WANTED: Old dog seeks new tricks

I’ve always only written either when the muse takes me, or I have a deadline to meet. Today, I had an epiphany or two.

One: you can’t write a scene in a novel as if it were a short story. It doesn’t work and the scene I was trying to write actually happens over a period of months with other things happening in between. Regardless, that’s how I wrote it. In my defence, I’ve written hundreds of short stories. This is my first novel.

Two: I didn’t want to write last night. It had been a challenging day. Some challenges are good, some are bad and some don’t show their worth until later. I had a mixture of all three yesterday and last night I was weary, I had a headache and my dog was depressed because I forgot to buy dog treats. Yes, yes, I can hear the strains of invisible violins and a chorus of “First World problems!” Regardless, I didn’t want to write. But I made a pinky promise, so write I did.

I’ve read and skimmed loads of blog posts, Medium articles and Facebook threads on the importance of “writing every day”. I ignored them. Seat-pants flying is an occupation espoused by my family. We live by the motto ‘I’ll do it when I have to’. Last night/today, I learnt a new trick. Those articleblogthreads are right. There, I’ve said it.

I discovered what many other writers probably discovered. Writing is what counts. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pile of steaming manure. After you write your scat-ridden piece, magic happens. Your writer’s mind takes the odoriferous passage and first, embellishes it, brings it life, hears the sounds and smells the smells. It feels the joy, the sadness, the fear. It sees the actions, the faces, and the surroundings. You get this down quickly, almost as a stream-of-consciousness exercise.

Then you edit the shit out of it.

All Along The Watchtower

CLANK! THUNK! CLANK!

“Give it a rest, will you? I told you, there’s no way out. Hitting the cell bars with that little stone will only annoy the guards. Now pack it in.”

“What makes you so fucking sure?”

“Because I’ve been here a couple of times… or more.”

“What you in for, anyway?”

“Oh, the usual… highway robbery this time. What about you? What’s your name? I’m Mallen.”

“Brandon, and er… I annoyed the king.”

“Haha, if you annoyed the king, you’re in here for a long time, unless you screwed his daughter, in which case your stay will be short and finish at the end of a rope.”

There was a long silence.

“You really did screw the princess? Well hello, dead man.”

“My rap sheet says I insulted the king. I’m the court jester.”

“Rap sheets are always works of fiction — in any case, no-one will publicly shout about the princess’ deflowering.”

“She was no virgin…”

“And if you keep saying that, your end will come before we have a cup of excellent prison coffee — and with perfect timing here comes the guard now. Hey, Roscoe, whose coffee did you spit in today?”

Roscoe stood outside the cell and carefully, and deliberately, spat in Mallen’s coffee. He pushed the tray containing the coffee and a roll of stale bread through the slot at the bottom of the cell bars. Brandon got the spit-free coffee and roll.

“Roscoe! You know why I always get you to spit in my coffee? Makes it taste better.” Mallen chuckled to himself. “Brandon, you should have cracked that joke, you ARE the joker?”

“Piss off, Mallen. Thief.”

POV Exercise – third person

Sara stomped hard on the brakes, causing her Edwardian hat to go sailing from her head and settle on the dashboard. Her daughter yelled.
“Mum, what the fu-”
“Andrea!”
“Sorry, Mum, but you frightened the shit out of me!”
“Andrea!”
She softened her tone. “It’s just that I forgot the rest of the costumes for the dress rehearsal. I need to go back for them.”
Andrea’s face creased and that teenage whine started.
“I’ll be late!”
“I’m sure your friends will wait for you -”
“You don’t understand, you never do. I’ll get out and walk.”
Andrea got out of the car and flounced down the road in the way that only 14-year-olds can master. Sara watched her go with a mixture of apprehension and relief.

