Thin Time

Thin Time - children's fantasy, available on Kindle until 30th April 2015 at $0.99 or 99p
My first poetry collection, Kaleidoscope, published free on Kindle from the 1st to the 5th May!

Monday, 27 April 2015

W is for Writers' Weekend

....from my poetry book Kaleidoscope 

Writers’ Weekend - forgot to say this actually happened, exactly as described! At a writing course on the North East coast of England....

Cross country driving through grey sleet,
skies overcast, wet roads a black deserted ribbon,
fame spurred me on, what if I should meet
someone who’d recognise my skills that had been hidden?

There on the hill, behind high rusting gates,
thin wintery hedges, crunching gravel
sinister ivy walls, a frozen lake,
poor welcome after miles I’d had to travel.

I rang the bell, listening to the echoing silence
spreading across the cold wet hills
and waited on the step, stamped in the snow,
much more of this and I’d be very ill.

Silence... if no one came I’d freeze to death
and slithering along the icy paths through cheerless gloom
I peered through  unwashed windows, cold and wet,
a single electric bar glowed in a darkened room.

My hostess, tiring of the empty sweep of lawn,
discovered me and led me through a  hall where Mr. Pugh
among his poison vats would be at home,
‘Had I been here before, did I admire the view?’

‘A ghost appears where you are standing,
your room is on the topmost floor
there’s no disturbance on that landing,
three people have arrived, there’ll not be more.’

‘It is the time of year, the snow is falling,
sorry about the dreadful lack of heat.
Fuel costs go up, it really is appalling,
but there’s a coal fire in one room, do take a seat.’

Huddled by the fire we shut the door
the fuel in the bucket’s growing less.
Oliver like, I dared to ask for more
but, sad to say with just as much success.

Retiring for the night to white-washed cell
colder than sheep pen open to the stars,
I dressed in all I had pell-mell,
three jumpers, woolly socks, and scarves.

A sudden thought, the other rooms were empty,
switch on the light to keep the ghosts away.
Collect the quilts; there surely would be plenty.
The longest night turned slowly into day.

Our breath formed clouds at breakfast as we ate,
we rubbed our arms and clapped our hands together,
watching the food congealing on the plate,
and smiled politely at each other.

After two days, I felt that we could face
anything the army could put us through or worse.
Manoeuvres would be easy; we’d swim the frozen lake,
hardened by the rigours of the course.

What we learned I really can’t remember...

Sunday, 26 April 2015

V is for Village

...from Little Boy Good-for-Nothing and the Shongololo - my original African folktale for the very young, illustrated by me and six year old children from a local school

Chapter One - Where is the Rain-Cloud?
In a small thatched hut, in a far away village in Africa, there lived Little Boy Dakarai and his Grandmother.
Grandmother was worried. There had been no rain for days and days. She looked for the Rain-Cloud across the far Chizarira Hills. But all Grandmother could see was the hot scarlet sun digging his fingers in the dry, sandy soil.
‘If the rain does not hiss and burst on the Mealy-Meal-Pods in the vegetable patch, we shall go hungry,’ Grandmother said. ‘Dakarai,’ she said to Little Boy. ‘Go down to the vegetable patch and see if the Mealy-Meal-Pods are ready to eat.’
So Dakarai trotted along the sandy path to the vegetable patch. On the way he met some bigger boys carrying their hunting spears.

‘Hello, Dakarai,’ they said. ‘We’re going hunting, but you can’t come. You’re too small.  You must look after the vegetable patch. Little Boy Good-For-Nothing! Little Boy Good-For-Nothing!’ they shouted. They laughed at him and ran away.
‘I am not Good-For-Nothing,’ Dakarai said fiercely. ‘I sweep the floor and wash the food bowls for Grandmother.’
But he wished he could go hunting too.
      When he reached the vegetable patch, he heard a gruff voice.
‘‘One…two…three….four….that’s right….five…six….bother!’
It was his friend the Shongololo, the millipede with seed bright eyes. He was busy trying to count his feet, but he could never remember what number came after six.
He was so busy counting that he didn’t see Chapungu the eagle, high up in the sky, hunting for his dinner. Chapungu swooped down and snapped up the Shongololo in his beak.
‘Put me down!’ shouted the Shongololo.
‘Let go, let go!’ shouted brave Little Boy Dakarai. He clapped his hands and ran towards
the eagle with the cruel beak.
Chapungu dropped the Shongololo and flew away. The Shongololo fell onto his back in the soft sand, wriggling his feet in the air. Then he turned himself the right way up. ‘Yo
u saved my life, Dakarai, so I shall help you. Ugh! The Mealy-Meal-Pods are too tough to eat. Go to the Rain-Keeper, who lives beyond the Chizarira Hills,’ he said.
‘What must I do when I get there?’ asked Little Boy Dakarai.
‘You must ask the Rain-Keeper to bring the Rain-Cloud. Look for the Rain-Keeper’s hut beside the Zambezi River. Oh, and watch out for the Crocodiles!’ Then the Shongololo scuttled under a stone.

