A Reading Life

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I’ve been interested in the readings of ‘Why Women Read Fiction’ by Helen Taylor, being read on BBC’s Radio 4. A recent episode explored women’s favourite childhood novels, giving clues as to why the books instilled a lifelong passion for fiction reading.

Children’s books are glorious. I have a collection of my own [the only paper books I tend to want, these days]. Some of the precious treasures on my shelves, tucked away in the bedroom reserved for small grandchildren are saved from my childhood, notably a beautiful copy of ‘The Wind in the Willows’ with stunning colour plate illustrations I saved up my pocket money to buy, the leather-bound copy of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ that I discovered nestling on the end of my bed one Christmas morning and the romantic ‘The Glass Slipper’ by Eleanor Farjeon that I read and re-read with all the others. I also have an age-spotted copy of ‘Struwwelpeter’, a book of rhyming cautionary tales I found in a second hand bookshop and had to buy because it had held a horrific fascination for me when I attended my first school at 4 years old and I spotted it on the shelves in our small, village classroom.

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I have described before how I became fixated on some books after hearing them read on the radio [The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one]. As a child, along with my two brothers we read weekly comics and were familiar with the characters in ‘Beano’, ‘Dandy’ etc. We couldn’t imagine a weekend without Dennis the Menace or Minnie the Minx.

Offspring 1 and 2 loved books, although Offspring 2 [female] was the more voracious, famously in our family history for being fleeced by Offspring 1 [male] 20 pence each time she wished to borrow a book from his shelves. I was never sure whether to be horrified at the cavalier treatment of his younger sister or impressed by his early entrepreneurial skills…

Research shows that women read far more fiction than men and that the fiction that this minority of men do read is mainly by male writers. Do those men who dislike fiction feel it to be less valuable in some way? Or is it less manly to waste time in such a frivolous pastime as fiction? Myself I believe there is as much to be learned from reading [good] fiction as anything else.

I know for sure there are men’s book clubs out there, although few and far between. My own book club is all female. When we meet up [large enough in number for it to be tricky to get a word in!] it must seem daunting to other users of the hotel bar we inhabit. Our chatter is animated, enthusiastic, argumentative, often rowdy in the way that all female groups can be. The discussion ranges from what we’ve read to politics, relationships, childhood, environment, psychology and everything in between but is never dull. There is no ‘ban’ on male members, but I wonder how the dynamic would change if there were some?

In the meantime I have a good book to get on with. It’s ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens [soon to be released as a movie].

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How was it for You?

January is my least favourite month-cold, dark and seemingly interminable. Many like to begin the month with a party. Here’s a story I wrote years ago about a New Year’s party that did not go according to plan…