She looked in the rear view mirror and saw that the road behind her was clear. A feeling of devilment took hold of her. Putting the car into reverse, she shot backwards at high speed. Still got it, she thought. Sometimes it was handy being an ex-rally driver. After 20 yards, she felt a lurch in her stomach… strange, perhaps age is making me nervous. She finished the drive at a more sedate pace and saw with relief she could park right outside the house – in fact the road was unusually clear of parked cars. Pulling up to the kerb, she dashed round to the back of the house worrying about those costumes. Can’t really have a dress rehearsal with no dresses. My Fair Lady in jeans and t-shirts…
A small chuckle started to escape her throat at the thought of the musical being performed in 21st century clothing but was quickly choked off at the sight of a man in shabby clothes exiting her back door, laden down with assorted household items, including her heirloom silver tea tray. It might be old and battered… hang on, it’s not!

The robber looked as shocked as Sara was. She shoulder-charged him and they both went down in a heap. She grabbed her silver tray, pausing only a moment to wonder again why it wasn’t bent out of shape, then cracked it across the robber’s skull. BLAM! He went down, hitting his head on the path for good measure. Now my tray looks like it should! She looked down at the tray-burglar. Her eyes skimmed his ragged outfit and filthy skin. Good grief, she mused, no wonder he’s out on the rob, poor bastard. The enormity of what she’d done hit her like a Ford Cosworth slamming into a brick wall. Bad memories. The ground rushed up to meet her and then — blackness.

She came round slowly. She could see the man she’d lamped over the head, still lying comatose, but between them was a pair of cute button-up boots skimmed with a skirt hemline. Must be Marie come to find me. Then she realised that unlike her wife’s rather crudely put-together costume, this skirt had no hanging threads. The owner of the boots and skirt must have bent down because her face appeared in Sara’s vision. A face surrounded by feathery tendrils of hair escaping from a chignon bun spoke: “I say, are you alright? You appear to have stopped this scoundrel from absconding with my property. I’ve sent a runner to fetch the police.”

Lady, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

POV Exercise – 1st Person.

I stomped hard on the brakes, causing my Edwardian hat to go sailing from my head and settle on the dashboard. My daughter shouted at me.
“Mum, what the fu-”
“Andrea!”
“Sorry, Mum, but you frightened the shit out of me!”
“Andrea!”
I softened my tone. “It’s just that I forgot the rest of the costumes for the dress rehearsal. I need to go back for them.”
Andrea’s face creased and that teenage whine started.
“I’ll be late!”
“I’m sure your friends will wait for you -”
“You don’t understand, you never do. I’ll get out and walk.”
Andrea got out of the car and flounced down the road in the way that only 14-year-olds can master. I watched her go with a mixture of apprehension and relief.

I looked in the rear view mirror and saw that the road behind me was clear. A feeling of devilment took hold of me. Putting the car into reverse, I shot backwards at high speed. Still got it, I thought. Sometimes it was handy being an ex-rally driver. After 20 yards, I felt a lurch in my stomach… strange, perhaps age is making me nervous. I finished the drive at a more sedate pace and saw with relief that I could park right outside the house – in fact, the road was unusually clear of parked cars. Pulling up to the kerb, I dashed round to the back of the house worrying about those costumes. Can’t really have a dress rehearsal with no dresses. My Fair Lady in jeans and t-shirts…

A small chuckle started to escape my throat at the thought of the musical being performed in 21st-century clothing but was quickly choked off at the sight of a man in shabby clothes exiting my back door, laden down with assorted household items, including my heirloom silver tea tray. It might be old and battered… hang on, it’s not!

The robber looked as shocked as I was. I shoulder-charged him and we both went down in a heap. I grabbed my silver tray, pausing only a moment to wonder again why it wasn’t bent out of shape, then cracked it across the robber’s skull. BLAM! He went down, hitting his head on the path for good measure. Now my tray looks like it should! I looked down at the tray-burglar. My eyes skimmed his ragged outfit and filthy skin. Good grief, I mused, no wonder he’s out on the rob, poor bastard. The enormity of what I’d done hit me like a Ford Cosworth slamming into a brick wall. Bad memories. The ground rushed up to meet me and then — blackness.

I came round slowly. I could see the man I’d lamped over the head, still lying comatose, but between us was a pair of cute button-up boots skimmed with a skirt hemline. Must be Marie come to find me. Then I realised that unlike my wife’s rather crudely put-together costume, this skirt had no hanging threads. The owner of the boots and skirt must have bent down because her face appeared in my vision. A face surrounded by feathery tendrils of hair escaping from a chignon bun spoke: “I say, are you alright? You appear to have stopped this scoundrel from absconding with my property. I’ve sent a runner to fetch the police.”

