wouldn’t have been so worried. My brother was a natural. We were still in nappies when he began to people his world with characters from his imagination. They occasionally took him over so that he became someone else entirely. Many times, over the years, his acting made me laugh so hard I was sick, or cry until I had a headache.

As kids, we would sit together in a tent pitched in the middle of the room we shared. It was like a wigwam, but one we’d made by haphazardly stitching old sheets together and stealing bamboo canes out of the garden. Only we two were allowed in. No family. No friends. Because, inside that tent, was our own little world. A stage for Ned, a studio for me. We would sit together for hours, forgetting empty tummies and full bladders and all the boring routines of life. I had my drawing pad and my coloured pencils on my knee. Ned told me all about the people in his world. I drew them for him.

“Draw an apple for Murphy. He loves apples more than anything.”

I drew an apple for Murphy and tilted the pad.

“No. He only likes red apples. Not green ones.”

I rubbed out the apple, picked up the red pencil, and started again. “What about Mia Emilia? What does she like best?”

“Mia Emilia doesn’t like anything anymore. She’s always sad. She has a face like this.” He pulled the saddest face I’d ever seen. “And she only ever talks in a whisper.” Continue reading

The Blackwood Crusade : OUT SOON-ISH!

What if the medieval folklore of old was based in truth? And what if just one girl was charged with the task of destroying it?

Adventure, swordfights, love, loss, faeries, battles… and magic. All in one book.

Blackwood Mockup Props2.png

Coming out in November in paperback and for Kindle. Suitable for ages 10 to 100.

To read more about Blackwood, head this way!

Odd Writers #5: Schiller’s Rotten Writing

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German poet (later called ‘the pop-star of his time’), Schiller believed in the magical power of apples. AND, after he died, his mate kept his skull on his desk. Beat that!

Goethe popped round to Schiller’s one day while he was out and decided to wait in his office for him to return. A strange smell pervaded the room, and Goethe prowled, his nose in the air, looking for the source. It was stronger as he approached Schiller’s desk. He neared, sniffing, but could see nothing to cause the smell. He frowned and sniffed again, tentatively pulling open the desk drawer. Continue reading

Me, Marie Antoinette and ‘The Moment’

me aged four.jpg

I remember we were at a friend’s house. I must have been about four. They had white blinds hanging in long strips at the windows, and I spent a long time pulling (‘Gently please, Jojo!”) at the plastic, beaded cord, twisting the strips open and closed. Letting the sunlight into the room in bright stripes across the beige carpet.

Then the TV came on. A children’s programme for us little ones to watch. We planted ourselves, cross-legged, on the carpet. The grown-ups were chatting, their existence stripped to knees and feet, hands holding steaming mugs of tea and reaching for biscuits. Faceless. Just background noise.

But on the screen… on the screen was a woman clothed in a dress of cream and gold that came out from her narrow hips and took over the whole corridor of a sumptuous palace. She was like a doll, with white hair piled up high and unmoving on the top of her head, red lips and a black spot painted on her lip. This, the narrator told us, was ‘Marry Ann-twan-ett’ Continue reading

A bit of fun with the Dark Lord!

This one was a homemade job created for a reluctant reader who was also a massive Star Wars fan! It caused another problem – he was no longer reluctant, but couldn’t read for laughing 🙂

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Continue reading

The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook: Tip #4

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‘When it Might be Time to Change your Curtains’ by Daisy May

Your own personal God of Curtain-Twitching should only provide advice on the subject of curtains. If he starts to interfere in other aspects of your life you should be wary and seek independent advice. In extreme circumstances it may be wise to change your curtains.

Standing back, I checked the mirror. I’d chosen a white. long-sleeved shirt with a conservatively-striped tank top over it, and some black cords. We always had to look smart for Gramps, Mum and I. He couldn’t abide scruffy dressing, coming from an era when people donned their best hat just to fetch the milk off the doorstep. I’d once worn jeans, and Gramps spent the entire visit looking me up and down and muttering under his breath. I wish I’d thought to tell Will. He’d probably have jeans on, and his hair would be all over the place.

I wound my own hair into a rough bun and clipped it up. With this outfit it made me look about forty. I pulled it out and stuck it in a ponytail instead. It was very hard to try and look good to both Gramps and Will at the same time. Maybe I could get away with clean trainers.

I don’t think so,” commented the god with a snort.

‘Since when are you such a fashion expert?’ I bit back, keeping my words carefully in my head. I wasn’t about to start conversing with my curtains out loud. That would be crazy.

Look at my multi-coloured spots. I am the king of fashion,” he said.

 


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

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)