The Photograph Part 1: The Prelude

She waited, poised and smiling, filling her lungs to a regular rhythm that would convey an air of confidence to the judgemental audience before her. At the piano, Edward’s fingers hovered over the keys and their daughter, Dottie, had a look of determination on her face as she prepared to turn the pages of music.

Jemima had always loved to sing. Music was in her very soul and as the dulcet tones issued from deep inside, she was transported to a different plane: a place where all that mattered was the meaning of the words she sang. And tonight, it was a love song of such sadness, Jemima’s tears threatened to flow.

At the rear of the room her beloved watched, waiting for the concert to end. He and Jemima had loved each other for years, but the time had never been right to forsake their marriages and growing children. Now they would delay no longer. Beyond the gates a carriage waited to whisk them away, to a place where no one would find them.

Jemima would miss her darling Dottie, and her guilt at causing her pain would stay with her forever. But Dottie knew naught of her Papa’s true nature: a jealous and vindictive bully who had watched Jemima’s every move, chastising her with his fists if she failed to comply to his wishes.

After twenty years of cruel abuse, it was time to leave.

*

This piece of flash fiction forms the first part of a two-part story. Part 2 – which I’ve since titled The Outcome – was published back in May here.  Yes, I know I’ve done this the wrong way round, but I hadn’t written Part 1 then. It was done as an afterthought. (I seem to have a lot of afterthoughts. Lol )

White-Rimed January Morn – Flash Fiction

It was a white-rimed January morn when the witchfinders came. Restrained by Puritan soldiers, Will could do naught but watch as they hanged his lovely young wife from the solitary oak. All Martha had done was to heal folk’s ailments with her fragrant herbs; helped mothers during difficult births.

He’d buried her after they’d gone, his tears mingling with the loosened earth. Denied the right to consecrated ground by the pompous priest, Martha slept beneath the herb garden she’d loved so much. Village folk crowded round, commiserations from some, tears flowing from many.

But amongst them a traitor lurked. Will was certain of it: how else would the soldiers have known where to pounce? Easily earned blood-money was stashed away from prying eyes somewhere in this village, and Will would not rest till he’d sniffed it out. The traitor would pay dearly for his betrayal. An ‘accident’ could easily be arranged…

For its part in the deed, Will reduced the oak to a stump, the traitorous John Arnold buried deep beside it. Though rotting now, the stump was still there, twenty years on. At his side, Martha smiled: she returned to comfort him every year on the first white-rimed January morn.

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Chamomile

*

This is the second short piece of ‘flash’ I’ve written about the plight of women unfortunate enough to attract the attention of those obsessed with the need to rid the world of  ‘witches’. I won’t go into the ideas revolving around witchcraft here. Suffice it to say that in many cultures in the past strong, independent women have often been viewed with suspicion. Any single or widowed woman able to run a household on her own, or skilled in herblore and its medicinal applications, would soon come to the attention of the witchfinders.  If she also happened to have a black cat, her fate would be sealed.

In some cases  grotesque forms of torture were used to make the woman confess to her sins (including the ‘ducking stool’) after which, she would be burnt alive at ‘the stake’ or hanged.

In my post from a few years ago, I added much more detail. Anyone interested in the topic can find it here.

 

The Hat – Flash Fiction

The Hat

 The Hat

It was Sunday when Minnie found the hat, just sitting there amongst the daisies and dandelions as though it was part of the parkland scenery. She stared at it, unsure whether she should move it at all, but the hat piqued her interest so she stooped to retrieve it.

On the grass beneath not a single flower grew, which Minnie thought to be rather odd – although it gave a modicum of credence to the idea that the hat was part of the park. The flowers must have been there for a few weeks, at least. But being a sensible girl of sixteen, Minnie dismissed the thought.

Yet still, she wondered… It was a pretty sunhat, and must have drawn the attention of more than a few ladies as they passed by, twirling their fancy parasols. She placed it firmly on her head, loving the feel of its comforting closeness.

I could do anything with this hat on, she told herself. I am invincible. I could swim to the bottom of the sea, or fly down from one of those tall hotel buildings and soar along the Promenade over all of those day-trippers. That would give them something to talk about.

‘What a good idea. Why don’t you try it out?’ a voice inside her head suggested.

Minnie took the lift up to the rooftop restaurant of The Savoy, the tallest hotel in the seaside town, ordered a glass of freshly made lemonade and seated herself on the balcony. The view of the Promenade was splendid and she thought about what she would do once she’d finished her drink.

