Sneak Peek (though not on a foggy day) at the walk that inspired 'Like Winter Sunshine': Betty Sue's Teatime Tale No. 11
...to the strange, dark outlines of the trees along her route. The latter looked like upwards-reaching roots--as if the Earth, plundered of its riches, desperately sought sustenance from the air.
In places, these hawthorn barriers, thick with sharp defences, had been ruthlessly cut through, to form simple gateways.
...ground, scarred by heavy machinery, bore witness to the importance of agriculture in this part of Yorkshire.
Wide-tracked wheels had churned the earth into a mass of chaotic ridges, with puddles of rainwater lining the deepest ruts.
The boundary of Everthorpe was marked by a handsome nameplate, carved from a mill-wheel and set into a framework of local stone. Amy had always liked it. It had character, and suited the tiny community...
So, after resisting the urge to blow on my blog page to clear the dust that MUST have accumulated since the last time I put up a post, I looked across at the parcel delivered this morning and SMILED.
Today I received the advanced copies of my new book 'Betty Sue's Teatime Tales'.
This book is something of a departure for me. Completely different from the books I've released so far, it was written in response to those readers who contacted me, wanting to know if/when I was going to release a title under my own name, and also asking for more of the kind of stories I have up on my 'free reads' page. In fact, they wanted some of those stories to be included, so that they had the opportunity to keep them on their kindle/book shelf.
After some thought, I decided to write a collection of shorts, ranging from 500 words to 7000 words each, that could be read as part of a tea or lunch break. I wanted each of the stories to be linked in some way, and to cover a variety of writing styles and genres, but there was one thing they all had to have in common: A Happy Ending.
Betty Sue's Teatime Tales is the result, and it will be officially released on 8th May 2015, as both a paperback and e-book title. The paperback is already available for pre-order from Amazon and I'll let you know when the e-book is similarly available.
Have to say, though: Extremely pleased with the cover and format. (And YES I did make that cake!)
Christmas is coming, and whatever your views, there's no avoiding the hustle and bustle that seems to invade the world around us.
Not that I mind. Aside from my personal beliefs, and the traditions my family enjoy, this is a time of year that offers rich pickings for any author. There's the changing landscape, from Autumn to Winter, with ever shorter days; the sparkling lights and decorations that suddenly appear on streets everywhere; the chance to people-watch at parties, concerts, and gatherings, that are a distinct change from the norm. Christmas can even expose me to tense situations, worry, and arguments. And whilst the latter are never fun... it's all good when it comes to expanding my personal experiences - which means I can write about them with greater realism!
In fact, truth be told, I find Christmas a constant source of inspiration. It can be an immersive experience that creates a lasting impression of warmth and love, a feeling of irritation with the rampant consumerism, or simply incomprehension - but I reckon it would be hard not to have some view on it.
Which is why, when I was challenged recently to write a 750 word story that encapsulated: poignancy, reflection and appreciation of the things that mean the most, or the least, to you and those you choose to spend the holidays with... my mind immediately began to race.
So however you feel about this time of year - I hope you find ways to enjoy the people and events that mean the most to you, and that you also gain some enjoyment from my use of the festive season to fuel yet more stories!
You can read the end result 'For The Love of Christmas' on the FREE READS page.
I love writing my Lifelight stories, in fact, I love creating plot lines that I can fill an entire book with, but I've also come to realise the value of testing my writing capabilities through smaller stories, too. The sort that can be read over a quick coffee.
As someone who loves description, the short story form is particularly challenging because I have to rein in my tendency to enrich plot and characters with lots of detail. When I'm told to keep it short, I have no option but to pare everything back, whilst still delivering a well-paced and entertaining tale.
It's not an easy thing for me, it doesn't appear to benefit my normal style, and yet I've always felt compelled to keep trying. It took me a long time to realise why that was.
Writing is a balancing act. There will always be those who can tell you the rules regarding the nuts-and-bolts of the craft, such as: NO adverbs, it's important to show not tell, the placement of commas... and so on. In my teens I willfully ignored all that, figuring (with the arrogance of youth) that these were my stories, and I'd tell them how I liked! It took me over two decades to finally accept that maybe I didn't know best... and it was time to revisit those rules. At which point I began applying them to my work with vigour; but even then, I was never happy with the outcome.
