My short story. The Kindness of Strangers (and where I got the idea from)

Before I was married I used to work in Bristol city centre and would catch the bus (it was, if I remember, the #18 for Clifton) to and from work.  And the buses were, at times, erratic.  No electronic thingy in the bus shelter showing when the next one was due.  You just waited and waited – and then three would come along all at once.

All that is a very long winded way of saying that I haven’t posted to my blog for several weeks and now I’m posting twice in one week.  I could tell you it’s because I’ve been poorly, but you don’t want to know that and I’ve waffled on quite enough.

So the reason for this, the second post of the week is the fact that issue 216 of Writers’ Forum is out this week and in my Ideas Store column, I said (among other things)….”and you can read the whole story on my blog.”  But, of course, it wasn’t there.

So apologies if you went to my blog hoping to find it.  But it’s here now.  (Although chances are, you have voted with your feet and decided not to bother, in which case I am talking to myself again.) 

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One of my earliest entries

In my column I was writing about notebooks and how I’ve kept one, on and off, for the last 15 years.  My first notebook was an old A4 hardback that I’d liberated from the day job but once I’d filled that, (it took my four years) I started using Moleskine notebooks because I was earning some money from my writing by then and could afford the luxury.

When I was writing short stories, I needed a steady influx of ideas to keep the stories coming.  (Wendy Clarke, who also started her writing career as a short story writer, touches on this in my interview with her). 

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Very often, I would use a prompt, many of which came from Judy Reeves’ A Writers Book of Days.  I hope you can see from the illustration how well used my copy is.  One of these days I am going to add up all the stories that I’ve sold as a result of this book!

But the story I feature in this month’s Ideas Store, The Kindness of Strangers, does not come from a prompt but from my Fiction Square.  In Judy’s book, there is a prompt for every day of the year and I’d already used that day’s prompt in a previous year and had sold a story as a result of it.  So I didn’t want to use that again as I couldn’t get the original story out of my mind.  Instead, I used the Fiction Square from my column.

If you’re not familiar with the magazine, there is a 5 x 6 grid printed each month, showing 6 characters, traits, conflicts, locations and objects.  The idea is you roll a dice to find all the ingredients of your next story. On this particular day my dice rolls came up with:

Character 1. a sullen child

Character 2. an heroic climber

Conflict: Dispossessed

Location: charity shop

Object: a book.

IMG_1639I began writing in my notebook: Ok, I see a boy. Sullen, defensive.  He’s shoplifting.  Been dared to do so by so-called mates.  But, like everything else he tries, he’s not very good at it. He’s Billie-No-Mates.

Caught in the act by the climber, Rob.  (Something more valuable than a book) Rob is broken.  On crutches? Certainly doesn’t climb any more.  Why?  An accident.  What’s he doing in a charity shop?  Helping someone – his mother? No, he’s a customer. He’s a hero because he got a party of children to safety.  Doesn’t feel like it because one of them died. 

Since the accident, he’s been numb.  Blames himself even though the enquiry exonerated him. Praised him for his courage. He’s walked away from everyone who cares about him. Drifting from one dead end job to another. One dead end town to the next.  Sleeping rough. Shopping in charity shops for warm clothes. 

My notes went on for another two pages and at the end of it I had almost outlined  a complete story. I’d like to tell you it always worked like that but, sadly, that is not the case.  In fact, at one time I thought it had the makings of a serial.  Which it may well do one day.  Who knows?

So, as promised, here is the final version of that story, which was published in the UK magazine, My Weekly and has had subsequent overseas sales as well. 

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

As shoplifters went, the kid wasn’t even very good. Drawing attention to himself with each furtive glance. The idiot might as well be wearing a striped jumper, black mask and carrying a bag marked ‘swag’ over his shoulder.

Mac took a jumper off the hanger. It was a horrible mustard yellow, hand knitted thing, which was probably why it ended up in a charity shop. Not that he gave a toss what it looked like. The people he mixed with didn’t set too much store on sartorial elegance any more than he did. It was warm. It was cheap. Job done.

 He turned to take it to the till. The kid was still by the CDs. Probably just browsing after all. Whatever. None of his business.

The kid’s head suddenly shot up as three lads of about the same age as him came up to the window. One signalled him to hurry up. Mac watched as the boy slipped the CD into his pocket and hurried out to his giggling mates. He saw him show them what he’d got, heard the shrieks of derisive laughter. He saw, too, the kid’s head go down, shoulders hunched, as he shoved the CD back in his pocket.

Mac shrugged. No need to get involved. He’d be moving on tomorrow. To another dead end job in another dead end town. But at least this time accommodation of a sort went with the job. That would be good. The nights were getting too cold to spend many more on the streets and the pain in his leg was getting worse, the colder it got. Sleeping rough was not one of his better ideas.

The girl at the till looked ridiculously young to be alone in charge of a shop. No wonder the kids were stealing off her. Mind you, if she kept the more valuable items, like that little egg cup he was pretty sure was silver,  nearer the till, that would be a start. 