The Rescue Party
Brian Meadon peers out into the darkness and is forced to admit a grudging fascination for the way the snowflakes are looming out of the sky and settling in an ominous and ever growing heap on his car’s windscreen. His initial feelings of hot anger and frustration with the car’s failings have ebbed away to be replaced with somewhat colder resignation. There is still just enough light outside to make out the writing on a road sign beyond his lay-by. ‘Stoodley Interchange’, it asserts, taunting Brian with confident superiority, even though accumulations of snow are creeping up its legs.
Settling back into his driving seat once more, Brian decides to give his phone another go. He is pleased with the way he’d remembered to charge up the battery, a task he’d frequently been accused of neglecting by his ex-wife. This small celebration of competence affords him a slight, smug smile until yet again ‘no signal’ appears on the screen in an impudent gesture almost as if it were conspiring with the road sign to humiliate him. At least the phone’s tiny screen casts a little light.
Brian shivers. He attempts to recall the advice being provided by experts on this morning’s Beeb’s news programme but it had been burbling away as a background to packing. If he’d not been carried away with optimistic anticipation of the evening revelries he might have paid more close attention to the weather warnings and in particular to dire predictions concerning road travel. What was one meant to do? Firstly, you should not travel at all unless your journey is absolutely vital. ‘Well’, thinks Brian, ‘It is vital to my wellbeing to have a bit of fun, so I’ve covered that one’. Secondly, you should ensure that loved ones know your whereabouts and your travel plans. Brian feels uneasy about this one, since although he has made Jackie, his ex aware that he has been invited to a ‘country house New Year festivity’ somewhere in Berkshire he had not been motivated so much by a need for self preservation, more a desire to demonstrate what a popular, well-connected and upwardly mobile fellow he has become since they split up. ‘Neither is she a loved one!’ he speaks aloud into the silent phone. He has not brought a shovel or a torch, but these would be of no assistance as the car is going nowhere, snow or not. A flask of coffee, however and a warm blanket, he has to admit, would have been very welcome by now.
An exploratory foray into his overnight bag yields little of any use to Brian except for a towel, which he drapes around his shoulders like a cape. He has also brought some pajamas which, whilst the additional layer would be beneficial, he feels reluctant to don in case of rescue. After deliberating he decides to bear them in mind as emergency clothing supplies. His feet are by far the most pressing problem, having become totally numb inside his shoes so that he compelled to scrunch his toes up periodically in attempt to regain some feeling. Should he, perhaps break into the bottle of wine he brought along as a contribution to the New Year do? He thinks not, for now; best to keep something in reserve in case, Heaven forbid, the situation worsens.
Another glance at the phone reveals the time to be 8.57pm, and forty five minutes since the last vehicle passed by. Brian realizes with a grimace that his careful calculation of timing in order to arrive not too early and not too late will now be academic. His arrival will now be, at best, late. What will the reception be like if, and when, he arrives? Misgivings flutter through his digestive system like tipsy hens and peck away at his confidence. Rob and Shelley are people he met almost a year ago and spent one week with, when comradeship was enhanced by the thrills and spills of the ski slopes. But they were charming, friendly and fun, seemed to really like having him around, have kept up with emails. The invitation had been issued with genuine warmth and re-issued as a result of his last email enquiry as to whether the party was going ahead.
Brian decides that he can utilize more of his clothing resources if he curls up on the rear seat. The time has come to employ the services of his pajamas-which he acknowledges he only brought as an afterthought, thus freeing up his towel as a foot-wrapping. The achievement of all this takes some time and energy, resulting in the opening of the wine, thankfully of the screw topped variety. He lifts his head up enough to swallow a mouthful and then shudders as a yawn escapes him. He wonders what is happening at the party now and imagines he is there, glass in hand, chatting up a woman, asking her to dance, getting close, feeling the rhythm, moving his feet, becoming warm, hot, sweating, thumping.
Thumping! Brian starts awake, wild eyed, dropping the wine bottle into his overnight bag, an intense, dazzling light in his face and an urgent thumping on the window. ‘Just a minute!’ he tries to shout, managing a feeble croak. He fumbles with frozen fingers to open the rear door which eventually opens with a gasping crack, having been yanked from the outside. A large, unearthly figure swathed in black is bending in to scrutinize him, playing a flashlight over the interior of the car. For a fleeting, delirious moment Brian believes he has expired; that this horrific apparition has materialized in the afterlife to exact retribution for his earthly sins.
“Good evening sir. Are you alright?”
Speechless, Brian feels an ignominious, hot welling of tears behind his eyes as he struggles to get a grip on his emotions at being found. Minutes later he is sitting in the police land rover clutching a hot cup of tea while the officer calls the AA number he has given him.