If We Were Having Coffee

 Weekend Coffee Share
Don't mind if you prefer decaf or another beverage, would be great to have company. Next week, all being well, my summerhouse should be in the garden, and given the weather, not too hot, not too cold - sounds like the Three Bears - it will be a lovely place to share.  First I'd want to know how your week has been. Then I would tell you that I'm thankful that the A to Z Challenge is almost at an end, and that soon there will be no excuse I can use as a reason for not finishing and publishing River Dark. After that, I would ask you if you would mind listening to to the first chapter of this sequel, as I'd love to hear what you think. 

Friday, 24 April 2015

Celebrate the Small Things Friday

Thinking of things to celebrate this week...

1. Well the A to Z is nearly complete, despite the struggle. 

2. After twenty years wanting my own summerhouse to use as an office,  it has at last been ordered. 

3. Having struggled to start from scratch with a neglected garden - the correct word would be jungle - I might have found a gardener at last. They seem to be as scarce as hens' teeth.

4. Reading a book about the way in which writing forms have changed since the 18th century and it is helping enormously with my own writing themes. 

5. The editing to my sequel, River Dark, is slowly moving ahead. I often despair that I will ever complete it. More on that later....  

U is for Uhtred

from First Wolf...

Strong, and wilful for his years, Rinan took no notice.  He reached the top of the ladder and made a grab for the walkway, wobbling dangerously.  I snatched at the back of his cloak, hauling him through the air, and I was dumping him beside me when I heard father bellow the call to arms.

Seizing Rinan’s hand, I hurried him along the platform so fast his feet hardly touched the planks, and he wriggled and tried to kick me.  It was then that my father flung the wolf’s head high into the air, and I saw it land with a soft thud on the far side of the newly dug earthworks, right in the path of Eorl Uhtred’s horse.
The piebald sidestepped, rolling its liquid eyes in fear.  The eorl cursed, savagely spinning the animal in a tight circle and bringing it to stand obedient and quivering before our gates.  Moments later the eorl’s household bodyguards reined in their lathered ponies beside him, their steaming mounts moving restlessly on the far side of the ditch.
They were near enough for me to see their scarlet armbands, worn over their leather tunics showing their rank, and their close fitting helmets.  Each man carried a shield painted with a snarling bear, the eorl’s emblem, and held a light throwing spear.  They were ready for battle, but they were small in number, and thinking we would easily defend our settlement against them, I heard shouting in the yard as my kinsfolk ran to defend the gates.
Our archers pushed and shoved to be first to climb the ladders. Now leaping onto the walkway, they raced towards me, their feet thundering in the hollow space beneath the planks.  Then jostling for position, they trained their weapons on Uhtred and his men, their bowstrings drawn, the iron tipped arrows ready to let fly.
I held tight to Rinan’s cloak, peered over the spiked tops of the palisade, and was startled to see Eorl Uhtred gripping the reins of his warhorse and staring up at me.  A long chainmail shirt protected his powerful body.  The beaked nose and cheek guards of his helmet covered his beardless, battle scarred face, and he tilted back his head to look defiantly at our archers’ goose-flighted arrows. 
Then lifting his sword, the blade flashed in the cold sunlight, and his black cloak billowed out behind him.  He looked like a sea eagle, hovering with spread wings in search of prey, and it was good to be with my kinsmen on the walkway, safe from the eorl’s sword arm.

‘Look well, Godwin,’ Uhtred shouted, his voice harsh above the tugging wind. ‘The blood of your hearth lord Leof is on this blade.  I killed him in fair fight – his land is now mine.  I am your new hearth lord.  Open the gates and pay your taxes to me, if you have wit enough to accept my protection to save your people.’

