Monthly Archives: September 2015

Want Tips from an Award-winning #Shortstory Author? #writing

Such insightful advice and comments. And she understands the thrill of even a small success in the context of many failures. I feel better already, thank you. My very first published story came out last week, sigh.

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The Queue-jumper – a microadventure

queueAs soon as the man walked in the door I had him down as a queue-jumper. Our branch of the bank gets really busy and as we sit with our tickets waiting for our number to appear above the tellers’ desks, queue-jumpers can be very frustrating and delay our own transactions. You can spend an hour sitting in a bank waiting to deposit some £ sterling or transfer some funds from your savings account.

We all looked on as he headed straight for the nearest teller, who was taking a deposit of a great pile of banknotes from a customer. Probably the weekend’s takings from a small business. It was Monday after all. The teller stopped as he was loading the notes into the counting machine, hand poised mid-air and clutching a wad of money.

The man, in blue Polo shirt and grubby grey trousers, said something to the teller and showed him a laminated card that had the Turkish flag on it. I don’t know what it was. Re-directing him to a teller position at the far end of the bank the teller then carried on loading his banknotes.  The counting machine chuntered on.

The man walked to the end of the office and spoke to a woman through the final teller window. She inspected the laminated card he offered her and then raised her voice and spoke to the other tellers in the office as they were serving their customers. Her question to them contained the word ‘calismak’, which is Turkish for ‘work’.

Each teller in turn shook their head and said no. The woman relayed that to the man and he turned slowly and headed for the door. His body language indicated humility and acceptance of the decision.

He wasn’t a queue-jumper. He was a middle-aged man with no work and therefore no money coming in. Today he was probably asking everywhere for work in this busy town. He was prepared to walk into a bank and be publicly humiliated in front of a dozen or so people, just so he could try to find a job. Any little job. Empty the bins, polish the floor, tidy someone’s garden, paint the front door.

I cursed myself for my snap judgement. I was wrong. I admired the man’s courage and my heart went out to him. I wished him success. He wasn’t after charity, just honest work.

Today’s microadventure taught me to think before passing judgement on another.

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Filed under adventure, bank, exploits, fiction, judgement, microadventure, queue, queue-jumper, short stories, short story, suspense, Turkey, Turkish, Uncategorized, work, writing

I want some Microadventures

bike on the beach

Alastair Humphreys, adventurer, author and motivational speaker has written a book about microadventures. I haven’t read it but I love the concept.

I don’t need big adventures but I do like excitement. I don’t like being in a rut or having no opportunity for spontaneity. I like exploration and quests.

I don’t think I can timetable a whole year of adventures as Alastair suggests, but I am going to write about some of my past and future journeys. And encourage my friends to come along with me. This blog is proving to be a bit of an adventure in that I don’t know which direction it’ll take me, but it’s both challenging and fun. And everyone needs that.

So I am going to plan some microadventures. Some of them will be writing exploits, that’s for sure.

And I am going to remember some past escapades that can be classified as microadventures and write about them, relive them. I’ve had loads of exciting, challenging, surprising experiences – not all of which I’m prepared to share – but Alastair’s enthusiasm and nudging has got me going.


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Now I’m ready for some writing

my new notebook2

This should spur me on to jot some stories and characters and plots this week. I love beautiful books to write in.

Thick cream pages and hundreds of them, mmm.

Watch this space…

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Enjoyed A Weekend Read – The Ghost Club, a story of ghosts by Kirsty Logan

Enjoyed listening to the podcast from For Books’ Sake’s web site.

Kirsty Logan writes with authority and imagination. What a neat, fast-paced story this Weekend Read is. I look forward to next weekend.

Thanks, ForBooksSake!

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‘The Summer Child’ is an interesting read today

Jansson’s prose is wondrous: it is clean, deliberate; an aesthetic so certain of itself it’s breathtaking (Daily Telegraph)

travelling lightI can’t improve on the DT’s crisp description of Tove Jansson’s beautiful writing. On my iPad I borrowed from Edinburgh City Libraries her collection of short stories Travelling Light. I am reading each one slowly and with appreciation for the philosophy behind it and the quality of the actual prose. I feel as if I am breathing pure oxygen as I read these works.

Tove Jansson was Finnish but she wrote this book in Swedish. It was highly acclaimed in its original language so it is doubly impressive that the translation into English manages to deliver the same power and clarity to the reader. Silvester Mazzarella deserves praise for his English version.

One of the stories, The Summer Child paints a picture of a city boy who comes to stay with a family which lives on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Elis, the boy, seems to have the personality of an alien as he fails to fit in with this warm and welcoming family. He causes friction and rifts and huge levels of frustration in the parents. The desire to know what happens next urges you on.