“Rescue vehicle is on its way sir,” the policeman tells him. The dashboard clock is showing 10.48pm. Flooded with a surge of optimism, Brian grasps that he has not missed the entire party, because it is a New Year’s celebration, and the nature of New Year’s parties is to extend up to, and indeed well beyond midnight. He pictures himself arriving at Rob and Shelley’s, hearing raucous laughter and the thudding beat of loud music, windows all lit and pulsating figures gyrating within. He will apologize for his lateness, explain his predicament, present the remnants of the wine, be hailed as a hero, exclaimed over, pressed with drinks and nibbles, surrounded by sympathetic, admiring women.
Whilst it takes longer than Brian has anticipated for the AA man to attach the defective car to the breakdown truck he calculates that he will still get to the party in plenty of time.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather go home sir? You won’t be the only person not attending, I’m sure, then there’s the car. You’ll have that to deal with. How will you get it back?”
“No! These friends of mine, they’re almost family! They’ll be disappointed if I don’t turn up, and Rob’ll help with the car tomorrow. He knows loads about electrics.”
“How about calling them, though, sir? Just to be sure?”
“I doubt if they’d hear it!” Brian chuckles. “No, let’s just carry on and get there. It’ll be fine.”
They lapse into a silence burdened with the AA man’s skepticism.
It is 11.52pm when they pull in to the entrance to the lane leading to ‘The Orchard’.
“I’m going to have to leave the car here, sir. I don’t want to be going up there and not be able to maneuver or turn the rig round.”
“No problem! We can sort it out tomorrow. As I said, Rob will know what to do.”
Once the offending car has been detached from the truck the AA man is as eager for departure as Brian is for merriment. Brian pumps his hand, more in a desire for him to disappear than in gratitude, staying only briefly to wave as the truck rumbles away. Having stuffed his pajamas back into the overnight bag he sets off round the bend towards ‘The Orchard’.
It has stopped snowing. Against the inky sky there is the silhouette of a house, but as yet no sound or hint of light. He walks on to find a gate, more easily visible now that his eyes are accustomed to darkness, unlatches it and continues up a path to the front door. He stops to listen, straining to hear a hint of music or a voice, gazing at the windows for some chink of light, any sign of activity or, as a frisson of anxiety begins to insinuate itself, an indication of occupation. There is a small click. Brian is instantly illuminated by the security light, setting off a tirade of furious yapping from the bowels of the house. ‘Strange’, he muses ‘that they never mentioned owning a dog’. He procrastinates on the doorstep in a doldrum of indecision. It is clear even to him that there is no party taking place. The unnerving idea that this may be the wrong house fills him with dread, since he has waved off the kindly AA man to whom he’d exaggerated the description of his acquaintances as ‘almost family’. It is now twelve twenty one am and he is freezing.
Faced with the choice of once more donning his pajamas and towel and sleeping on the back seat of his car or rousing the inhabitants of this house, whoever they may be, Brian opts for throwing himself on the mercy of the householders even if they are strangers. At the sound of the doorbell the yapping acquires new vigor and he feels both anxious and relieved as an interior light is switched on and he hears a muffled voice. There is a momentary hiatus while locks and chain are undone then the door is opened a little to reveal part of a pajama-clad body topped by a pale, wary face. The face speaks.
“Yes?”
Brian feels weak with gratitude to some unformulated source that it is Rob who has answered the door, albeit not the party-animal Rob he’d envisioned, the ‘life-and-soul’ Rob of the pistes. Nevertheless this suspicious, guarded individual is recognizable as Rob.
“Hello Rob. Happy New Year!”
He proffers the half bottle of wine, affecting a merry grin in the hope that his teeth are not chattering too much. The distrustful figure in the doorway peers further out at him, blinking until recognition dawns.
“Oh it’s um..”
“Brian. From skiing! You know. Last February”
“Brian. Yes. Brian. From skiing.”
There is an interval during which Brian lowers the wine bottle to his side and Rob continues to stand in the small gap he has allowed between the door and the frame and contemplate the visitor. Somewhere in the background the yapping continues apace.
“What did you want Brian?”
Brian swallows. His lips have become dry and numb, his voice a timorous squeak.
“The party. The New Year’s do.”
“Party?” Rob’s eyes widen as he stares at him. The moment is interrupted by a woman’s voice.
“What’s going on? Who is it Rob?” and Shelley appears, swathed in a white toweling bathrobe and a bewildered expression. Rob half turns to speak over his shoulder.
“It’s Brian. From skiing. He’s come for a party, apparently.”
It is Shelley’s turn to squint at him, looking closely from behind Rob’s shoulder. Brian dangles the wine bottle, nervous snicker hovering on his lips. Shelley appears to rally, declaring,
“Well we can’t all stand here letting cold into the house. You’d better come in, er, Brian.”
He steps over the threshold, still clutching the wine bottle and continuing to sport what he hopes is his most affable and charming smile despite the ambiguous welcome.
“I seem to have got you up, don’t I? Was the party cancelled at the last minute? Only I’ve got a slight problem with my car. The recovery vehicle has had to leave it at the end of your driveway. I can probably get it moved tomorrow. Do you think there’ll be any taxis tonight?”
Their confused frowns lead him to pause as he glances from one to the other.