These days I realise that, whilst it's important to know the rules, it's also important to know when and when not to use them. Everything in moderation... and that goes for the form my stories take too.
You see, if I can master how to convey a story without the details I usually employ, I'm also learning how to keep a reader's attention with fewer words - and fewer words means they read it quicker. Within the context of a novel, that's a worthwhile skill to have when you need to speed up the pace (e.g. action scenes), and using short sentences will only get me so far... which brings me neatly back to why I value the challenge of a short story.
That said, I'll admit I'm not great at challenging myself - I'd much rather someone else laid down the gauntlet. Which is why I also value on-line author sites (like WeBook) that set monthly challenges with strict word counts and, recently, the local writing group I've joined, which always sets homework of around 500 words in length.
So for all those authors out there, happy to continue on with the story form they're most comfortable with, I'd like to say this: Take the challenge to switch your focus every now and then - because it can improve your understanding of the craft in ways you may not have considered.
BTW: You can read my latest attempt at a short story on the 'Free Reads' page. This was a challenge to write a story of about 500 words, based around an elderly man's birthday being interrupted by a police raid, with him and all his guests evacuated from the celebrations and told to go stand in the car park... why was this or what happened next? 'Doing the Gerbil Jive' was my response. :)
So, I’ve just joined a monthly writing group in my village. Quite a leap for an introverted author, who usually finds it easier to interact through the written word! But sometimes you have to push your comfort zone if you want to feel you’re a part of something. And after the first session? I discovered they’re really not a scary bunch!
One of the things I particularly enjoyed about that first session, was the fact that the group leader threw out a ten minute writing exercise that had the effect of making my brain work extremely hard within a strict time-frame. There was no time to second-guess my word choices or plot-development. That, in itself, made a refreshing change from my usual, carefully-crafted stories. There was also a piece of ‘homework’ set – to be brought in and read the following month, and to not exceed 500 words. I had, of course, missed the homework set from the previous month, but the premise of it caught my attention, and resulted in some varied and interesting results from the other members of the group.
The homework was: Describe your ‘job’, in dialogue only, to an alien from outer-space. And even though I wouldn’t get the chance to present my ideas for that to the group, I decided to have a shot at it anyway. The result is below:
“What work is it that you do, earthling? I have observed you closely for some time… and though I see you go about your world, doing everything my race has come to expect of you, there are times when you stare into the distance for hours on end, only stopping to put marks upon an empty page, or sit in front of a bright screen, clicking the keys of an alphabet-maker, until the space in front of you is full of words. These are things I do not understand.”
“That’s not really surprising… most of my family and friends don’t understand it either.”
“So explain: what do you do? What is your job of work?”
“In my case, you shouldn’t be asking what I do; you should be asking what I am.”
“I know what you are—you are an earthling.”
“Yes, but I’m also an author—and that’s not a job… exactly; it’s more an extension of who I am, a way of communicating the things that I see in my mind—that my senses collate… the things I experience.”
“But surely you can speak those things? Why do you need to leave your marks on paper and screen, when you have a voice?”
“Because there isn’t enough time: No one wants to sit and listen to me rambling on about the way I see the world around me. It’s too boring.”
“People do not care what you think?”
“No… no, it’s not like that at all, although it took me a while to understand that. Then someone very close to me, whom I trusted, made me realise that I was using too many words… going into too much detail. I needed to learn the art of conversation.”
“So you learned and adapted… I still do not understand the marks on paper…”
“The marks on the paper, and on the screen, are all the words I still have inside me. They’re the details I mustn’t verbalise… so I turn them into written scenes and characters.”
“Scenes and characters… like an artist would paint such things? Is that what you do?”
“That’s exactly what I do. I can draw, and I can paint… but I’m not proficient. I can’t express the depth of emotion that a professional artist can. I need that… to show the richness of everything in my mind: what I’ve experienced and imagined—and the only way I can do it is with words: the written word.”
“So you write it down, tell stories of things real and imagined—with words that describe all the details you see in your mind—so that others will see the same pictures as you?”
“Yes, I’m glad you understand… though the beauty of it is: no one on earth thinks alike—so the pictures I see, write down, may change and evolve… until the words show a different picture to the reader.”
“That is a dangerous thing, earthling.”
“Yes… and it’s a skill that should never to be abused, spaceman.”