‘Your hat looks perfectly lovely,’ an elderly lady remarked coming to stand beside Minnie’s table, her parasol in hand. ‘The odd thing is,’ she continued, adjusting her fine silk gown before sitting down, quite uninvited, ‘it looks identical to one a young woman was wearing in here just a few days ago.’

Minnie shrugged. ‘I know nothing about that. I found this one in the park and decided to try it on. Then I came up here for a nice cold drink.’ She paused, absently gazing down at the embroidered tablecloth and wishing this interfering busybody would go away so she could get on with her plans.

But the lady simply smiled and kept up her annoying prattle. ‘The reason I mention this, my dear, is because that particular young lady seemed intent upon doing a very foolish thing. If I hadn’t reached the balcony in time, she would have jumped right off. She really thought she could fly – and I don’t need to tell you how that would have ended.’

Minnie stared at this lady, who was still shaking her head and tutting at such a terrible thought. She looked very sweet, though rather la-di-da to an ordinary working girl from Blackpool. Yet Minnie had the feeling that this old lady could see right into her head. She glanced at the balcony wall. ‘Yes, that would have been a very nasty way to die,’ she said, removing the hat from her head and laying it on the tabletop. ‘I wonder what possessed the girl to do such a thing?’

The old lady flashed that infuriatingly honeyed smile again. ‘I think you know the answer to that as well as I do, my dear. And between you and me, I shall have strong words with my granddaughter for leaving the hat lying around. Cassandra really must test her magic elsewhere in future.’ She heaved a deep sigh, a small frown creasing her already wrinkled brow. ‘But you know what some witches are like… too fond of making mischief and practising their powers on people. She’s not a bad witch, just a little immature, and she must remember to try out her spells on her mice before inflicting them on people. I spent years perfecting my own but, like most young people, Cassandra wants everything done today.

‘I’ll take the hat back to her now, shall I?’ she asked, proffering a white-gloved hand.

Having no answers to any of this, Minnie handed the lady the lovely sunhat and watched as she turned to walk away and disappear into thin air.

Minnie strolled casually over to the balcony wall, admiring the view in the warm, May sunshine and smiling at the thought that the old fusspot had no idea of the hat’s true powers. Having it perched on her head for a mere few moments had been enough to make Minnie’s confidence soar.

‘Go on then,’ the voice in her head urged. ‘You haven’t come all the way up here for nothing.’

‘No, I haven’t,’ Minnie replied, heaving herself up and teetering on the wall’s upper edge. ‘It’s a good day for flying.’

*****

Picture prompt of the hat is courtesy of Pixabay

This post was partly inspired by the image above, but also from my many visits to Blackpool over the years. I can’t say Blackpool is my favourite seaside resort in the UK. Having been ‘born and bred’ in Southport, a little further south on the Lancashire coast than Blackpool, naturally I’m somewhat biased. But when all’s said and done, Blackpool does have that famous tower… This nice, colourful image is also from Pixabay:

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I wrote a blog post about Blackpool four years ago here but our visit at that time was on a grey day in late February. Needless to say, the seaside town was keeping itself well under wraps at the time.

The Photograph Part 2: The Outcome

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Dearest Papa,

I hope this letter finds you well and you continue to enjoy teaching the piano to your eager pupils. Yes, praise for your skills and patience in this pursuit has spread far beyond Mayfield.

As you see, I have sent you a photograph, which I found whilst inspecting the contents of an old chest that had been stored, forgotten, in my attic these past ten years. I hesitated to send it for some weeks for fear of causing unwanted memories to surface, but my darling Arthur assured me that your memory of my mother’s death would have diminished after almost fifteen years, and the photo of the three of us may bring you joy.

I remember that evening so well, Papa. Mother sang like a nightingale; your piano playing enthralled and the applause from the audience made me proud to be your daughter. Later that night Mother broke your heart.

You never believed I didn’t know what Mother intended to do, but it was true. None of us knew she had a lover. My heart was broken two-fold when we found her letter after she’d fled. To see you so distraught caused me far more grief than Mother’s absence.

Rest assured, Papa, my lips remain sealed regarding your journey to Brighton on the day Mother was stabbed in her apartment. Even Arthur knows nothing of that. Mother’s murderer was never found and her lover simply disappeared. Though the man was never located, the police drew the obvious conclusion…

I chose to believe that the knife concealed in your dresser was simply an unwanted gift. I’ll take that belief to my grave. As you will, doubtless, take your secret to yours.