“I’m so glad someone’s bought this,” she smiled as she folded the jumper. “My gran knitted it for my brother and he refuses to wear it.”

“Lucky for him he can afford to be choosy,” Mac growled – and instantly regretted it. It came across as whingey, and self pitying and he was neither. 

“Oh Lord, I’m so sorry.” A flush stained the girl’s pale cheeks. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“You didn’t,” he said tersely. Why didn’t she just bag the thing and let him go? He didn’t come in here to get her life history. Didn’t want to know about knitting grannies. Certainly didn’t want to think about his own, who didn’t knit. But worried. Even though he was thirty two next birthday, she still worried about him. Probably a little less now he’d given up climbing.

“I don’t usually work in the shop,” the girl was saying. “I’m happier looking after the animals. But the rescue centre needs the money desperately and when we had the chance of this empty shop for a few months, we jumped at it. But I’m not very good at it, as you can probably tell. Take these biscuits, for example. There were eight of them but now there are only six and I know I haven’t sold any. Look, I’m going to have a cup of tea and a biscuit while they’re still here. Would you like one? I made them, so it’s ok.” 

“No thanks.” Mac grabbed the bag and headed for the door. What? Did she think he was a bloody charity case? Or, maybe she thought he was the one who’d been nicking her precious biscuits? He might look a down and out. He might shop in charity shops. But that didn’t mean –

He stopped. He was angry. Hell, yes, he was angry. It was the first time he’d felt anything, except an icy numbness, since The Accident. Correction. Since the day after, when Mrs Pearce had screamed at him, called him a murderer. Said she hoped the knowledge that he’d killed her daughter would haunt him for the rest of his life. Well, she wasn’t wrong there.

He’d coped by training himself to feel nothing. No pleasure. No joy at the sight of a sunrise, no warmth in the company of friends, nor even the comfort of a soft bed. It was, he reckoned, a price worth paying. To be where no one knew him. Or tried to make him feel better by saying the accident wasn’t his fault. That he’d done all he could. 

When he knew, just as Mrs Pearce did, that he hadn’t.

Why then, had he got so angry, because a young woman with a big soft eyes and a sweet smile had offered him kindness? Was it because she’d seen him as an object of pity? Someone who couldn’t even afford the price of a cup of tea and a biscuit? Who relied on the kindness of strangers?

Much better save her pity for the downtrodden donkeys and abandoned dogs.

As he reached the door, he was surprised to see the young shoplifter approaching and stood back to let him in. Then, on an impulse, he turned and followed him back into the shop. Outside, the others were urging the kid on. Obviously, the CD was not to their taste and they’d sent him back for bigger fry.

The kid reached into his pocket, took out the CD and put it back on the shelf. Mac watched as he edged up to the shelf where the silver egg cup was. Saw the furtive look as he picked it up, the relief when he saw the girl was busy on the other side of the shop.

Without realising he was going to do it, Mac walked across, put his hand over the boy’s stick thin wrist. Waited until the hand opened and the boy let the egg cup go. He looked up at Mac, his eyes wide with fear.

“Look, I’m sorry, mate,” Mac said loudly. “It’s no good asking me about volunteering. You should ask the lady over there. It’s her shop. I’m sure she can do with some extra help. Isn’t that right?” he said as the smiley girl came across to them. “Who knows? She may even offer you a cup of tea and a biscuit while she tells you all about the rescue centre.”

She looked surprised. Saw, too, the egg cup, upside down on the shelf. He could see she understood what had happened here. Would she call the Police? Up to her. It was stupid of him to have got involved anyway. It was just there was something about the kid. He’d seen it many times before. 

Back in the day, before The Accident, he’d worked with kids just like him. Not bad kids, most of them. They came to the Outdoor Pursuits Centre where he’d worked, full of bluster and bravado when they first got there. Scared witless at their first sight of a mountain close up. Trying desperately not to show it. Hell, but he used to get such a kick out of the ones who ‘got it’, the ones who scraped their knuckles, cramped their legs muscles, forced themselves so far out of their comfort zones they’d never be the same again. The ones who stood with him on the top of the mountain, their eyes full of awe, their faces full of wonder.

This boy wasn’t a bad kid. Just had some bad mates. Not that Mac gave a toss what happened to him, of course. 

“Here,” the girl gave the boy a beaming smile and handed him a leaflet. “It’s really good of you to enquire about volunteering. We run the rescue centre on a shoestring, you know, and need all the help we can get. Why don’t you read that and, if you’re still interested, come up to the centre, meet the animals and we’ll talk about it?”

The boy mumbled something barely audible and scuttled out of the shop.

“Thank you, Mac” the girl said quietly. “You handled that really well.”

He spun round, his mouth dry. “You know me?” he whispered, rubbing his hand through his straggling beard, his long lank hair.

“I do now. You are Rob McKinley, aren’t you? I wasn’t sure when you first came in. But my brother – the one who hasn’t the wit to recognise a good jumper when he sees one – he has a poster of you on his wall. Climbing’s his passion. You’re one of his heroes.”