Fifteen minutes later he is plumping up a cushion on the sofa in their lounge and unzipping the side of a threadbare sleeping bag that is most likely a relic of Rob’s past travels. At last the dog has lapsed into merciful silence. He takes a sip of the tea he’s been given and moves stealthily to the living room door, the better to hear what is being shouted in the kitchen.
“What the Hell were you playing at, inviting that bloke here?” Rob’s anger has broken out now that he is no longer in the room with Brian.
“We were all pissed, Rob, if you recall and we came up with the idea of getting together at New Year. He wasn’t asked specifically. He was just there. He was always hanging around. Don’t you remember? We couldn’t shake him off; odious little man! We must have overlooked him when we decided to cancel.”
Brian listens in for a few more minutes until the recriminations and accusations begin to be repeated, then he pads quietly back to the sofa to insinuate himself into the moth-eaten sleeping bag. He lifts the remnants of the wine to his lips, whispering ‘Happy New Year’ before knocking it back in two mouthfuls. In the morning he will have to phone up and get his car taken home and with luck, scrounge a lift for himself. Once he is home he will ring Jackie. If she is feeling magnanimous he might get invited round there, especially if he says he’d like to see the kids on New Year’s Day. She might ask about the party. He will tell her all the details. How the champagne flowed like water, the house was a mansion lavishly decked out, the women gorgeous. He will name drop a few minor celebrities and hints about not sleeping alone. Yes. She will be impressed. The bickering voices seem further away now. Brian sighs. The bottle slips from his hand on to the carpet where it leaves a blood red dribble. A gentle snore escapes him. ‘Happy New Year’. Well it didn’t turn out so bad.