I had forgotten that I read Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book last year and I recognised the same freshness and intelligence in this short story collection before I remembered this extraordinary author.

oh, if I could write a tenth as well as this!

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Do my stories lack Suspense?

excited cats

When a story of mine fails to win a competition or be accepted for publication I try to work out why it wasn’t chosen. Of course, it might just be the wrong story in the wrong place but it’s always worth trying to give a story a makeover.

I say this because I gave one story a 90% makeover and it won a competition. Never mind that the previous draft was poorly written with mixed-up points of view (yes, I admit it, the judges were right).

Today I gave a ‘failed’ story a makeover and injected some of my internet-gathered suspense factors. There are some excellent writers’ web sites with tips tailored to all sorts of fiction inadequacies and I had selected 22 ideas on generating Suspense that I wanted to explore. I felt as if I was holding a bag of mixed sweets and was eager to try some.

The story is memoir and a bit sentimental so I added a measure of cruelty towards the protagonist. She was an interesting and convincing person anyway but she needed an impetus to push her story forward. I made her more feisty and I began to admire her spirit as she fought against her tormentor.

Then I added a subplot that fitted neatly around the existing tale. In addition to increasing suspense for the reader it provided a more satisfying ending, which echoed the scene I had set up at the beginning of the piece.

What I have to do now is shut it in a drawer and wait three weeks till it ferments. Then I’ll take it out and read it just to see if it’s rubbish or actually better than the previous draft. It’s exciting waiting for my own decision on the re-vamp in a few weeks.

And I still have my shopping list of 22 suspense-generating ideas waiting to be adapted and rolled out elsewhere.

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Filed under bank, fiction, judgement, microadventure, queue, queue-jumper, short stories, short story, suspense, Turkey, Turkish, work, writing

Character development from eavesdropping

This writing is not from Fidra, but from sunny Turkey.

I am eavesdropping and conjuring up characters from my foreigner’s position of eavesdropper. Somewhere close by a Turkish woman’s voice talks very fast with high emotion, and in my experience Turks rarely speak with emotion. This woman is not known to me. She does not live in the house from which the voices originate.

p510 143

Her voice is so loud I wonder if the woman could be deaf. She could also be angry or argumentative. Sometimes she laughs like a banshee, whatever that sounds like. Then she shouts at someone. While she has been a guest at my neighbour’s house the three guard dogs that live there are unusually silent. Even they are nonplussed and have given up their regular yelping and loud barks.

This morning while we ate a tranquil breakfast of toast and coffee in the shade on our cool marble terrace we could hear the woman getting into her stride.

Everyone lives outside in the summer time and when in the house people keep windows and doors open, every sound travelling easily through the warm air.

I try to guess her age – mature, I would say. I try to imagine what she is wearing – traditional Turkish country garb, wide trousers, colourful top with long sleeves, perhaps.

I haven’t yet heard any response from other residents of the house because their voices are nowhere near as thunderous as this woman’s. It is likely that she drowns them out. I know what they wear, I know their personalities. This woman’s role in the unseen drama is unusual.

This morning she caused us consternation. We were debating over coffee about the visitor and how unusual and noisy her presence was. We heard her droning in the background as we discussed her. Then suddenly, almost loud enough to justify calling the police, the woman let out an ear-splitting high-pitched scream. The scream was one I would associate with someone whose life is in jeopardy. Like in films. I couldn’t emit a noise like that myself.

I put down my coffee cup and looked at my husband. The tranquillity of this mountain village is legendary. Sometimes a flock of goats passes by with the odd bleat or maaar, and the occasional tractor chugs noisily down the rutted road to the field. But nobody ever screams or even shouts unless a chicken is about to be run over by a motor scooter.

The voice had penetrated some distance to reach our breakfast terrace. It came from across the road and from the far side of quite a tall house. Such is the clarity of the air and the tranquillity of the environment in this little village.

Human voices are rarely raised in anger here. But we have to let people conduct their own lives. We didn’t call the police and nothing further bothered us.

I can only remember one similar occasion  – about two years ago I heard a man yelling at another man in the dark. I assumed it was a father shouting at his son. I have no idea if that was accurate or not, but it fitted the level and emotion of the Turkish words. The speakers were located in a house some distance up the hill from here and across the main road. I heard every word, such is the clarity of the air and the peaceful nature of this neighbourhood.

Every so often during this exchange a woman’s voice would intervene with practised calmness, and I decided the mother was urging the father to desist in his tirade. Eventually it sounded as if the young man banged a door and left the house, the father hurled some insult after him and the mother reprimanded her husband for his untamed temper.

The motor bike that roared away down the hill seemed to fit the facts.