Your loving daughter,

Dottie

*****

I must thank my daughter, Louise, over at An Enchanted Place for the use of her photo, which is one of many taken on a lovely day out we all had to Warwick Castle a few years ago. (I scrounged a photo from Lou because her pics are SO much better than mine!)

I am currently in the middle of putting together another 85 stories for A Second Dash of Flash and hope to publish it later this year. This is one of the stories I’ve already written for the book – which, like Book One, A Dash of Flash, is an eclectic mix of stories of varying lengths and genres. It will make a nice change from writing historical fiction for novels for a while.

Part 1 of this story (originally just titled The Photograph) can now be read here. It was written as an afterthought, some weeks after this one: the reason for the additional information to the title.

Mapping The Story

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The trilogy I’m working on is historical fiction. I now have the first two books on Amazon and have just started writing the third.

I’ve made too many mistakes along the road to publishing, promoting and marketing my books to talk about – and I still have a long way to go to do things effectively. I won’t go on about my bungled start because I did a post about it earlier on: here

One of the things I didn’t do regarding the actual books was to add a couple of much-needed maps to the beginning of each. And it’s not that I didn’t know they were needed! I just didn’t know how to do them, and I didn’t have Photoshop. When a couple of reviewers said that maps would have been useful, I knew it was time to so something about it.

Readers of both fantasy and historical fiction novels rely on maps to allow them to visualise the areas in which the story is set. In historical fiction, we may be dealing with no longer existent territories or kingdoms, such as the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in my books. In fantasy, there may be entirely new worlds created.

With more than a little help from one of my daughters, my two books now have two maps apiece. In Book 1, much of the action takes place in the various Norse/Viking lands, and I knew that few readers would know where most of the places were.

I chose to keep them as simple as possible and just pinpoint the key places visited in the stories.

These two maps are from Book One, Shadow of the Raven:

Anglo Saxon mapMap of norse lands 

The next two are from Book Two, Pit of Vipers:

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book 2 map 2I’ve deliberately made these maps very large to make them readable. On the Kindle they’re much smaller but, of course, they can easily be enlarged. Any comments or suggestions about them (preferably constructive!) would be gratefully received.

Homework – Mondays Finish the Story

I’ve decided to participate in Mondays Finish the Story. This is a challenge which involves a photograph and an opening sentence to be finished within 100 – 150 words.

So here is my first offering!

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Finish the story begins with:  “Racing down into the atmosphere, the unidentified object crashed, leaving behind one heck of a huge crater and a plume of smoke that could be seen from miles around.”

Mrs Jenkins stopped the DVD, her stern gaze sweeping the class over the top of her spectacles.

‘Tell me what we’ve just watched.’

Fifteen-year-old Michael cringed as her eyes rested on him and he took a steadying breath. ‘Something crashed into the earth . . .’

‘And what did you think it was?’

He shrugged. ‘It came too fast.’

‘Hmm,’ Mrs Jenkins murmured, her steely eyes still on him. ‘Have a guess.’

‘A flying saucer?’

The teacher’s lips pursed. ‘What else could have come from outer space?’

Michael knew what it could have been but not what it was called. ‘A huge rock,’ he broached.

Sarah’s hand shot up. ‘A meteorite,’ she chirped cockily. ‘Or perhaps just a fragment of one. We can’t tell how big the crater is.’

‘Good. So tonight’s homework is: What are meteorites? In by tomorrow.’

Michael groaned. His mother was the worst teacher ever.

Word count: 149

Pit of Vipers

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Sons of Kings: Book Two

The lives of Alfred of Wessex and Eadwulf of Mercia continue to unfold against the ever-increasing threat of Danish raids. Now back in his homeland, Eadwulf sets out on his determined quest for revenge, whilst Alfred’s leadership skills develop at the courts of his successive brothers. Before long, those skills will be put to the test.

The Danish invasion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in 865 is merciless and relentless. Every year more Norse ships come to join their comrades in a quest to plunder for wealth and gain domination over the people. The Wessex king is now Aethelred, Alfred’s last surviving brother, and Alfred becomes his trusted second-in-command. Whilst the Danes take kingdom after kingdom, the brothers wait with baited breath for them to set their sights on Wessex.

By 869 their worst fear is realised.