The Power of the Written Word

So 2019 is grinding towards an end, and what a complex, mangled year it has been for us, here in the UK.

On our small island with its natural water barrier between us and the world, a civil war of words has raged since 2016, over whether we should pull up the drawbridge to our sea moat and withdraw into our brittle little shell or continue to relate with our nearest neighbours in the same convivial way we’ve enjoyed for 50 years.

I’m disconsolate to say to my overseas readers, not only that the drawbridge fans have won the war of words, but that all of we ordinary citizens, those of us who don’t have huge investments squirrelled away or are not hedge fund managers, who are not the fabulously rich elite and right wing newspaper owners, we have all lost.

I can’t dwell for too long on an issue which has been divisive enough to make me sick at heart. Instead I turn for comfort to my own community and to the groups which provide solace, friendship and distraction in these gloomy times.

While I have only been a member of my current book club for about a year, the members feel like old friends already, with their lively, cheerful discussions and their enthusiasm for reading and sharing views. During the evening we spent enjoying a Christmas meal I discovered I am the oldest in the group [by 4 days!], although I’ve never felt myself to be a different generation. I love the range of ages and stages of life. Members relate to the books differently depending on these stages, which provides a wealth of varied insights. The group has grown so much that numbers have had to be regulated!

In contrast, my writing group, the wonderful Spokes, has kept going for years with fluctuating numbers, on occasions dipping to three of us, the original three. We’ve moved venue several times and seen writers come and go, some getting published, some moving to new areas, others giving up their writing journey. But new members always turn up, currently a disparate but interesting set of characters with very different levels of expertise to bring to our group. People have different reasons for attending a group; perhaps writing is an outlet for them, perhaps they are serious about pursuing writing as a career, or perhaps the feeling of belonging and being valued is all they need.

We are fortunate, these days to be housed in our wonderful, local library, a facility denied to many since austerity crept around the country pruning services to the ground. If you are still lucky enough to live near a functioning library, please use it! There are few greater treasures than books, even in this digital age.

So at this point, I wish you-readers from all around the world, all faiths or none, all nationalities, a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

 

Fiction Month. Extract 4.

      In this, the last extract of my new novel, ’til It’s Gone’, a sea captain, Hooper is taking the undercover researcher, Uzza to the poisoned ‘Wasteland’ to research a disease. During the voyage Hooper becomes fascinated by the sight of Uzza writing with pen and paper…

After dinner Hooper went up on deck to check that the mast and rigging were secure and to scan the horizon and coast manually, a task which instrumentation had replaced but which she continued to undertake herself as a safety measure. When she returned Uzza was again writing in a small book, an activity which fascinated the mariner as she had seldom seen anyone using a pen and paper except in footage from history lessons as a child.
“Why do you write” she asked her passenger, “when technology has replaced manual writing?”
Uzza finished the line she was writing and looked up. “Our ancestors would consider it a paradox, but paper has become the means of messaging that is most secret. Since communication became restricted to PAM, broadcast, V-meet and voice-technology there is no other secure way to record data, observations and conversation. Think about it. Surveillance has increased beyond calculation in our lifetimes. Here at sea we can perhaps enjoy a relative degree of privacy where a signal may not reach but on inhabited land there is no such luxury. Life for most is lived under a scrutiny so ubiquitous it is akin to living under a microscope. Paper can only be seen by the person who has it. Paper can be destroyed.”
“Where did you learn it?”
“I taught myself to write from watching history footage. It is not so difficult, although of course it is laborious in comparison to voice recording!” She bent her head to the notebook, signalling an end to the conversation and continued to make lines of marks on the paper with her pen.

In another day they were far enough north to need to make preparations for disembarkation. Hooper stood Fulmar out from the shore, far enough to be free of the poison zone but near enough to be able to get Uzza dressed and masked for her expedition. She would need to don the protective gear and wait outside while the yacht pulled in. Hooper explained how she would stand Fulmar as close as possible to the remains of the jetty using the small bio-motor, giving the woman as much of a chance as she could to step up on to it.
“But it has not been maintained” she advised her, “So you must be very careful to tread on the firmest parts. If you fall into the water it will be certain death and I cannot save you. The water will poison you in minutes, your skin, your lungs, your…”
“Yes, yes I realise, thank you.” Uzza frowned in irritation, anxious to be getting on with her project. She had a small bag containing vials which she intended to use to collect samples. She peered out at the shoreline. “What is that, Hooper? Is a factory of some kind?” She pointed to an enormous structure consisting of once tall, grey chimneys, crumbling warehouses and the skeletal remains of high scaffolding.
“It is the ruins of an old fossil fuel processing plant” she told her. “They used to call them refineries. The oil would be piped from the wells across the land to the coast then prepared for use before being shipped on flat vessels they called tankers, which then used vast quantities of the fuel to transport it. It seems a nonsensical process to us now, but it was all they knew.

This is the final sample of ‘Til It’s Gone’. Any feedback comments are appreciated. Updates on publication will be posted on ‘Anecdotage’. [Normal service resumes next week!]