Hero? He was no bloody hero. He was the guy who hadn’t been able to stop a young girl fooling around on a mountain. Hadn’t insisted she stayed with the group and not forge on ahead. Hadn’t been able to get down to her quick enough. Hadn’t been able to stop his own out of control tumble down the treacherous scree covered slope as he tried to reach her, his leg snapping like a twig during the fall. Hadn’t been able to move her, nor force her to hang on to life as they’d waited for the rescue party. 

Had cradled her lifeless body, long after she’d gone. 

“I was so sorry to hear about your accident,” the girl said softly. “Sorry, too, about the girl. It wasn’t −”

Mac’s hands were shaking as he wrenched open the shop door. Time to move on. Fast. Before she had chance to tell him that the accident wasn’t his fault, that he was – what had they said at the enquiry that had exonerated him? – a hero. 

So he did what all ‘heroes’ do when they come up against something they can’t handle. He ran – as fast as his wreck of a leg would carry him.

………..

“Thank you,” Mac said as the man dropped money into the bowl. He felt a cold nose touch the back of his hand and reached to fondle the dog’s head. Archie was never far from his side.

“Well, how are we doing?” Beth asked.

“The money’s rolling in,” Mac said. “It’s typical of Tom to turn his leaving do into a fund raising bash, isn’t it?”

“He’s a great kid, isn’t he? And he’s going to be a great vet, too.”

“He’s got a long, hard slog ahead, though. Getting into vet school’s one thing. Staying there’s another.”

“He’ll be fine, Mac. Don’t be such a pessimist.”

He pulled her towards him and kissed the top of her head. “You always see the best in everyone. And I love you for it.”

He loved her for a whole load of other things as well and there wasn’t a day went by that he wasn’t thankful for the way she’d run after him that day. Taken him back to the shop, made him sit and listen and eat those damn awful biscuits she’d made.

“Of course I see the best in people,” she said. “And you don’t, I suppose? That day in the shop, you could have had Tom arrested for shoplifting.”

“And so could you. You knew as well as I did he wasn’t in the shop to volunteer.”

“Yet look where volunteering’s taken him,” she said. “I knew, from the first moment he turned up at the rescue centre that he was as nuts about animals as I am.”

“Nuts being the right word.” Mac ducked quickly. Beth could pack a hefty punch, a result, she claimed, of standing up for herself against her bully of a brother.  The same guy who was now Mac’s best friend, climbing partner and soon to be best man at their wedding.

“Well, get on with it,” Beth said. “There’s a load of people heading this way who haven’t bought raffle tickets yet. You’re slipping.”

Mac smiled as he watched her hurry away to talk yet more people into sponsoring donkeys or adopting ducks. 

Beth could never resist a stray. She treated the frightened, the abused and abandoned with the same quiet patience she’d dealt with him. Gently, but firmly, she’d chased away his demons and dragged him back to life. 

A life which, amazingly, she wanted to share. Along with four donkeys, a foul mouthed parrot and goodness knows how many dogs, cats, chickens and ducks.

 THE END

Where does author Rachel Brimble get her ideas from?  Plus a book recommendation from my granddaughter and daily prompts January 1st -15th

A book recommendation from Ellie

I hope you all had a great Christmas and wish you a happy, healthy and successful 2019.  

I love this time of year. It always reminds me of going back to school after the long summer holidays and the joy of having a whole new set of exercise books to write in. 

 I was lucky enough to have a couple of lovely new notebooks under the Christmas tree this year.  I love them – and, what’s really exciting is that my twelve year old granddaughter shares that enthusiasm.

Ellie and I had the best time this Christmas, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over stationery (she had a lot more than me!) and discussing a book that she’d really enjoyed and recommended to me.  It’s called “A Place Called Perfect” by Helena Duggan and is such a good read that I’m really looking forward to the sequel.

Where does author Rachel Brimble get her ideas from?

I’m delighted to welcome yet another guest author to my blog this week who is brave enough to tackle the dreaded question.

I’ve recently read and really enjoyed Rachel’s book, The Mistress of Pennington’s .  I was initially drawn to it as it was set in the beautiful city of Bath, a place I know well and love dearly.  I was not disappointed and was soon drawn in to the story and its cast of fascinating characters.  The book was rich in wonderful period details, set as it is around the beginning of the Suffragette movement.

Me. Welcome, Rachel.  I really enjoyed reading Mistress of Pennington.  So, tell me, where did you get the idea from? 

Rachel: I have always been fascinated with past female progression and one issue in particular is women’s suffrage. The fight for the vote has been something I’ve wanted to explore in a novel for years and when I was writing book 1 (The Mistress of Pennington’s) in my Pennington’s Department Store series, I was thrilled when one of the secondary characters put herself forward as a suffragist.

It wasn’t long before the plot for book 2, A Rebel At Pennington’s, emerged!

Cover

Me. I can’t wait to read that.  So, how would you describe your genre?

Rachel.  The Pennington’s books are set in the Edwardian period and, so far, I have four books planned which will cover 1910 to 1913. Even though this is a series, all the books can be read stand-alone.

A Rebel at Pennington’s.  The Blurb.

