A Christmas story

img_6686

 

The little Welsh dragon was one of the few of his kind left in the United Kingdom. He’d been brought from Wales to Wivenhoe, by ancient travellers, and now lived alone in a dark cave beneath the Dry Dock. From here he’d peep out, hiding from the summer sun, and watch the wayfarers and the swarthy sailors on the river.

When Autumn came and the clocks went back he allowed himself short outings at sunset. Then he could blend in with the salmon pink clouds that hovered over the water and the fields beyond.

When Winter came most of the visitors disappeared. The lonely dragon lit his fires and swallowed the flames – his throat had softened over the summer and needed to be tempered for the winter activity. This was the time when he had to do his research and undertake the annual challenge to find a different household worthy of his entertainment.

In this, his hundredth year and halfway through his life, he knew he mustn’t let himself down. He stretched his muscles and toned his shrunken summer wings after the long months of isolation, and he longed to spread goodwill to those who deserved it. He even did a little fire dance; excitement growing as he waited for the day when he would make a special appearance.

The Eve of Christmas arrived and he could hardly contain the glowing furnace within, ready as he was for this year’s fun. Midnight approached and the chosen family were all at Midnight Mass, in the beautiful church on the square. He poked his nose out of the cosy cave and gently expanded his chest and wafted his wings. Glowing with strength, and just for fun, he glided carefully between the street lamps before finding house number 64B. The doors of the shabby little house were locked and apart from a small oil lamp in the hall, all was dark. He drifted to the back of the house and found a tiny gap near the rickety back door, just big enough through which to squeeze his small flexible form.

He heard footsteps approach and as the front door opened he took a deep breath and then blew fire towards a dull little Christmas tree which he’d found standing in the corner of the downstairs room. That magical breath created miraculous lights on the tree and sparked coloured candles all about the room. The family gasped in awe at the sight their transformed Christmas tree, now aglow with twinkling stars.

The dragon’s gift of joy spread across the family like a sprinkling of Christmas dust. Mother picked up the flute she often played whenever Father was out mending the neighbours’ broken carts, and the children started to sing, much as they did when they swept the neighbours’ muddy steps. The family never asked for thanks but now were happy to have been justly rewarded for their kind deeds.

The little dragon however was tired after his evening’s work, and sad it was almost over. He tried to draw comfort from the music and the flickering candlelight, and saw that one candle, in the shape of a little female dragon, remained unlit. He lifted his chest and blew one more gentle breath of fire. The sleeping she-dragon responded with a shimmer … and a glimmer of hope for the next one hundred years settled over him.

                                      Merry Christmas Everyone.

 

 

Philippa’s reading list (2019)

I’ve been reflecting on some of the books I’ve read this year and as you can maybe tell from the small selection in the picture, I’ve made made a conscious effort to vary the subject matter, genre and style. This is part of an attempt to learn by ‘reading as a writer’ – a concept I was introduced to during an OU course on Creative Writing in 2011. img_6620

This list is not quite complete but a good representation of books I’ve enjoyed, with a few comments along the way. Hopefully you might take from it some reading ideas for yourselves:-

First write a sentence by Prof. Jo Moran – thoroughly engaging non-fiction, covering aspects of writing, grammar and punctuation; very accessible containing wonderful nuggets of wisdom. I can’t recommend this enough.

The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau – chosen by my American literature study group where we concentrate on female American authors, this is a fascinating, multi-layered novel, exploring race and gender through seven generations in the Deep South.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – not as harrowing as the title suggests; somehow kindness and hope find a place, despite the horror of the place.

I Thought I Knew You by Penny Hancock is a very readable page-turner in the genre of romance fiction. It involves the main character’s best friend and their children in a moral dilemma.

The Rumour by Lesley Kara – this crosses the genre of psychological thriller with romance fiction in a story about the damage caused by rumour and fake news, with good twists and turns.

The Way Of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry – another page-turner, this book conveys the work of doctors, obstetricians, and early anaesthetics, in a story of murder and misadventure in 1840s Edinburgh. It was great for me to read personally, as a doctor who visited Edinburgh this time last year ( see blog Oct 2018), it really brought to life the backstreets, closes and wynds we explored.

An American Marriage by Tayeri Jones is possibly my favourite book of the year. It’s a compelling and intimate study of black middle-class America and the effects of an awful miscarriage of justice.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley –  a dark and gritty winter New Years Eve house party.

The Keeper by Graham Norton –  a warmly written, enjoyable tale from Ireland.

Hampstead Fever by Carol Cooper –  a romantic romp through contemporary London life with a group of thirty-something neighbours.

Circe by Madeleine Miller – a fascinating, modern classic, based on Greek mythology with a core of witchcraft and feminism.

Elizabeth Jane Howard: A Dangerous Innocence by Artemis Cooper –  an interesting (if rather long and drawn out) insight into the life of the writer, her lovers and her social group from the 1940s until her death in 2014.

The Wedding by Dorothy West – another American Literature study group book, set in Martha’s Vineyard in the 50s, involving issues of race and class, and beautifully written.

There might be a few books I’ve forgotten (and just the odd one I didn’t finish) but that’s about it for now. Feel free to send me any recommendations for next year, thanks.