Of course this is total conjecture as my Turkish might buy me bread and milk or allow me to order a decent meal in a restaurant or buy a bus ticket to Antalya, but fast, loud, angry personal conversations are beyond my comprehension. It was the emotion and speed of the interaction that spurred me to draw these conclusions.

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Surprisingly impressed by Robert Galbraith

Sitting here in the hot Turkish sun I have surprised myself by enjoying the writing of J K Rowling in the Robert Galbraith novel ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ from 2013.  A friend pressed the book on to me, recommending it. And I find the quality of the writing delightful, the character development colourful and compelling. I want to know what happens next.

It’s easy to dismiss JKR as a writer of children’s books and I was very unimpressed with ‘The Casual Vacancy’, which I found over-complex and didn’t like any of the multitude of characters. But this one is a gem. And I’m not even a crime book reader.

I shall be trawling the online Edinburgh library shelves for more crime, I think, from Robert Galbraith while I am reading for the next few weeks in Turkey.

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Oh, I do love Sredni Vashtar!

Am I vengeful, evil, violent, nasty? Hmmm, I  must be…


Conradin was ten years old, and the doctor had pronounced his professional opinion that the boy would not live another five years. The doctor was silky and effete, and counted for little, but his opinion was endorsed by Mrs. De Ropp, who counted for nearly everything. Mrs. De Ropp was Conradin’s cousin and guardian, and in his eyes she represented those three-fifths of the world that are necessary and disagreeable and real; the other two-fifths, in perpetual antagonism to the foregoing, were summed up in himself and his imagination. One of these days Conradin supposed he would succumb to the mastering pressure of wearisome necessary things—such as illnesses and coddling restrictions and drawn-out dulness. Without his imagination, which was rampant under the spur of loneliness, he would have succumbed long ago.

Mrs. De Ropp would never, in her honestest moments, have confessed to herself that she disliked Conradin, though she might have been dimly aware that thwarting him “for his good” was a duty which she did not find particularly irksome. Conradin hated her with a desperate sincerity which he was perfectly able to mask. Such few pleasures as he could contrive for himself gained an added relish from the likelihood that they would be displeasing to his guardian, and from the realm of his imagination she was locked out—an unclean thing, which should find no entrance.

In the dull, cheerless garden, overlooked by so many windows that were ready to open with a message not to do this or that, or a reminder that medicines were due, he found little attraction. The few fruit-trees that it contained were set jealously apart from his plucking, as though they were rare specimens of their kind blooming in an arid waste; it would probably have been difficult to find a market-gardener who would have offered ten shillings for their entire yearly produce. In a forgotten corner, however, almost hidden behind a dismal shrubbery, was a disused tool-shed of respectable proportions, and within its walls Conradin found a haven, something that took on the varying aspects of a playroom and a cathedral. He had peopled it with a legion of familiar phantoms, evoked partly from fragments of history and partly from his own brain, but it also boasted two inmates of flesh and blood. In one corner lived a ragged-plumaged Houdan hen, on which the boy lavished an affection that had scarcely another outlet. Further back in the gloom stood a large hutch, divided into two compartments, one of which was fronted with close iron bars. This was the abode of a large polecat-ferret, which a friendly butcher-boy had once smuggled, cage and all, into its present quarters, in exchange for a long-secreted hoard of small silver. Conradin was dreadfully afraid of the lithe, sharp-fanged beast, but it was his most treasured possession. Its very presence in the tool-shed was a secret and fearful joy, to be kept scrupulously from the knowledge of the Woman, as he privately dubbed his cousin. And one day, out of Heaven knows what material, he spun the beast a wonderful name, and from that moment it grew into a god and a religion. The Woman indulged in religion once a week at a church near by, and took Conradin with her, but to him the church service was an alien rite in the House of Rimmon. Every Thursday, in the dim and musty silence of the tool-shed, he worshipped with mystic and elaborate ceremonial before the wooden hutch where dwelt Sredni Vashtar, the great ferret. Red flowers in their season and scarlet berries in the winter-time were offered at his shrine, for he was a god who laid some special stress on the fierce impatient side of things, as opposed to the Woman’s religion, which, as far as Conradin could observe, went to great lengths in the contrary direction. And on great festivals powdered nutmeg was strewn in front of his hutch, an important feature of the offering being that the nutmeg had to be stolen. These festivals were of irregular occurrence, and were chiefly appointed to celebrate some passing event. On one occasion, when Mrs. De Ropp suffered from acute toothache for three days, Conradin kept up the festival during the entire three days, and almost succeeded in persuading himself that Sredni Vashtar was personally responsible for the toothache. If the malady had lasted for another day the supply of nutmeg would have given out.