One woman’s journey to find herself and help secure the vote. Perfect for the fans of the TV series Mr Selfridge and The Paradise.

1911 Bath. Banished from her ancestral home, passionate suffrage campaigner, Esther Stanbury works as a window dresser in Pennington’s Department Store. She has hopes and dreams for women’s progression and will do anything to help secure the vote.
Owner of the prestigious Phoenix Hotel, Lawrence Culford has what most would view as a successful life. But Lawrence is harbouring shame, resentment and an anger that threatens his future happiness.

When Esther and Lawrence meet their mutual understanding of life’s challenges unites them and they are drawn to the possibility of a life of love that neither thought existed.
With the Coronation of King-Emperor George V looming, the atmosphere in Bath is building to fever pitch, as is the suffragists’ determination to secure the vote.

Will Esther’s rebellious nature lead her to ruin or can they overcome their pasts and look to build a future together?

Penningtons FB banner

Buy Links:

Amazon UK: http://amzn.eu/d/aMjIi3K

Amazon US: http://a.co/d/dAhCQiZ

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/a-rebel-at-pennington-s

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Rachel_Brimble_A_Rebel_at_Pennington_s?id=r5RtDwAAQBAJ

Me. That sounds great, Rachel.  Another one for my To Be Read pile.  So, tell me, what inspires you most?  Characters?  Settings? Books you have read?

Rachel.  My book ideas usually start with a setting – often inspired by, not only places I visited, but also films and TV programmes. For my historical work, I often become obsessed with a period or a woman of that period and the idea grows from her journey or struggles.

Me. And how did your writing journey start?  Have you always written?  What was your first published piece?

Rachel. I’ve wanted to be a published author from a very young age and often wrote short stories as a child. When my youngest daughter started school in 2005, I was determined to start writing seriously towards publication. My first book, Searching For Sophie, was published by The Wild Rose Press in 2007. I haven’t stopped writing since and A Rebel At Pennington’s will be my twenty-first published book.

Me. Wow, that’s fantastic.  And what about your future plans?

Rachel. I have just finished the first draft of Pennington’s book 3 which focuses on women and divorce in 1911. There is also a murder thread that started in book 1 which is tied up in this book! I am excited to polish and submit this one to my editor very soon.

After that, I will be starting on a new contemporary trilogy set in New York.

Social Media Links, website etc.

https://rachelbrimble.com/

Blog

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelbrimbleauthor/?hl=en

Amazon Author Page: 

https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Brimble/e/B007829ZRM/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1490948101&sr=8-1

Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1806411.Rachel_Brimble

Bookbub:

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/rachel-brimble

Author Bio

Author pic1 - Aug 2018Rachel lives with her husband and their two daughters in a small town near Bath in the UK. Since 2007, she has had several novels published by small US presses, eight books published by Harlequin Superromance (Templeton Cove Stories) and four Victorian romances with eKensington/Lyrical.

In January 2018, she signed a four-book deal with Aria Fiction for a new Edwardian series set in Bath’s finest department store. The first book, The Mistress of Pennington’s released July 2018 with book two coming February 2019.

Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and Romance Writers of America and has thousands of social media followers from all over the world. To sign up for her quarterly and new release newsletter, click here to go to her website: https://rachelbrimble.com/

And finally….

As we start a new year, here are the daily prompts for the first couple of weeks.  Please refer to this post (Writers’ Prompts and how to use them)  for more detailed hints on how to use them.

Happy writing!

Daily Prompts.  1-15th January

1. I took a long, steadying breath.  This was the first day of the rest of my life.

2. A resolution you made – and kept. (Or, maybe, one you wished you had kept!)

3. My mother once told me….

4. Write about something you didn’t do.

5. It doesn’t matter any more. (Buddy Holly’s last song, released this day 1956)

6. Write about your mother’s hands.

7. The first house you ever remember

8. A secret message

9. There’s no fool like an old fool.

10. On this day in 1863, the first section of London’s Underground, the Metropolitan Line, opened, running from Paddington to Farringdon Street.

11. A phone is ringing but no one answers.

12. A recurring dream (or nightmare)

13. Stealing time.

14. Once upon a time, there were three little pigs (ducks/firemen/whatever!)

15. A secret you wished you’d never been told.

Murder Served Cold. Exciting Times.

2

Who stole July?

My grandchildren used to love a story about the Grinch who stole Christmas but what I want to know is: who stole July?

One of the pieces of advice I read when I started this blog was write regularly and I really meant to.  Honestly.  But sometimes, life – and families – get in the way.  And the best laid plans…  well, you probably know the rest.

But I have been writing.  Just not blog posts.  And I have really, really exciting news. (Spoiler alert!  The picture at the top of the post is a bit of a give away!)

Murder Served Cold.  Cover reveal.

Yes indeed!  I have a cover as you can see above.  And I’m thrilled and scared in equal measures.  In fact, I’m beginning to feel like I did when my eldest started school.  School uniform, shoes, bag and books all bought and looking smart. Photograph taken of him looking neat and proud.  (I could be really mean here and post the photograph of him in his first ever he’ll-grow-into-it blazer but he’d never forgive me)

But that’s when the reality hits.  The moment you realise it’s not a dressing up game any more but it’s real.  My baby is about to go out into the big bad world all on his own.  And he’s not ready.  I’m not ready.