Px

 

 

The Ten Commandments For Writers – a short story.

img_6550

 

‘I’ve been asked to give a talk to a writing group in South Essex,’ I say over coffee.

            ‘That’s great!’ Jen exclaims and her dog, Alfie appears from beneath the table, excited by her enthusiasm.

‘But I don’t know what I have to say about writing that would be of any interest.’

            ‘You’re a confident speaker. I still remember your menopause talk.’ Jen takes a fan out of her bag and wafts it in unison with the wagging of Alfie’s tail.

I laugh at the silly pair.

‘It’s okay talking about something I have expertise in, but writing – I’m hardly Steven King. Mind you it is a paid gig,’ I comment.

            ‘Ah, money talks. You must be able to think of something to say. You blog, you’ve written a couple of novels and umpteen shorts.’

‘Three novels actually.’

             ‘Well there you are then,’ Jen pats Alfie and mops her forehead with a folded napkin.

‘I suppose I’ve done quite a few short stories but only had a couple of successes, and the blog has few followers.’

             ‘I follow it.’

‘You do, thanks, but I don’t break even on the book publishing,’ I bleat.

             ‘Self-indulgent twaddle! People love your books.’ Jen pats my arm and the dog whines.

‘There’s always a note of surprise in their muted praise,’ I mutter.

            ‘You need to learn to love yourself – love yourself as your neighbour and her dog.’

‘I’ve got an idea, I could do The Ten Commandments for writers.’

             ‘Go on then, give it a go.’

‘Thou shalt love your writing and yourself, ‘ I begin.

             ‘Absolutely. Next?’

‘Thou shalt write something every day and not give up. Thou shalt have a tough skin, so as not to fear rejection but learn from it,’ I continue.

             ‘Yes – persistence and resilience.’

‘Thou shalt not covet the success of others,’ I quickly add.

Alfie settles and Jen nods. ‘Carry on.’

‘Thou shalt not feel compelled to do NaNoWriMo every year,’ I chuckle.

           ‘Good. You’re always a pain in November.’

‘Gee thanks. Thou shalt heavily disguise characters based on friends, neighbours, and their dogs,’ I continue.

          ‘I’ve always wondered which character was me.’

‘State secret,’ I whisper to Alfie.

           ‘My turn now – Thou shalt be particularly nice to your beta readers and buy their drinks and coffee.’

‘Agreed. How about Thou shalt be kind to other writers and supportive of the writing community on social media without being sucked into scurrilous threads.’

           ‘Good one. How many’s that?’

I count on my fingers. ‘Eight.’

            ‘Two to go – Thou shalt back up your work on the computer so it doesn’t get lost. I remember the tizz you got into with your first novel.’ Jen fanned her armpits.

‘Stop that. I’ve got number ten – Thou shalt enjoy writing and have fun.’

            ‘Exactly, so now you can do the talk,’ Jen announces.

‘No chance – my Eleventh Commandment is Thou shalt learn to say “no”. No talk, I’ll just blog. Coffee’s on me.’

 

The Anthology is here

img_6305

I thought I’d show you the evidence; my author’s copy of WSOFIT? arrived by post from the US today, which is very exciting. There are over forty contributing authors and nearly fifty stories included in the anthology, so I have no time to write more now as I want to go and read them all. The book is sitting on my desk and calling me…

img_6307

 

WSOFIT (what sort of f*ckery is this)?

Don’t be scared – I know not everyone likes clowns, but this shows the cover of the newly published anthology from Devil’s Party Press click here for link  and I am one of the ‘bad-ass’ authors who has contributed to it.

img_6257

I spotted the advert for this online competition in January 2019 when on holiday in Amsterdam. Dr H and I were staying in the beautiful Ambassade Hotel on Herengracht and one cold snowy afternoon I went back to our room to relax, while he continued to walk the paved streets with his camera. The hotel had a literary touch about it – maybe that’s what inspired a new short story. The hotel library had a large collection of signed copies of books, written by authors who had stayed there, and I already had regretted not taking a copy of Lawn House Blues with me. Anyway it was here that I decided a hotel would be a good location for a story. Once back home, in early February, I submitted my 1640 word story called ‘Shitty Mushrooms’ to DPP and was delighted to have it accepted for the WSOFIT anthology.

The brief for the competition was to write a story with a swear word in the title. The story itself was however not expected to be obscene or offensive. Those who know me are aware that I tend not to swear when out in public (who knows what goes on at home?) so I had to create a character who could gently swear on my behalf. I decided on a chambermaid called Monique and made her place of work a seedy South London hotel, which was of course nothing like the Ambassade.  A strange American guest comes to stay and it is Monique who discovers the unusual reason for her visit . You’ll have to read the story in the anthology to see what happens and where the mushrooms come into it.

DPP is a small publishing company based in Milton, Delaware, USA and has a mission to support older writers. The name of the company is derived from a quote by William Blake, where he  refers to John Milton’s artistic and innovative writing. They’ve been great at keeping in touch by email and updating me as the publishing date approached, and now they look forward to other readers and writers visiting their anthology and other work.

img_6255