Fiction Month. Novel Extract 3

  In Extract Three of my new novel, ‘Til It’s Gone’ Grandfather, Hugh Conway has opted for travel to the solar fields of the African desert rather than euthanasia. He has forged a bond with Ahmed, the African superintendant of the scheme. Here, Ahmed takes Hugh to visit the solar fields and they discuss the state of the world as they travel:
Ahmed was taking Hugh out to visit a solar farm, a two-hour journey by solar powered vehicle across the desert. It was strange, Hugh considered that the desert he’d first seen and thought so uninteresting, so devoid of features he now realised was as varied and fascinating as any landscape in the world. The vista changed from rocky outcrops in myriad colours sprouting from undulating sands to boulder-strewn plains stretching to the horizon, or sumptuous, curving dunes, silky smooth at a distance, the sand shifting visibly on occasions.
Ahmed was a comfortable travel companion, sensing when Hugh needed silence to appreciate the sights and occupying him with conversation or information when time lagged. The two had become friends, finding they had much in common despite their disparate cultures. Hugh felt fortunate to have been accommodated in Ahmed’s own village and whilst the other two elders, Anders and Peter, were pleasant enough he enjoyed the challenging discussions he had when Ahmed dropped by for tea or when they sat together at the edge of the village to watch the sunset-an event he never tired of seeing.
To an extent he was embarrassed, that he was learning more than he was imparting, though when he expressed this his friend disagreed.
“No, no, no my friend! There is no real distinction between teaching and learning. They are two points on the same circle, are they not? What better way to learn than to teach? And what better way to teach than to be constantly striving for understanding?” Ahmed was an optimist by nature as well as by religion. He challenged Hugh’s view of the world as doomed.
“Why would you think this?” he demanded, “Since the beginning of mankind people have adapted, learned, made the best of what they had. This is why mankind has endured. And to be adaptable is to be optimistic. When your road is blocked you try another pathway. When he needed to eat and feed his family ancient man-made tools to make it easier and learned how to grow food. When he was cold, he began to make clothes. Other ancient species did not survive. Perhaps they could not adapt or were not optimistic enough to try!”
Hugh protested. “But the poisoning and exploitation of Earth’s resources has itself been wrought by mankind. He has orchestrated his own downfall!”
Ahmed shook his head. “Not so, friend Hugh. It is a mere chapter in our history. Men will put the poison to some use, will find alternative resources. It happens already! What did you have too much of, back in your homeland? What was a surplus, a problem to be eradicated?”
Hugh did not hesitate. “Water! Water rising and water falling. Too much, always. Leeching the land of nutrients and forcing people from their homes.”
His friend nodded. “And yet here, as you see we have none of our own at all. We could equally say our problem is sun. We have too much. This is a paradox, is it not?” He laughed, throwing his head back at the clear blue sky. “Between us we have found the solution, your people and mine. We provide your power. You provide our water. Perfect, is it not?”
Hugh grimaced. “It isn’t much of a deal. Our water is poisoned with acid. Even rainwater can no longer be used untreated for irrigation or anything else. Then we create more pollution cleansing it for our own use.”
“Hugh! See here, we have no shortage of a power source. It never fails. And it is all we need to purify your water. You pipe it over. We clean it. Problem solved.”
When they were within half an hour of the solar farm Hugh was given a visor to wear to avoid glare damage to his eyes, his protest about deteriorating eyesight overruled. “No, no-we have use of your eyes my friend.”
In the distance a pinpoint of white light hovered near the horizon, expanding as they drew nearer. The extent of the solar field took his breath away. It was vast, stretching across the desert and disappearing into the earth’s curve; a silent, recumbent country of plates, as if the entire desert had been tiled over. It was unfenced, unguarded, unpatrolled. Ahmed shrugged. “The desert is its own defence,” he explained.
They travelled down a passageway between the plates, like the corridors between the polytunnels at Earthsend, until they came to some low, white buildings in the same style as his village house. A single, modest sign by the road was all there was to say that it was the property of SOL, the energy giant.
Ahmed turned to Hugh as they drove past the sign and pulled up outside the building. “Did you know, Hugh that SOL now owns and runs installations in the deserts of America, Australia and Europe? It is a powerful world force. I wonder what our African predecessors would think of that? Only a hundred years ago the African continent was on its knees, begging the rest of the world for help. It was decimated by corruption, wars, misguided ideology, famine, cruelty. Now it has become a world energy superpower, looked up to by everyone.”
Hugh experienced a wave of despondency, as if a heavy weight had been hung around his neck. He’d expected to freed of concepts such as ‘energy superpowers’ by relocating here. It was a land of purity, of high ideals; an egalitarian society that valued individuals and revered the elderly, wasn’t it?…