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Some of the 5 star reviews of Pit of Vipers:

    • If you like Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred series, you’ll like this … BJ Kitchen, Amazon.com
    • If you like spellbinding historical fiction with plenty of grueling action, you’ve got to read Pit of Vipers. Fans of the Dark Ages and The Vikings will love this book. Highly recommend! N.N. Light Amazon.com
    • Anyone interested in the time of the Vikings and their addition to the creation of the English will thoroughly enjoy this book. For those of us who enjoy Griff Hosker, Bernard Cornwall and Jerry Autieri, try this new series by Millie Thom…Excellent! ~ Sue Merritt Amazon.com
    • A great find for historical fiction fans … SPR editorial review

 

Pit advert for blog

BUY IT NOW ON

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Why Do Writers Write?

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This probably sounds like a silly question, considering we could ask the same thing of people in all walks of life. Naturally I have my own reasons for wanting to write and I’ve come across other writers’ answers during TV interviews and so on. So I’ve attempted a summary of responses. Perhaps you can recognise your own reasons in at least one of them.  You may have some I haven’t touched on. Anyway, here they are:

  1. To write has been a long-held ambition.

Often, when young people are faced with the question of why they want to pursue a particular career their immediate response is, ‘I’ve always wanted to . . .’ Many years ago, at my college interview, I was asked, ‘Why do you want to teach?’ At school we’d had it drummed into our heads that if the question arose on interview, we did not reply, ‘I’ve always wanted to.’ I suppose the message stuck. This kind of question definitely needs a carefully thought-out response, even though the instinctive reply of ‘always wanted to’ may be quite true.

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So, where did this life-long desire originate? Many fiction writers will tell you how their love of stories from an early age inspired them to write – first listening to them being read to them, then reading the words for themselves. As a child I loved tales of adventure, which inspired me to write my own little stories, both at home and at school.  With most people the love of story ‘type’ gradually becomes more selective and certain genres appeal more than others.

2.  You have a story simply bursting to be told

Sometimes, an author has a story whirling around inside his/her head, begging to be told. It may have been lurking there for years, or have recently arrived with a sudden POW! Perhaps it was created entirely by the author’s imagination, or is a well-known story imploring a different manner of telling. In my own case, this is certainly true.

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  1. You want to share your own particular area of expertise

For non-fiction authors, the desire to inform looms high – whatever the subject. Many of us have relied on a variety of reference books in our time, and I certainly value the research done by these authors.

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With fiction writers, the need, to inform is still there. But in this case, the background, factual detail is undoubtedly best fed into the story gradually and discreetly. If not, the book will sound like a text book and probably put readers off.

  1. A realisation that you can actually write hits you

Sometimes, the wanting to write only surfaces after a person has already pursued a career in another profession. Perhaps that person took no interest in reading until then, or maybe someone recommended a good book. Perhaps the chosen job didn’t satisfy a creative urge that has only now manifest itself, or the job itself involves writing documents, letters and so on that others frequently admire. Who knows? But tales of people who veered into writing from completely different careers are everywhere. Unusual careers themselves often make good reading matter, whether fiction or non-fiction.

  1. You can express your thoughts and ideas better in writing

The need to apologise is a good example here. The coward’s way out, you may say. Yet the example illustrates my point well. Thoughts, especially emotional ones, are so much easier to write than say. So are lies, I suppose.

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The spoken word involves interaction with people and their judgemental, discerning eyes. The computer page, or notepad, does not have eyes and a writer can pour his/her heart out. And writers may draw on personal experience of events too difficult to talk about, assigning them more easily to fictional characters.

  1. You write for the sheer love of words

Words are the writer’s tool, and it is how individual writers use them that can determine whether a book is fascinating or utterly dull. I’m not saying an entire book should be written in elaborately flowery language – that would be as bad as having no particularly descriptive passages.  Nor am I overlooking the need for a great plot and memorable characters. Words are to be tested and sounded out before used; something writers are usually good at. They play around with different possibilities or, perhaps, use them in similes and metaphors, creating images that come to life as we read . . .

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Ah well, I always did love to read.

A Dream of Flight

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Dreams about flying seem to be quite common. Perhaps it’s the fact that we humans simply can’t do it without the use of an aeroplane that causes them. We simply envy the birds, and in our dreams we allow our innermost desires to come true. I don’t know, but I’m sure there are people who could explain it! Anyway, here’s a short dream sequence from my book:


Ulf seemed to be flying. He laughed as he glanced at his outstretched arms, a joyful sound that welled up from somewhere deep inside before rushing from his lips to be carried away on the wind. This must be what total freedom felt like. Beside him a flock of starlings swooped and spiralled in their exotic ritual, and he shared their sheer delight of the open skies. Then uncertainty hit, and he squinted into the blindingly blue expanse beyond the hazy, translucent clouds. Why was he flying? Was he now dead, not a solid body at all, but a spirit rising towards heaven? A woman’s voice reached his ears, passing by in its ascent. ‘Do not grieve for me. I am free of the cares of this world now.’