As you can see from the title of this Blog post, I've been busier than usual over the Summer of 2014 - and I haven't even mentioned my transatlantic visitors, and the fact that I'm currently getting my son ready to go off to university for the first time.
It's all good though, especially when I still get time to write and come up with a new plot idea that has me quite excited! (to be written after New Age Light, I hasten to add)
Called 'Corners of the Soul', it's a complete departure from the Lifelights (although it will have paranormal elements).
The inspiration for the story came from a recent holiday in Blagdon, North Somerset, where a combination of the views (example above) and the people gave my imagination a boost. 'Corners of the Soul' is a suspense story that starts off with a woman researching her family history, and that of the village she has just moved to (Blagdon) - from which she believes her family originally came. She's fascinated by the Church in particular, finding the members of the congregation there helpful and friendly, and starts to map the worn, yet beautiful stones within the graveyard, in the hope of finding the resting place of some of her own ancestors...
Until, that is, she comes across a tombstone with no name on it, and an inscription that changes her life:
I shall wait for you
In every corner of your soul
Silent and invisible
Until our gazes touch
And hearts connect
Keep watch, my Love
Though my life now wanes
'Til I call your name.
- What lengths would some people go to for the 'perfect' family tree?
I'll keep you posted on when this story is likely to be finished/available.
Hope everyone's Summer has been relaxing and happy... and as September wanes, with the trees starting to change colour, I'm looking forward to bright, crisp mornings, cosy reading time in the evenings, and the glory of Autumn.
Scotland: One of my favourite places to be! (if you hadn't already guessed from '21st Century Light')
So, it's heading towards the end of August, and the end of the long summer holidays... but if you're looking for somewhere to spend a few days relaxing, somewhere that's steeped in history and with a wealth of beautiful scenery, you can't beat Scotland.
For anyone familiar with 'The Lifelight Series', this sentiment will come as no surprise. After all, Slioch is way up there in the wilds of Scotland. However, it's the island of Inchmahome in '21st Century Light' that's the product of a particularly memorable holiday.
Inchmahome Priory is set on an island in the lake of Menteith (the only lake in Scotland - the others are all 'Lochs') and though some artistic license has been taken with the surrounding area and the gift shop, the island and the ruins of the Priory needed no such 'authorly tweaking' as both remained in my mind long after my trip to see them.
They are definitely a recommended 'place to see' if you're ever touring around Scotland - If you get the chance: ENJOY Inchmahome!
And to give you some idea of what to expect, here's a few excerpts from '21st Century Light':
After leaving Cat, Mary walked along the path that led to the priory ruins and then deviated from the marked route. Crossing the neatly trimmed grass that surrounded the site, she pushed her way into the cool shade of the bordering woodland.
She stooped as she passed beneath the lower branches of the trees. Her feet sank into the damp, leaf-layered ground. The air seemed thicker here, heavy with the smell of rich, wet earth. Water still dripped from overhead as the leaves gradually gave up their reservoirs of rain water; overspill from the last shower.
Here, she was in her element.
Finding a branch that made the perfect seat, she checked the view of the ruins through the foliage and opened her sketch pad. Balancing her box of pencils beside her, she selected one and began to work.
Time became absorbed by a collection of lines on thick, creamy paper.
The two of them lapsed into silence after that, enjoying the natural quiet of the island. What noise there was hardly warranted the title. The wind brushed its way through the trees, water slapped softly against the rocks on the shoreline and there was the occasional bird call. The atmosphere was one of peace. Perfect.
A few minutes later, it wasn’t quite so perfect. The sporadic cloud of the morning and early afternoon had thickened and darkened. The wind picked up, scattering small waves across the top of the lake.
“Great.” Cat muttered, “This is going to upset the visitors. If I’m not mistaken, all those without waterproofs are about to get wet.”
Mary tried not to feel smug as she pulled up her hood. She sank her chin into the neck of her snug coat and cradled her coffee cup, letting its warmth seep into her fingers. Tilting it, she sipped on the contents and watched as large raindrops began to fall. The initial impact of each tiny missile sent water dancing back into the air as a myriad of rippling circles transformed the lake’s surface.
When the rain shower became a downpour, the two of them headed for shelter. Mary didn’t want to meet Cat’s brother, but there was only one other option if she wanted a roof over her head.
“You know, Cat, I think I’m going to have a walk over to the chapter house. This weather looks like it’s settling in for the rest of the afternoon. If I want to carry on drawing, I need somewhere dry.”