(Actually, he was ready and loved it! But that didn’t stop me worrying about him.  He’s all grown up and (reasonably) sensible now but guess what?  I still worry about him and his brother.  The only difference now is that neither of them take a blind bit of notice of what I say.)

So, will I still be worrying about my book when it’s all grown up and sensible?  Of course I will.  I’ll be worrying that no one likes it, no one buys it and if they do, they’ll hate it and want their money back or leave nasty reviews on Amazon.

The cover reveal was the easy bit.  The buying the school uniform bit, if you like.  But now, I am on the final, final read through of the pdf that’s going to be turned into the actual pages of my actual book.  So I am at the moment re-reading it for a final check.  The last time I looked at it was several weeks ago at the end of the editing stage.  (I was going to keep up the ‘starting school’ analogy here and compare the editing stage to nit-hunting but thought better of it!)

Much Winchmoor 2 and an unexpected bonus

I’ve discovered an unexpected bonus to this final, final read through.  I am now on chapter 5 of the second book in the Much Winchmoor Series and it is really helpful to go through Murder Served Cold and realise that Will had blue eyes (and not brown as I’d thought) and that Gerald Crabshaw favoured tweed jackets and a regimental tie.

Of course, I should have made these notes at the time.  That’s what organised people do.  But when I started writing Murder Served Cold, I wasn’t sure I would ever finish it, least of all go on and write another in the series.

Murder Served Cold is now available to pre-order at mybook.to/murderservedcold .  Publication date: October 19th.

I’m now 15,000 words into Much Winchmoor 2 (working title) and yes, I know I said that I was at 15,000 words when I last posted but I had a bit of a crisis and cut 7,000 words which was painful.  But well worth doing.

And finally,

Daily Prompts for August 1st – 15th

(Check out Writers’ Prompts.  A limitless supply of story inspiration For hints on how to use these.)

  1. write about a secret you wish you hadn’t been told.
  2. the best (or worst) holiday you’ve ever had.
  3. write about a ‘meeter and greeter’ at an airport.  What would happen if they collected the wrong Mr Smith? (or whatever name)
  4. write about an old man (or woman) coming back to the farm where he worked as a boy.  Only it’s not a farm anymore.  It’s a ….
  5. When life hands you a lemon ….. (you fill in the rest)
  6. Once when nobody was watching.
  7. All animals are equal.  But some are more equal than others.
  8. Think about a time when, as a child, you were really frightened. Then transfer that fear to an adult situation.
  9. write about a mirror
  10. At 5 in the afternoon
  11. write about someone who’s left
  12. write about masks
  13. a secret revealed… but too late
  14. “The truth is rarely pure… and never simple.” Oscar Wilde.
  15. Packing a suitcase.

 

 

Dog walks, hurdles and a murder mystery.

I’m later than I meant to be getting down to work because today’s dog walk took even longer than usual.  Several of the fields around our village have been cut and baled and our Dalmatian Duke insisted on stopping to wee on every one of them!  (It was a big field and there are a lot more bales out of shot, all duly marked by Duke).

DukeBales

The first hurdle – and how I fell at it.

I started writing this blog after reading “The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors” by Anne R. Allen  ( Anne’s blog) which is crammed full of useful advice for newbie bloggers such as myself.

Unfortunately I’ve  fallen at the first hurdle because one of Anne’s pearls of wisdom is  about being consistent.  Blog regularly, she advises.  

Ah yes, I thought.  I can do this. So  I set up a schedule (I’m very good at setting up schedules.  Keeping to them, however, is another matter) and decided I would blog fortnightly.  I then entered the fortnightly publication days in my diary.

I chose to post fortnightly (a) so that I wouldn’t clog up your inboxes and (b) it would give me some breathing space to get on with my life… and, of course, the day job.

But that is where the problems started.  Life , the day job and the local farmer’s hay making (see above) got in the way which is why, according to my schedule, I am now two  postings behind.  So, if you’ve been waiting impatiently for the Daily Prompts from May 16th onwards, please accept my sincere and grovelling apologies.  

To make up for it, I’ll put the Daily Prompts from May 16th – June 15th  at the end of this post.  And if you’re new to this blog and wondering what on earth I’m going on about, check out the post (Writers’ Prompts.  A limitless supply of story inspiration) on how to use the prompts.  

I’ve written a pantomime.  Oh yes I have!

In my post of 25th March The Path Less Travelled and why it (sometimes) pays to take it I described the fun I was having writing our village pantomime.  This year, we’re doing The Fladdams Family – the Panto, which is based, very loosely indeed, on the TV programme The Addams Family.

I have finished it.  Almost on schedule.  And if you’ve ever wondered what goes on during the creative process of writing a pantomime, take a look at a (totally unedited) page of my notepad which  sits beside me when I’m writing.  It’s either a snapshot of the creative mind at work – or the ravings of a madwoman.  You decide.

notebookpage.jpeg

A new serial.