Far to the west the sun was sliding behind the Welsh hills, splashing shades of vermilion and purple haphazardly across the blue. Above the landscape he soared, over fields of grazing cattle, corn ripening with the season’s warmth, and winding blue streams. Soon he was hovering over the edges of a dense forest and instinctively he knew that it was Bruneswald. This beautiful, green land was Mercia: his home.

Then he realised it was not summer at all and he was not home. His mind grew angry and cast the scene away.


This sequence is really a continuation of the post of a couple of weeks ago, To sleep, perchance to dream . . .  In my book, Shadow of the Raven, this dream comes only a few minutes after the last. Eadwulf (Ulf at this stage, and still a thrall/slave) has been seriously concussed, knocked senseless by Bjorn – for his own good, as is revealed in the story. Following the period of concussion he falls in and out of dream-filled sleep. This one takes him to his beloved homeland across the Northern Sea – the Anglo Saxon kingdom of Mercia.

The Value Of A Good Editor

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Once I’d finished writing my first book, and revised and edited it to death, I was in two minds whether or not to send it to a professional editor. Would it be at all beneficial? On the one hand, I supposed it couldn’t do any harm to have someone else’s opinion. (I must add that at this stage, no one else had read a single page of my sacred book. Not even my family. I’d certainly jabbered on about it – probably bored them to tears with it. But read it? NO! I didn’t want effusive praise simply because they felt obliged to give it. After seeing my devotion to my book, I know they wouldn’t have had the heart to criticise.)

So sending it off to an editor could be a good idea . . .

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But, on the other hand, I was absolutely certain that after all my own editing, I had no mistakes. My spelling, punctuation and grammar were perfect, my plot was well paced and my characters did not act inappropriately. In short, I really couldn’t see the point of shelling out good cash for someone to tell me I had no mistakes.

Where had this idea of such perfection come from? Of course, then the inevitable doubt set in.

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I knew very well there was more to a ‘good’ book than perfect spelling, punctuation and grammar. I needed someone to tell me whether the storyline was interesting, the characters sufficiently intriguing, the plot well paced and so on. So, after a careful scan online I selected the Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau. This agency offers a variety of services, from actual writing courses to different critique and editing packages. They deal with a variety of genres, including non-fiction, and their prices compare favourably with some better known agencies.

My editor’s name is Doug Watts and he’s an absolute gem – for so many reasons:

Firstly: he made me believe in myself and my writing – something every first-time writer needs so badly. His praise meant the world to me and helped brush away any self-doubt that had set i

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Secondly: Doug has a hawk-like ability to spot a spelling, punctuation or grammatical error from at least a hundred paces. I’m even wary when emailing him for fear he’ll send it back corrected.

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And I soon learned what he thought about the overuse of exclamation marks and italics. I also make the odd typo (which I fail to notice because my spell check has a nasty habit of cutting out less than half way through my books. Because of all the Anglo Saxon and Danish names, the malicious little programme virtually tells me I can’t spell and abandons me. And since I’ve no idea how to reinstall it, it stays off. I know – I fully admit to being a computer ignoramus.)

Thirdly:  Doug not only edits line by line, but appraises and critiques every two or three chapters. I really like this because if there’s anything to amend, it can be done in stages. Of course, I get an overall critique at the end as well.  His appraisal of different scenes, and to what degree they work in the plot, is invaluable. He’s also on the lookout for plot holes and other inconsistencies in plot, character or dialogue and is always ready to comment on sections that need a little more detail, as well as those that may need tightening up.

Oddly enough, I found it was sometimes a little more he wanted in some scenes – which I should probably explain. When I edited the book myself, I cut out a lot of what I decided was unnecessary detail. I’d read that agents frown upon books from new authors that are much over 80,000 words and at that time my book was still over 150,000. So I decided that some serious cutting was called for. By the time I sent the manuscript to Doug, I’d got it down to around 85,000 words. Fortunately, I’d kept everything I cut out in a ‘Deleted’ file, and simply put some of these sections back in when called for! Admittedly, I did have a couple of extra bits to add to as well.

Fourthly: I always feel that Doug is there for me. Not only does he give me tremendous support and encouragement, he is happy for me to email and ask for advice at any time. I really can’t praise him enough. One of the things he says to me is, ‘Believe in yourself . . . because I do.’ How heartening is that?

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