Cat squinted skywards, raindrops splashing on her upturned face. “Yeah, you could be right... You’ll be going to go see the happy couple then?”
Mary hesitated, was her obsession beginning to show? “Well, yes, they’re in the chapter house, and as that’s the only part of this place with a roof…”
Once out of Cat’s view, Mary slowed her pace. Looking ahead, her heart skipped a beat.
There it was.
Such an innocent looking building, but then, it wasn’t the building that was the problem.
The familiar pull on her body became stronger, the nearer she got to the chapter house.
Dragging her feet, Mary turned on to the flagstone path that led directly to the building’s entrance. The only structure at the priory that still possessed a roof, it made sense to come here. Compulsion had nothing to do with it… and she was sticking to that story.
The weather had deteriorated rapidly, giving her hope that other visitors would have the same idea. If others were around, surely it wouldn’t be hard to view them as they were meant to be viewed; nothing more than an historical curiosity?
Coming to a stop just inside the chapter house doorway, she peered in. There wasn’t a single rain-soaked tourist to be seen. A sigh of frustration gusted through her lips. When her neck began to tingle, she briefly scanned the empty landscape behind her. The feeling of being watched had returned.
Making her decision, she stepped across the threshold.
Her heart instantly responded with a tattoo of rapid beats. Silly. She shouldn’t be so easily spooked.
The sound of her footsteps echoed through the room, bouncing off the ancient walls that had borne silent witness to centuries of history. In perfect, solitary splendour, with thick ropes around its perimeter to ensure that visitors kept a respectful distance, was an object of aged beauty. Mary gazed at the effigies. She’d failed to find out anything much about them, other than they were likely to be husband and wife. They embraced each other in death, with a tenderness that implied deep devotion in life.
It was such a rare thing, an exquisite symbol of eternal rest. The stone had been expertly chiselled, the sculptor expressing an almost loving touch as his skill created the likeness of the couple. The man wore armour, the woman a traditional gown and headdress from the thirteenth century. Their arms were entwined and their heads turned, so that they gazed into each other’s eyes…
A short while ago I was sitting enjoying a coffee and a slice of chocolate cake (made by my own fair hand) when my gaze came to rest on the glass panel on the wall opposite.
I love art, and I appreciation the beauty created by artists from around the world, using a variety of media. Art acts as a balm to my soul, and often delivers a kick to my imagination.
The panel that caught my eye today is entitled 'The Ascent' and created by Kevin Wallhead - a talented artist who was kind enough to allow me to use his work in the setting of the Aurora gallery in 'Chemical Light'.
Here's the section that features 'The Ascent', from chapter thirteen of 'Chemical Light':
Together, they stared at the panel hanging on the gallery wall.
“You really like this?” Liana queried. “It’s an unusual choice. Kevin Wallhead’s work isn’t to everyone’s taste.” She deliberately didn’t simplify her speech. For a start, if Michael were the genius that Bob had named him, he would understand what she meant. It was more than that though… she knew, deep in her bones, that here was a child who saw the world around him in a way that few others, whatever their age, did.
“Yes, I like it. Those lines, that look like he’s drawn them in the glass itself… are they made from copper wire?”
“Yes they are,” Liana replied, unable to keep the surprise out of her voice. “This piece is called ‘The Ascent’ and it’s the first part of a triptych, although each piece is also a stand-alone artwork. Do you know about the technique he’s used here?”
Michael turned to her, his pale, childish features topped with a mass of red curls that vied for attention with his strangely coloured eyes. Briefly, Liana wondered if his mother’s hair was also naturally curly, but straightened to fit in with today’s fashion. Though Michael didn’t have the same streak of blonde that Julianne did, his gaze was still direct enough to send a slight shiver down Liana’s back.
“I know a little of the technique,” he said. “I’ve made a study of contemporary glass blowing and—fusing. There are some amazing glass artists out there, some of them reviving centuries old techniques and refining them, whilst others are creating totally new ways of using glass—like Mr Wallhead.”
“Do you have any other work like this?” Liana asked, fascinated by the way that Michael’s eyes continuously flicked back to the panel, as if he couldn’t bear not to look at it.