Yay! I have a new serial coming out at the end of the month.  My eight part murder mystery entitled All The Birds of the Air starts in the People’s Friend on June 23rd.  

This serial is the result of an approach by People’s Friend’s Fiction Editor, Shirley Blair, asking  if I’d be interested in writing a crime serial for them.  Now I’d love to let you go on thinking this is an everyday occurrence for me and that editors are regularly contacting me in this way.  I wish!

Usually it happens the other way around.  I get an idea for a story, write it and then spend the rest of my time and energy trying to persuade an editor to buy it.  So after I said yes to Shirley I found myself in the unusual situation of looking for something to write about.

This was where my ideas box came in handy.  It’s an old document box, crammed with tattered files and dog eared notepads, most of which make as much sense as the one in the picture above.

But then I found a notebook from a creative writing class I took at my local Further Education Centre many years ago.  I enjoyed the class very much except for those times when the tutor would set us a challenge to write something really clever which we then had to read out to the rest of the class.

I was, and still am, absolutely rubbish at that sort of thing.  My brain freezes and I  sit there doodling while the rest of the class scribbles away furiously.  That particular day, the brain freeze was obviously a full on glacier because this is what I wrote:

Who killed Jock Dobbin?

That was it.  Apart from a weird drawing of what I think was supposed to be a cat and a reminder to myself that my son had cookery in the morning and not to forget the sultanas. (He’s all grown up and sensible now and buys his own sultanas.)

But the line intrigued me and I started thinking about a man called Jock Dobbin who dies suddenly.  His death is put down to natural causes until a series of anonymous notes begin to appear around the village.  These notes are all based on the rhyme “Who killed Cock Robin?” and that, of course, gave me the title as well. Then I started thinking: “What would you do if a total stranger left you everything in his will?”

All the Birds of the Air was such fun to write and there will, I hope, be a sequel.  But that depends on whether the readers of People’s Friend enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Fingers crossed.

Daily Prompts

Today’s writers don’t have to hunt around in dusty old boxes for inspiration. At least, not the ones who follow this blog.  So here, better late than never, are the Daily Prompts, as promised for May 16th – June 15th.  And I promise I’ll be back before June 15th with the prompts for the rest of the month.  I’ve already put it in my schedule.

16. Write about being bullied.

17. When you fear the worst and the worst happens, there comes that moment when you realise there is nothing left to fear. 

18. My brother/sister had this really annoying habit….

19. Write about what you didn’t do.

20. Opening line.  Where were you last night?

21. Dark behind it rose the forest (The Song of Hiawatha.  HW Longfellow)

22. Once, when nobody was looking…

23. The end of the day.

24. You are in a hotel room.  Alone.

25. Actions speak louder than words. (Proverb)

26. Buried treasure.

27. Write about a time you felt abandoned.

28. Something you bought mail order.

29. You’re taking an exam you are totally under prepared for.

30. You walk into a bar and a sudden silence falls.  But no one will meet your eye.

31. Slipping in and out of the shadows.

JUNE

1. Married in the month of June/Life will be one long honeymoon.* (see below)

2. It was the family wedding from hell.

3. Write about an anniversary.

4. ‘I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”. (Eric Morecambe)

5. Write about a balcony.

6. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you’d do?

7. The first time I saw my baby brother/sister I felt….

8. Write about being the last person to be picked for a team.

9. “Last night I dreamt I went back to Manderley…”  (Or Myrtle Avenue, or wherever)

10. He walks into a room and there is complete silence.  All heads turn in his direction.  Then he smiles and walks up to her.  “Hi, I’ve been looking for you….”  (Feel free to change he/she etc)

11. I love you because (Do you remember the old Jim Reeves song?)

12. Ann Frank was born this day in 1929.  Write about keeping a diary.

13. “It wasn’t my fault, Mum, honest.  It just….”

14. “There are two ways of spreading light. To be the candle or the mirror that receives it.” (Edith Wharton)

15. A funny thing happened to me on the way to…..

  • Footnote:  I got married in June and, on the off chance that my husband reads this, yes, it has been one long honeymoon! (Most of the time, anyway)

Where do you get your ideas from?

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Angels on Oil Drums

As I started writing this week’s blog, the flag of St George was flying from the flagpole on the top of our village church for St George’s Day, England’s patron saint. 

I have good reason to celebrate St George’s Day because it was the inspiration behind the very first story I ever sold.  

 I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write.  As soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil, I was writing.  Plays, stories, comic books, poems and even a pageant or two. Throughout our childhood,  I bullied my three younger brothers  into appearing in various ‘plays’ I’d written which we’d then perform for all our neighbours – at least, the ones who weren’t quick enough to come up with a decent excuse.

My first publicly performed work was a bit of a cheat as it didn’t involve any original writing.  It was a pageant, enacted to the words of the hymn “For all the saints, who from their labours rest…” to celebrate St. George’s Day.  