Thursday, 23 April 2015

T is for Tales

Fairy Tales                           ....from Kaleidoscope

she stares into the fire and weaves
castles, dragons, caves into stories
shutting out loneliness and bitter weather
remembers pages of well loved fairy tales, wishing
to be carried off to that land where things happen

and she is the princess, dazzling, beautiful
where the hot bellied dragon
gazes in awe at the sight of her

unable to gobble her up
wanting to be loved and take the hero’s place
and carry her off to his bed of emeralds, pearls
and other hoarded treasure

but knowing tradition on these occasions
she marries the prince, allows chaste kisses
for a place at the castle

years late, remembering the dragon
she sighs regret, wonders if he ever forgave her
and if another, gazing into embers on a winter’s night
made the right decision.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

S is for Sisters

from Thin Time.... in the Shropshire village of Tong, a bad tempered dog called Fymm, who is many centuries old, makes a mistake and chooses the wrong girl to be Task Bearer. Chased by gargoyles, Alice reaches the Green Lady’s cottage, receives the first of her three gifts, and learns that she must enter the Other World at Thin Time. Her task is to bring back the New Year seeds before midnight and prevent the world from dying. With her small stepbrother Thomas, Ratatosk the squirrel who can’t be trusted, and Fymm by her side, she sets out on her dangerous quest. Using the skipping rhyme password to enter the door into the Tree of Life, she travels into the Other World. With the help of the singing cockerel from Tong’s church tower, and armed only with a stone and a gargoyle’s shield, she must face the three terrible Sisters at the Well of Wyrd and the fury of Nidhogg the Snake-Dragon. But does she possess the one thing that will protect her – a loving heart? For without that, she will never be able to return to her own time, and the treasure, whatever it may be, will never be hers.

Fifteen - Knitting Frog Skins at the Well of Wyrd
The three sister’s clothes were twisted layers of dripping pondweed. Long ribbons of frogspawn hung round their wrinkled faces. They were knitting strips of wet frog skin on clacking fish-bone needles. I shuddered because the heaps of skins at their feet were wriggling and trying to crawl away.
 ‘The Three Sisters of the Well of Wyrd,’ whispered Fymm, settling beside me and pointing at the women sitting on the wall. ‘They are the Guardians of all the knowledge in the world. It is knowledge written in magic symbols on stones at the bottom of the well. Go on, Task Bearer. Speak to the sisters. Ask them to read the runes and to tell you where to find the seeds. Be quick, there can only be an hour or two left before midnight. Thin Time will soon be over.’
 ‘You ask them,’ I said angrily. ‘They are horrible. Why must it always be me?’
 Fymm growled under his breath and I backed away, trying to keep clear of his snapping teeth, and not looking where I was going, stumbled into the clearing.     
 The three sisters saw me, stopped knitting, and stared at me through strands of frogspawn hair. Their silvery, fish-scale skins glittered in the moonlight, and on the sides of their necks were gill slits that flapped as they breathed.
 They looked so alike it was impossible to tell one from another, and I stared at them in horror. There were bubbling watery sounds coming from their throats and they chanted, ‘Go away, go away, GO AWAY!Waving their strips of frog skin knitting at me, I saw the leathery skins on their needles lift their heads, their bulging frog throats croaking like kettledrums. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

R is for Recruiting Officer

Recruiting Officer           from my poetry book, Kaleidoscope  

You old devil, performing conjuring tricks
in the bleak December classroom.
You ham act the nativity, roll up your sleeves.
The ginger hairs on your arms glisten
under the naked bulb.

Your fists scoop out manure, cleansing the stable floor,
warm dung drips between your coarse fingers,
as your sour breath touches open faces.
You revel in their reaction, forming young minds,
creating an hypnotic state.

Your stoat to their frozen rabbit,
you teach them original sin,
tell them they shut the inn door, and weave
a glowing lantern slide before their astonished gaze,
with towering Magi bearing bitter gifts.

Lord of your chalk domain, exhausted by your
matinee performance now replete,
you close moist fleshy mouth, replace the lens cap
over thrusting tongue, and Pied Piper them
into a leafless playground.

Years later, standing in that empty classroom,
the stage of your many triumphs, you look at the rows of
iron-runner desks, breathing the fumes from the 
pot-bellied stove, and rummage in your bag of tricks.
Your hopes for your future, your religious faith, now gone, 
have you forgotten the Christian army you sent into battle?