Lady, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

Miluna

“Welcome writer! Your arrival has been foretold, is welcome and is needed. May I ask your name?”

“My name is Jean Frost Smith and I’m not sure–”

“Three names? That denotes a storyteller of great power. Thrice welcome, Jean Frost Smith. I am simply Miluna.”

“Please, Miluna. I don’t even know how I got here. This is very strange to me.”

“All will become clear. Please – sit by the campfire and let us exchange more pleasantries. We will partake of refreshment, then I will take you to the elders — no, no, I see you are about to protest. You cannot escape your fate, Jean Frost Smith. You MUST tell our story. We have great need.”

Book Review: Best 25 Easy Pancake Recipes

The perils of free Kindle cookery books.

I love recipe books, mostly because I love to cook and eat – although I do hate the washing up. I’ve collected quite a few free ones via Amazon and tried out some wonderful new recipes. Some have been a bit substandard, but you can’t win them all. A couple of books have gone to the archive section, mostly due to strange formatting, or unobtainable ingredients, but then I haven’t paid a penny for any of these books, so no complaints from me.

Occasionally, you come across one that is so off the wall, that you wonder how it ever saw the light of day. One such book is Best 25 Easy Pancake Recipes by Eternity. Nice, semi-pro cover with some delicious-looking pancakes. Mmmm…mmm.

However, when you try to read the recipes, you wonder if you’ve entered some strange, Stanley Unwin-esque parallel universe – I hope you’re old enough to remember Stanley Unwin – if you don’t, run his name through Google and be prepared to giggle. (Google Giggles? D’you think I could get Google interested in a comedy search engine called that?)

Here’s the first recipe, for ‘Fluffy Pancakes’:

“Tall along with cozy. These kind of pancakes are merely appropriate. Topped using strawberries along with whipped ointment, these are extremely hard for you to fight.”

See what I mean? Whipped ointment? Germolene? Preparation H? The mind boggles. And why would I want to fight fluffy pancakes? Are they that dangerous?

It continues:

“Incorporate take advantage of using white vinegar in a very channel serving along with schedule pertaining to 5 units for you to “sour”.

Incorporate flour, sweets, the baking powdered ingredients, the baking soft drink, along with sodium in a very significant mixing up serving. Whisk egg along with butter straight into “soured” take advantage of. Fill your flour mix in the soaked substances along with whisk until eventually piles have passed away.

High temperature a huge griddle around channel high temperature, along with cover using preparing food bottle of spray. Fill 1/4 cupfuls involving mixture upon your griddle, along with prepare food until eventually pockets look on the outside. Change which has a spatula, along with prepare food until eventually browned conversely.”

TBH, I don’t even know where to start with those instructions. I think I’ll just post a few more choice quotes from this mine of……..something.

“These are generally very good just about any time nevertheless tastes ideal in frosty winter months mornings. You may use scripted as well as cooked properly fresh new pumpkin.”

I did ask a nice chap at Asda about “scripted pumpkin”, but even after consulting his database, he couldn’t find any. The recipe, sorry “receipee” continues:

“Within a jar, mixture in concert this use, pumpkin, egg cell, fat in addition to vinegar. Merge this flour, brown leafy mister, preparing your receipee dust, preparing your receipee pop, allspice, cinnamon, ginger in addition to salt within a different jar. Awaken into your pumpkin concoction plenty of to combine.

Warm some sort of delicately oiled griddle or maybe frying pot in excess of choice high heat. Dump or maybe info this crepe mixture on top of this griddle, applying somewhere around 1/4 goblet for every single pancake. Brown leafy with both equally features in addition to work sizzling.”

More? How about German Pancakes? You’d expect the recipe for German Pancakes to be the epitome of Teutonic accuracy and expertise, wouldn’t you?