Further extracts from ‘Til It’s Gone’ can be read in this November’s posts. Comments and feedback will be much appreciated. Thank you in anticipation…

Fiction Month. Extract 1

If it’s November it’s Fiction Month on ‘Anecdotage’. This is the time I usually post short, new fiction stories. In a departure from short stories, however this year I’m posting some extracts from my new novel, ‘Til It’s Gone’, a work of speculative fiction telling the tale of a late 21st century Welsh farming family battling climate change, economic difficulties, sinister takeovers and a brutal killing within the boundaries of their property. This week’s post is part of the prologue…

                                                                         The Kill
The storm gathers for four days before keeping its promise, loosening a cacophony of thunder and howling winds and a deluge.
In the chaos, vessels buck and rage against their moorings. Dwellings shudder and creak in their weaknesses. People stay in, cowering, sheltering, whatever damage ensues. The hillside above the village becomes a furious torrent; a tumbling waterfall then a landslide as the soil gives way and a gushing brown channel of mud races down carrying soil, rocks, roots and debris.
In the sky intermittent flashes expose the silhouettes of the towering turbines across the hilltop, skeletal against jagged forks of lightning. Along the tunnels, tattered edges of white plastic flap like so much unruly laundry, beginning with a border here, a corner there then ripping in abandoned strips. Wind and water race into the gaping chasms they’ve made, desecrating all inside.
A tall eye on a stalk swivels in a slow revolution, water cascading from its top as it detects warmth and movement. A figure darts into view, swathed in a cape and hood, head first bent then upturned, reaching up to catch a flap of torn fabric, grasping, pinning down.
Below, in the darkness and the ferment an unlit vehicle approaches, creeping its way up along the track, lashed by the driving volley, buffeted by the cyclonic gusts and beset by loose rocks hurling themselves against its sides and beneath the sturdy, all-terrain wheels, two pale faces inside leaning forwards, straining for a view of the upward track as it curls around the hill, black water streaming across their route before hurtling down towards the river mouth.
Unknowing, the caped figure works on, lashed by the storm, pegging, weighing down, battening as the grey truck draws closer, invisible in the curtains of rain and silent in the screaming wind as it whips and sings around the tunnels.
The truck halts beyond the outer fence, disregarded by the frantic worker. More bolts of lightning split the sky illuminating vast structures shifting, protesting under the onslaught and giving brief insights into the hopelessness of the task; more and more material wrenching free to flap like hapless sails in a shipwreck.
Now the passenger is clambering out, reaching back inside for tools, hunched against the elements, chancing the small pinpoint of a flashlight. A blaze of lightning bursts over the razor wire as he inserts first one clip then another before applying bolt cutters. In a few moments a gap appears wide enough for the truck to pass through.
The caped one has disappeared up along the side of the tube, doing what he can, saving, preserving.
The truck pulls through into the security channel ready for the cutting process to be repeated on the other, inner fence and it rolls through the second breach. The driver emerges, fighting his way to the rear of the vehicle and wrenching the tailgate open before joining his companion. They move quickly into a breach in a tunnel, emerging with cartons, battered, fighting the gusts as they place their booty into the truck bed, returning for more, their arms piled with boxes four high, the shorter, slighter of the two staggering sideways as the bulkier and taller figure grips his arm. He indicates they should move on to the next tunnel as his partner hesitates. He stores his boxes then lifts his hand in protest.