The ‘stage’ was to be our front lawn, the backdrop Mum’s washing line with a couple of old grey blankets draped over it.  I’d filled two large jugs with armfuls of  pink and white blossom which stood at the front.  It looked perfect. Except for the oil drums.  One on either side of the ‘stage’. 

My mother drove a hard bargain and insisted that if she was going to allow her garden and washing line to be turned into a stage, then my two youngest brothers (three year old twins) had to be given parts in the pageant.  I was not keen.  But, in the end I capitulated and said they could have non-speaking parts as angels – as big a piece of miscasting as Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.

But there was a slight problem (and I’m not talking Tom Cruise here).  The twins were quite small and so would not be seen. So I had the brilliant idea of standing them on upended oil drums, one either side of the stage. (Now why didn’t Tom Cruise think of that?)   

I then tied one of Mum’s sheets around their necks to cover both them and the oil drums and commanded them to hold their arms up as wings.  I also made them beautiful blonde wigs from unravelled binder twine which, they complained, itched.  (Did I say I was also the costume and set designer?  Not to mention writer, producer and chief press-gang officer).

I was St George, of course.  After all, it was my pageant.  And my other brother, Mike was the unfortunate dragon who spent most of the time being beaten around the stage by me wielding a wooden sword.

We were about half way through the first verse of “For all the saints...” when the left hand ‘angel’ started to fidget and fell off his oil drum.  The right hand ‘angel’, who probably had more sense than his brother, decided he was bailing out before he too fell off his oil drum and made a dash for freedom across the garden, trailing his sheet behind him and ending up hiding in the middle of the raspberry canes.  He was closely followed by the family dog who thought this was the best game ever.

I, like the trouper I was,  carried on singing.  And beating the dragon about.  Until he decided that he, too, had had enough.  So there I was, St George,  victorious and alone, singing away to myself and failing to notice that my mother had disappeared into the raspberry canes after my brother and the dog.  And the rest of the audience was falling about with laughter.

After all these years my brothers still claim they were traumatised by the event, which gets told and retold at every family gathering.  So when, about twelve years ago I was looking to break into the short fiction market and trying to follow the advice ‘write about what you know’, I wrote this short story based around my ill fated pageant.  

Angels on Oil Drums” was the first of many stories I sold to Woman’s Weekly and it still remains one of my favourites.  Not such a favourite with my brothers, though – although I did buy all three of them their very own copy of Woman’s Weekly which I’d like to tell you they have treasured to this day.  But I very much doubt it!

A few years ago now, my brother Mike (the ex-dragon) came to one of the pantomimes I’d written for our village theatre group  (link here to my thoughts on writing this year’s). He remarked what a relief  it was for him to come and see something I’d written that he hadn’t been bullied into appearing in.

My story, Angels on Oil Drums, will be in my first collection of short stories, entitled “Selling My Grandmother” which will be published later this year.  Watch this space!

Other News

I’m finishing the final edits of the final chapter of my serial, The Primrose Path, this week – and am at that stage where I think I’m never going to be able to cut it down to the required word length.  Although I always do, somehow.  As for tying in all those loose ends…

Duke, the Dalmatian has had a poorly paw and after a week on anti-inflammatories and antibiotics is now confined to lead only walking for another two weeks.  Trying to keep a Dalmatian quiet and rested is like trying to contain a Jack-in-the-box with a faulty lid. But if you’ve got to do an on-lead-only walk, then the beautiful Bishop’s Palace Gardens, in Wells, Somerset has got the be the place to do it.

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Daily Prompts. May 1st to 15th

I hope you’re enjoying the daily prompts. (For details of how to use them, follow this link)  I have now caught up with myself, so below are the prompts for the first fifteen days of May.

I always keep a note in my journal of where the ideas for each new story came from and I can see that of the fifteen, four made it as completed (and sold) stories.  So it does work!

  1. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May (Shakespeare)
  2. A time when you wanted to leave but couldn’t
  3. Being discovered in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  4. “I have spread my dreams beneath your feet/ Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” (WB Yeats)
  5. Suffering the consequences of doing something to excess.
  6. Write about a premonition
  7. Your first day at school, work.
  8. Look back in anger. (John Osborne’s play of this name opened in 1956)
  9. Fear of getting old.
  10. Things done in the heat of the moment.
  11. He/she is the sort of person who….
  12. Write about your earliest memory
  13. Living the dream
  14. Through the open window comes the sound of someone playing the piano.
  15. On this day in 1918 the first regular air mail service began. Write about receiving an unexpected letter.

Thanks for reading this far.  Each time I post, I promise myself that I’ll keep it short and snappy this time.  But I never do.  And that’s what I love about blogging.  After three days of trying to cut 5800 words down to 3300, writing this has been sheer bliss!

Roller coasters, editors and daily prompts

I’m later than intended getting this blog post written because last week was a real roller coaster of a ride with some dizzying highs followed all too swiftly by those heart stopping, stomach churning swoops down to the lows.  Some people love that sort of ride.  But I prefer a smooth, gentle glide with time to admire the scenery to the breath-snatching thrills of the roller coaster.