The Houdan hen was never drawn into the cult of Sredni Vashtar. Conradin had long ago settled that she was an Anabaptist. He did not pretend to have the remotest knowledge as to what an Anabaptist was, but he privately hoped that it was dashing and not very respectable. Mrs. De Ropp was the ground plan on which he based and detested all respectability.

After a while Conradin’s absorption in the tool-shed began to attract the notice of his guardian. “It is not good for him to be pottering down there in all weathers,” she promptly decided, and at breakfast one morning she announced that the Houdan hen had been sold and taken away overnight. With her short-sighted eyes she peered at Conradin, waiting for an outbreak of rage and sorrow, which she was ready to rebuke with a flow of excellent precepts and reasoning. But Conradin said nothing: there was nothing to be said. Something perhaps in his white set face gave her a momentary qualm, for at tea that afternoon there was toast on the table, a delicacy which she usually banned on the ground that it was bad for him; also because the making of it “gave trouble,” a deadly offence in the middle-class feminine eye.

“I thought you liked toast,” she exclaimed, with an injured air, observing that he did not touch it.

“Sometimes,” said Conradin.

In the shed that evening there was an innovation in the worship of the hutch-god. Conradin had been wont to chant his praises, tonight be asked a boon.

“Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.”

The thing was not specified. As Sredni Vashtar was a god he must be supposed to know. And choking back a sob as he looked at that other empty comer, Conradin went back to the world he so hated.

And every night, in the welcome darkness of his bedroom, and every evening in the dusk of the tool-shed, Conradin’s bitter litany went up: “Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.”

Mrs. De Ropp noticed that the visits to the shed did not cease, and one day she made a further journey of inspection.

“What are you keeping in that locked hutch?” she asked. “I believe it’s guinea-pigs. I’ll have them all cleared away.”

Conradin shut his lips tight, but the Woman ransacked his bedroom till she found the carefully hidden key, and forthwith marched down to the shed to complete her discovery. It was a cold afternoon, and Conradin had been bidden to keep to the house. From the furthest window of the dining-room the door of the shed could just be seen beyond the corner of the shrubbery, and there Conradin stationed himself. He saw the Woman enter, and then be imagined her opening the door of the sacred hutch and peering down with her short-sighted eyes into the thick straw bed where his god lay hidden. Perhaps she would prod at the straw in her clumsy impatience. And Conradin fervently breathed his prayer for the last time. But he knew as he prayed that he did not believe. He knew that the Woman would come out presently with that pursed smile he loathed so well on her face, and that in an hour or two the gardener would carry away his wonderful god, a god no longer, but a simple brown ferret in a hutch. And he knew that the Woman would triumph always as she triumphed now, and that he would grow ever more sickly under her pestering and domineering and superior wisdom, till one day nothing would matter much more with him, and the doctor would be proved right. And in the sting and misery of his defeat, he began to chant loudly and defiantly the hymn of his threatened idol:

Sredni Vashtar went forth,
His thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white.   
His enemies called for peace, but he brought them death.   
Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful.

And then of a sudden he stopped his chanting and drew closer to the window-pane. The door of the shed still stood ajar as it had been left, and the minutes were slipping by. They were long minutes, but they slipped by nevertheless. He watched the starlings running and flying in little parties across the lawn; he counted them over and over again, with one eye always on that swinging door. A sour-faced maid came in to lay the table for tea, and still Conradin stood and waited and watched. Hope had crept by inches into his heart, and now a look of triumph began to blaze in his eyes that had only known the wistful patience of defeat. Under his breath, with a furtive exultation, he began once again the pæan of victory and devastation. And presently his eyes were rewarded: out through that doorway came a long, low, yellow-and-brown beast, with eyes a-blink at the waning daylight, and dark wet stains around the fur of jaws and throat. Conradin dropped on his knees. The great polecat-ferret made its way down to a small brook at the foot of the garden, drank for a moment, then crossed a little plank bridge and was lost to sight in the bushes. Such was the passing of Sredni Vashtar.

“Tea is ready,” said the sour-faced maid; “where is the mistress?” “She went down to the shed some time ago,” said Conradin. And while the maid went to summon her mistress to tea, Conradin fished a toasting-fork out of the sideboard drawer and proceeded to toast himself a piece of bread. And during the toasting of it and the buttering of it with much butter and the slow enjoyment of eating it, Conradin listened to the noises and silences which fell in quick spasms beyond the dining-room door. The loud foolish screaming of the maid, the answering chorus of wondering ejaculations from the kitchen region, the scuttering footsteps and hurried embassies for outside help, and then, after a lull, the scared sobbings and the shuffling tread of those who bore a heavy burden into the house.

“Whoever will break it to the poor child? I couldn’t for the life of me!” exclaimed a shrill voice. And while they debated the matter among themselves, Conradin made himself another piece of toast.

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