         ‘Enough! Let’s go!’ But the other is off into the neighbouring cavern, reappearing with another load, water coursing down his face and beard. Then in an instant both figures freeze, one laden with cartons, the other by the truck’s open tailgate as the dark shape of a dog appears in front of them, a black shadow outlined by lightning flashes, long head low, sodden fur raised up in a barb of wet spikes along its back. Its ears are flat alongside its head and its open mouth a snarling saw of serrated teeth, white razor points dripping drool, slavering, growl unheard in the screech of the gale.
Bulky makes a gradual half turn to Slight, the indication clear.

          ‘Get in the truck!’

           Slight stands fast. The dog raises its head, mouth open, tensing to spring. Bulky lifts the cartons high and hurls them in the beast’s direction before jumping sideways into the open aperture of the cab. The dog leaps towards him as the door closes on its head, its jaws fastened tight upon Bulky’s arm. He works in a frantic bid to free it, smashing the door repeatedly with his right hand until it withdraws then slamming it shut. One in, one out. Slight still stands amongst the crates, rooted…

 

I’ll be posting more extracts from ‘Til It’s Gone’ this month. Feedback will be very much appreciated. Thanks in anticipation!

Climbing the Novel Volcano

How it goes:

  • You think you can write a book. ‘Everyone has a book in them’, don’t they? You toy with the idea. You start. You stop. You think again. Maybe you start.
  • You plan it, idly. One rainy day you write a beginning. It’s rubbish. You bin [delete] it.
  • Another idle afternoon you begin again. Maybe you write 500 words!
  • You continue. Maybe you have a chapter.
  • You’ve got going. You become absorbed. You write. And write. And write.
  • You stop. Months pass. Life intervenes. The boiling has slowed to a simmer and become still. The words lie gathering [virtual] dust in a file somewhere on the PC.
  • Months later, in between scribbling flash fiction, blogging or writing Tripadvisor reviews you come across the dusty file. You read it.
  • ‘Hm’, you think. It’s not that bad! You apply yourself. You have another couple of chapters. Hooray!
  •  Life intervenes once more. The file languishes unloved in the depths of ‘documents’. Months pass.
  • One day you mention it to someone. They express an interest, thus re-kindling your own enthusiasm for the project. You get going once more. Hooray!
  • At long last you complete the first, raw, ragged draft of a novel. You feel accomplished/uncertain/satisfied/unworthy/confused/conflicted.
  • The someone wants to read it. Hooray/ Horrors!
  • The someone likes it!
  • You know you need feedback. Another someone suggests you try a shared edit. You try this. The someone likes it. Hooray! But they want you to rewrite the plot. Bleurgh!
  • You edit. And edit.
  •  Enough editing. You consult the Bible [aka the Writers and Artists Yearbook] and find a meagre handful of possibly sympathetic publishers/literary agents.
  • You must write a synopsis. This is the writer’s bete noir. You think about it. You lie awake thinking about it. Maybe you didn’t want to be published anyway?
  • One rainy day you apply yourself to synopsis writing. You consult online advice. Horrors! You know it’s crucial. Maybe you don’t want to be published?
  • It is still raining. You make a start. It’s terrible. You get a cup of tea. You start again.
  • It’s hopeless.
  • You read it aloud to your writing group. It sounds rubbish.
  • You return to the task. You edit. It’s still awful.
  • You rest the hopeless synopsis and attempt a cover letter. You write a blurb. You read it. It doesn’t sound like your novel at all. Perhaps getting published is not all it’s cracked up to be; Waterstones’ window can probably survive without your best seller…
  • In the night you make promises to yourself: I will submit the work to a publisher before I make my next trip away. I will complete the synopsis tomorrow. I will get up now and write the cover letter. You fall asleep.