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Photo by Angie from Pexels

Progress in my works in progress

 I’ve always have more than one large project on the go at any one time but this week, three of them have suddenly pushed themselves centre stage, demanding my instant attention.  The pantomime I wrote about last time is going well. (The Path Less Travelled and why it (sometimes) pays to take it  I have finished Act One now and she-who-makes-things-happen is very pleased and excited about it.  Now all I have to do is figure out what’s going to happen in Act 2, because at the moment I haven’t a clue. 

I’ve also been writing a 5 part murder mystery serial, entitled The Primrose Path, and have now been given the go ahead for the fifth and final part.  And, as with the pantomime, I have a vague idea how it’s all going to work out but at the moment it resembles a basket of wool after a kitten’s been at it – a tangled mess with loose ends everywhere. 

The only thing I’m sure about is “who done it” and I’ve more or less got the “why done it” sorted.  But the “how done it” is giving me brain ache. More on this in a later post.  (Once I’ve worked on why she didn’t just get her phone out and call for help!)

My big news!

But the new big news is the one that’s really sending me in a spin and wanting to bury my head under the nearest duvet.

I HAVE AN EDITOR  

One of the reasons I started this blog, apart from the joy I get from just sitting down and writing about whatever takes my fancy, is that earlier this year I was signed up by Crooked Cat Books who are going to publish my debut full length murder mystery, later in the year.  I thought it would be interesting to blog about my journey to publication.

I’ve been published many times in magazines (and still continue to do so, says she with fingers, toes and anything else that can be crossed firmly crossed).  I also have five large print novels, some crime, some romance, available through the library service, with a sixth due to be published in August.  

But this is the first ‘proper’ book I’ve had published.  Not that any of my work is ‘improper’, you understand.

Murder Served Cold

Murder Served Cold is a murder mystery (the clue is in the title) set in a small Somerset village not dissimilar to the one in which I live.  Think Stephanie Plum follows a faulty sat-nav and finds herself  in Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead.  Like Stephanie, my character Kat is feisty and witty, with an answer for everything.  She also feels as out of place as  Voldemort at the Teddy Bears’ Picnic when  circumstances beyond her control force her to return to her parents’ home in the small Somerset village where she grew up.

I’m sure you’ll hear more about Kat Latcham in later blogs.  Most of the time I have difficulty shutting her up.  However, this is my blog and not hers.

But for the moment I’m trying to get my head around the fact that  I’ve been assigned an editor, the first step on the pathway to publication – and I’m absolutely terrified.  She’s reading Murder Served Cold as I write this and I feel like I’m waiting for my end of term school report, complete with the  ‘could do better’ comments.

Kat, of course, wouldn’t give a toss.  But she’s a feisty 23 year old, with cool spiky multi-coloured hair and cool, spiky boots to match.  She has an opinion on everything and is not afraid to share it.  I, on the other hand, am not 23 nor anywhere near it. (A glance at my author picture will confirm this)  I’m not feisty either, although I’d love to be.  I’m an introverted writer who prefers to spend my time sitting at a laptop and living vicariously through my characters, even (or do I mean, especially?)  the bad ones.

So, while Kat would be saying ‘Bring it on” to my newly assigned editor, I freeze in terror every time I check my emails.  Is she going to say it’s rubbish?  That my sentences are too long?  That my story arc doesn’t arc enough?  Or, the worst ‘could do better’ comment of them all, that she doesn’t think it’s funny?

I’m a proud member of both the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Crime Writers’ Association.  I love writing murder mysteries, spiced with humour and lightly sprinkled with a touch of romance so the three elements of crime, romance and humour are very important to me.

I know my book will probably be put in the ‘cosy’ category.  But that conjures up what someone described recently as ‘cutesies’, where ladies in tea shops solve murder mysteries with the help of their cat. Or a psychic goldfish. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and they are incredibly popular.  But that’s not what Murder Served Cold is about.

So what is it about?  I hope you’ll come back for future blogs and learn more about Kat and the other characters in Much Winchmoor.  They’re a lot of fun – apart from the odd murderer or two, of course!

Daily Prompts.  April 16-30th.

As promised in an earlier post, here are the daily prompts for the rest of April.  I hope you’re  finding them useful.  Check out the previous post  if you’re uncertain how to use them.

16. All is forgiven

17. Being misunderstood.

18. Getting away with murder.

19. When the dust settled….

20. Jumping to the wrong conclusion

21. No man is an island.

22. In the heat of the afternoon.

23. “This is it,” I thought.  “Things don’t get any better than this.”

24. You can’t tell a book by its cover.  Or can you?

25. Things I wish my mother had told me.

26. My grandparents’ wedding picture.

27. Feast day of St Zita, patron saint of housewives, bakers and sometimes invoked by people    who have lost their keys.

28. Everybody stopped to watch the stranger’s arrival.

29. A pair of shoes.

30. Something that happened this time last year.

And finally….

Thank you so much for dropping by.  What’s happening with your work in progress at the moment?  Do you prefer roller coasters or a gentle ride?  I’d love you to leave a comment.