“Piping sizzling in addition to puffy on the the oven, that older pancake manufactured a reasonably speech for just a skier’s topic dinner When i published. Functioned having the handmade buttermilk syrup, it truly is a eye-opening address. With such ease syrup seems good with waffles in addition to The french language destroyed, far too.”

Maybe not.

I’m fairly sure it’s not me hallucinating when I read these recipes – after all, I can actually remember the 1960s, so I can’t have been exposed to too many mind-altering chemicals.

I’ll just finish off with a few more choice quotes:

“Position your ovum, take advantage of, flour along with sodium in a very blender; deal with along with course of action until eventually easy. Fill your butter straight into the ungreased 13-in. a 9-in. a 2-in. the baking recipe; put your mixture. Prepare, revealed, in 300 certifications Y pertaining to 20 units.

On the other hand, in a very saucepan, incorporate the 1st a few syrup substances; take to your facial boil. Facial boil pertaining to 7 units. Take away through the high temperature; wake throughout vanilla. Airborne debris pancake using confectioners’ sweets; provide quickly while using syrup.”

Facial boil? Shouldn’t you be seeing a doctor with a boil on your face, not incorporating it into your recipe?

This recipe is too avant-garde (should that be oh-my-garde?) for words:

“My new mother built these kind of delightful pancakes made use of inside Depressive disorder several years. The girl overcom your mixture personally, nevertheless I prefer our blender. It lets you do a terrific employment throughout extracting your holiday cottage mozerella for the easy mixture.”

Just one last quote before I go and position my ovum:

“Lisa Sammons involving Lower Standard bank, Montana continues a major portion on this pancake mixture inside chiller to relieve your day run. ‘The glowing, cozy pancakes are generally just the thing for On the brunch, ha the girl stocks. ‘And in the 1 week, that they find each of our a pair of little ones off of for you to a good start ahead of institution.”

Please don’t ask me for advice on how to relieve your day runs (or night ones for that matter), I’ve no idea what the author is talking about.

It’s a shame that Amazon removed this book for quality issues before I got a chance to post my review, so here it is on my blog.

Elsie

Hello, my name’s Elsie Stratford and I’m six years old. It was my birthday yesterday and also the day I started work. Yes, SIX years old – Mam kept me back an extra year because I’m so small. She said she wished she could send me to school like the boys but it’s more important that boys can read and write and we need the money because wages have gone down and I’m eating more.

It’s my job to sweep the floors to get back the metal. The more metal I find, the more I get paid. I got a whole penny yesterday but Mam says that’s because the previous girl died and the floors hadn’t been swept for days. She bought enough potatoes with my penny to last all eight of us for the week and the grocer gave her some carrots that had black spots for free. I felt so proud to be helping my family.

I need to get in the corners more, me being so small should help with that. Ethel says her baby brother is bigger ‘n me. Mam says Ethel needs to keep her mouth shut.

I thought sweeping floors would be easy, I didn’t know I’d be crawling under the thundering grinding-wheels while they were still spinning. The work is dusty and I already have a cough. Mam got me a sack from the foundry. It doesn’t have too many holes and it’s tied around me with a bit of old rope so I don’t get my clothes too dirty. It trails right past my knees.

The women smile at me kindly but I don’t understand what they say. I said one of the words at home last night and Da gave me what for. He says I must never talk like them, or the minister won’t give us food. I don’t like the minister, he makes me feel sick inside the way he looks at me.

I can’t talk much longer, the foreman is glaring at me. Mam says he’s all right unless I annoy him too much. Maggie is always smiling at him and brushing up against him. Rose says that if she keeps that up there’ll be babbies. If that’s how you get babbies, I’ll run away the next time the minister does that to me.

Time to tuck my hair back in my bonnet. One of the older girls gave it to me – the last girl wouldn’t wear it and her hair caught in the grinding-wheel.

That’s how she died.

Lost Sailor

Does a sailor lose his bearings on the land?
Does he gaze across the verdant vista hoping to see spray?
Do his eyes see distant shores where we see sand?
And does he yearn for a foreign bay?

Is he lost among the hills and vales?
Do flocks of birds remind him of vast fishy shoals?
Are maps too crowded with their roads and trails?
And does he scoff at grassy knolls?