Michael shook his head. “No. I have a graal bowl by Jonathan Harris and I’ve been considering getting a piece of his intrinsic cameo glass too, but this…” he once again stared at ‘The Ascent’. “This is so different. I don’t think its title suits it though… It isn’t an ascent at all; it’s a journey… across space.”
Liana looked back at the panel and realised that he had a point. The panel depicted the back of a naked man, his head bent away from the viewer; his body turned in such a way that the artist had managed to show every beautifully defined line of his muscled physique, without displaying anything that could be considered too sexual for a child’s eyes. The man’s form took up the left-hand side of the panel, his foot resting on what appeared to be a planet as he pushed himself further into the Cosmos. Michael was right; this was a journey through space. Crushed glass was fused tightly to the smooth base panel. The multiple, dull-edged shards reflected the gallery lights, giving the impression of millions of stars, stretching deep into the Universe. Precious metals and coloured discs had also been incorporated into the background, giving a sense of extreme distance, and of worlds that still waited to be explored.
“You’re right…” Liana breathed. “I interpreted it as man ascending from the Earth; towards a distant vision of Heaven that he can’t quite reach… but… no… this is a journey; a journey that humans are yet to make.”
“Or maybe it’s about where we’ve come from?” Michael mused.
Suddenly, his hand was in Liana’s, his fingers wrapped around hers and gripping her tightly. She turned towards him, feeling the strength of his resolve. “I really want this. Did you say there are three panels?”
Two things happened in quick succession. First, the pendant at her neck began to heat rapidly against her skin, until it became almost uncomfortable, and then Giles was by her side, his gaze intent on Michael.
Bemused, Liana looked into Michael’s eyes and found herself nodding, though her thoughts had become scattered. “Yes… when the gallery purchased this panel direct from the artist, Kevin said he was planning another two. One will have only planets on it and the third will have the figure of a woman, mirroring the pose of the male figure in this one.”
Michael’s eyes flared with excitement and his fingers gripped Liana’s to the point of pain. She thought about trying to loosen his hold, but hesitated, feeling as if she were missing something important. “How can a child, who looks so small, possess strength like this?” she wondered.
Giles was watching Michael closely. The boy’s face was tilted upwards, so that he could take in every aspect of the panel, his expression rapt.
“That would be perfect; I can see it now… a new, specially adapted humanity, journeying through the stars to find their true home, to return to the place that first gave this planet the building blocks of life.”
For the first time, Liana realised that there was something more than passion in Michael’s eyes. His expression now held a touch of something that looked disturbingly like… fanatical fervour. She stiffened in response, vaguely aware that the pendant now pulsed against her skin, giving off almost electric-sharp tingles that radiated out across her chest and down the lengths of both her arms, until it pooled into the palms of her hands. It felt hot… and it was getting hotter.
Giles moved around her now, never taking his eyes off Michael. “Are you all right?” he asked the boy, his voice low, as if he were trying not to startle him.
For the first time in several minutes, Michael’s gaze left the glass panel and swung to Giles. He blinked slowly, twice, his gaze glassy and his mouth slack. Then he licked his lips and… smiled.
“Yes, I’m fine. Thank you for asking.”
The polite young boy was back.
Thought I'd better post this to my website blog, too! For those who missed 'Telling Tales' last Saturday, here's the link to the online archived programme. You'll find my interview with Julie just after the halfway point: 'Telling Tales'
Yesterday I went for coffee with a friend, and she said something (kind of casually) that made my day and has kept me smiling, on-and-off, ever since. After asking how my writing was going, she went on to say: "Oh, and I really liked your last book (Chemical Light). Sometimes I can't put your books down, so I've had to stop reading them at night or I'd never get any sleep. I always want to read a couple more pages... Until I get to near the end, and then I try to limit myself to JUST a couple of pages, because I don't want it to end. "
Seriously?! How I just calmly said 'thank you, really glad you enjoyed it', instead of punching the air and doing a victory dance around the coffee shop, I'll never know.
I'd like to say 'Thank You' to every reader who has let me know that they've enjoyed my stories. As an author, hearing that is as good as it gets.
YOU keep me going.
BTW: The Photo above was actually taken by Deb from Ewich House. Deb and her husband, Ian, have always given my family and I a wonderfully warm welcome whenever we've stayed with them (so I can research a location such as Inchmahome Island). SO if anyone reading this is going to Scotland and wanting a recommendation regarding accommodation, please take a look at their website: EWICH HOUSE B&B